No need to wait any longer
Jacoby Ellsbury is the new Fred Lynn. Carl Crawford may not be Edgar Renteria, after all. John Lackey gets the ball in Game 3 of the playoffs.
Can we just fast-forward to the American League Championship Series?
Really. These Red Sox-Yankees games are great theater. Fox and ESPN are delighted that the kingpins are tied for the best record in the AL and scheduled to play another seven times in this 2011 regular season.
But I’m impatient. Enough with the overhyped regular-season jousts of yesterday and today. Can’t we just cut to the chase?
It’s been seven years, my friends. That’s right. Seven long years since the Red Sox and Yankees met in a playoff series. That was quite a memorable event; Boston’s biblical comeback from an 0-3 series deficit. It was better than any Stanley Cup, Super Bowl, or NBA Finals against the Lakers. Given the century of history and Sox frustration, coupled with the new millennium introductions of Alex Rodriguez and the Evil Empire, the Sox-Yankees ALCS of ’04 forever will be the greatest sports story ever told.
Sox catcher Jason Varitek, one of the few holdovers from the glory days, said, “Sometimes it seems like it was just yesterday.’’
And it’s time to go back.
I understand that we’ve got to give due props to the teams in Detroit, Cleveland, Anaheim, and (especially) Texas. The Rangers, after all, were in the World Series last year and they made some good moves at the deadline and are capable of beating the Red Sox and Yankees.
But it’s not going to happen. There were other heavyweights on the planet in the early 1970s, but Ali and Frazier were the only ones who mattered.
Here in Boston, we’ve lived through the Thrilla in Manila and the Rumble in the Jungle. We’ve had Grady Little and Aaron Boone and Dave Roberts and Johnny Damon. We’ve seen the best of this rivalry and it’s time to go back to the golden days of Boston and New York.
There are just a few guys left from those magical times. The Yankees still have Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and (certainly by October) Rodriguez. The Red Sox have David Ortiz, Tim Wakefield, Varitek, and Kevin Youkilis (he was on the Division Series roster in ’04). These players are like Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. They know things that no one else knows. The new generation of Sox and Yankees can only imagine what it’s like to be involved in a Boston-New York baseball playoff. At its height, Sox-Yankees makes Patriots-Jets look like a pickup game at the local YMCA.
CC Sabathia, a guy who needs no introduction to Sox fans, is a guy who might be dreading a Boston-New York ALCS. The Round Mound of Mound simply can’t beat the Red Sox. In the wake of yesterday’s drubbing, he is 6-9 in 19 starts against Boston. And that’s not including his abysmal numbers when he pitched for the Indians against the Sox in the 2007 ALCS. CC is the Yankee Superman and the Red Sox are his Kryptonite.
Jeter is old enough to remember hitting against the Red Sox in the 1999 ALCS, back in the days when the Nomar-vs.-Derek debate was all the rage. The Yankees captain has played approximately one million regular-season and playoff games against the Red Sox, so New Yorkers don’t worry about him.
Ditto for Rivera. Did you get a load of No. 42 (who’ll turn 42 this year) Friday night? He ended the game when he froze Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Josh Reddick, both looking at two-strike cutters on the outside corner.
A-Rod certainly understands the Boston-New York thing. He’s tasted the leather of Varitek’s mitt. He’s experienced the high of 19-8 in Game 3, and the low of slapping the baseball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove.
We know that Messrs. Ortiz, Varitek, Wakefield, and Youkilis can speak to the glory days of ’04, but what would they tell Ellsbury, the kid who knocked in a whopping six runs against the Yankees yesterday?
What would they tell Lackey?
Lackey beat the Yankees, 10-4, yesterday (the reverse lock took hold), putting the Sox back into a first-place tie with the hated Pinstripes. Lackey threw 115 pitches, kept his team in the ballgame, and spit into the wind when New York rallied in the top of the fifth.
The Sox were leading, 7-3, in the crucial inning. The Yankees had two runners aboard with nobody out with MVP candidates Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano due up. Time for Lackey to fold, right?
Wrong. Lackey struck out Granderson and Teixeira, then got Cano on a grounder to first. The game was over and the Sox were back in a first-place tie. Only 50 more games to play, seven against the Yankees.
Lackey’s been a handy piñata for most of his two seasons here. He’s got the cartoonish (6.14) ERA, the bad body language, and the litany of excuses.
But he also assembled a pretty good playoff résumé with the Angels. He’s won a seventh game of the World Series. He was the guy who got the ball first from Mike Scioscia when the Angels made it to the playoffs.
Lackey hasn’t experienced a Red Sox-Yankees postseason, but yesterday he passed the audition. When the inevitable unfolds, Lackey gets the ball. Ellsbury gets to bat leadoff. And Varitek gets to catch Josh Beckett in Game 1.
“There’s been a lot of time since then [’04],’’ said Varitek. “Quite a few more balls taken off the head. But that was good baseball.’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.