Monday, August 21, 2006

An end to the suspense?

The Monk maintained radio silence over the weekend even after the Yanks won the doubleheader from the RedSawx on Friday and thwacked them again on Saturday for a simple reason: I've been there before. I watched the 2004 ALCS; indeed, I predicted the Yanks' demise in the second inning of game 5 in an email to a buddy who is one of my former lieutenants when I was the sports editor of the Cavalier Daily.

Indeed, despite the mini-elation that one friend felt before yesternight's game, and the increased whining of my boss (who has that strange congenital defect that renders him a RedSux fan), The Monk knew full well that the hard work of games 1-3 would be significantly diminished if the Yanks lost games 4 and 5 because they'd gain, in total, just one game in the standings -- turning a 1.5 game lead into 2.5. So in the wake of last night's game, The Monk can safely feel a bit pleased that when the Yanks leave Fenway today they will increase their AL East lead to at least 4.5 games, after trying to honk most of it away earlier last week. No, that doesn't seal the AL East -- there are nearly 40 games left this season; in 1978, the Yanks rolled after the Boston Massacre to take a 3.5 game lead with 15 to play (14 for the Sawx) only to end up tied at the end of the season as the RedSaaaaks surged (12-2) and the Yanks played adequately (9-6). And that surge started when the Sux took the last game of a three-game set in the Bronx in mid-September, which the Soax will do today if Cory Lidle continues to need a map to find the strike zone (and the Yanks aren't going hard for the kill -- Damon, Posada and Giambi have the day off; Jeter is DH).

That said, there are at least a few notable items regarding this series. First, the failure of the Bastin bullpen, especially Mike Timlin. Throughout his career in Beanheadtown, Timlin has been a Yankee killer (especially Bernie Williams, who can't hit him, period). In this series, he's failed to find the strike zone, and been smacked when he actually gets one over the plate. The Yankees are hitting solid fastballs better than they have for years -- the rep used to be that the Yanks could be beaten with good, sharp two- and four-seamers. This year, the Yanks are hitting good heat better than they have for years.

Second, the failure of Terry Francona. No string that Francona pulled went awry in 2004, but he made a huge mistake yesterday -- failing to send a rested Papelbon in to start the 8th. Papelbon worked out of the bases loaded, none out jam he inherited with only minimal damage (a Giambi sac fly that just missed going out), but had thrown nearly 30 pitches by then. When a more tired Papelbon laid a flat fastball to Melky Cabrera, the Yank whacked it and ended up scoring to tie the game. This was the two-inning save situation from the time Schilling took a seat after seven solid innings, but Francona diddled around with Timlin and lefty Javier Lopez (yeah, the Sawx have two -- relief pitcher and catcher), and had to use Papelbon after the Yanks had dictated the move. By contrast, Torre managed aggressively by keeping Proctor in to pitch the 8th and having Rivera start the 9th even though the Yanks had not gained the lead (baseball's proverbial "Book" says only bring in the closer once you take the lead if you're the road team -- living by the Book killed Torre and the Yanks in game 4 of the 2003 WS).

It's not over. But both the Yanks and Sawx knew Friday morning that if anyone lost this series badly, that team would have a hard time making up ground on the West Coast (where both teams head tonight) and thereafter (Yanks have to play Minnesota and Detroit; the Chisax go to Bahstin). That's the RedStiff reality now.

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