It's finally here, the Yankees against the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series starting Tuesday night in New York. This is the matchup everyone wanted to see, if you define everyone as "those people who wanted to see the Red Sox play the Yankees for the pennant."
Count me in that group. One could argue over this "best rivalry in baseball" stuff. Dodgers-Giants has been more consistently competitive over the last eight decades or so. One could even argue over whether Yankees-Red Sox is even a rivalry at all.
That word does imply that both sides win from time to time, and while the Red Sox have won plenty of regular-season games against New York, they really haven't competed. Since 1920, when they first became a contender, the Yankees have won 39 pennants while the Red Sox were winning four. The World Series score is 26-0, though to be fair the Red Sox did win five pennants and five World Series before 1920, when the Yankees were mostly lousy.
But whatever you want to call it, Red Sox vs. Yankees is the hottest thing baseball has going these last few years, and it's hard to imagine anything getting much hotter. There was last year's ALCS, which went to seven games before the Yankees, coming from behind yet again, won the pennant on Aaron Boone's 11th-inning home run.
Along the way, there was a brawl in which Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez threw septuagenarian Yankees coach Don Zimmer to the ground, drawing protests from the American Association for Retired Gerbils.
Then there was the offseason maneuvering to try to get Alex Rodriguez, the Red Sox appearing to have the inside track -- remember them putting Manny Ramirez on waivers? -- before the Yanks swooped in with the novel idea of moving A-Rod to third base.
That was a devastating victory for the Yankees. Not only did the Sox fail to get their man, they pissed off one of their biggest stars, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, in the process. The Yankees were facing almost the exact same situation, with star Derek Jeter holding down shortstop, but they came up with a solution.
Boston scored points and improved its chances in this series by trading for Diamondbacks ace right-hander Curt Schilling, noted Yankee killer from the 2001 World Series and the prize catch of the winter thanks to Arizona's salary dump. He immediately pronounced himself a "Yankee hater," went out and won 21 games, and will start Game 1 in the Bronx, about which he said, "I'm not sure I can think of any scenario more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up."
This year the regular season series, which the Sox won 11-8, stoked the fire even more. The boiling point was reached on July 24 at Fenway Park, when Bronson Arroyo of Boston hit Rodriguez with a pitch, which led to a brawl. The Sox won that game 11-10 on Bill Mueller's home run off ace closer Mariano Rivera.
History will probably remember that day as the turning point for the Red Sox's season, but in reality they didn't get hot until mid-August, when they went on a 20-2 run.
So now we come down to seven games for the pennant. The Red Sox and Yankees, in that order, represent the two highest-scoring lineups in baseball, and there should be fireworks aplenty for the next week.
Because both teams can slug so much and the defense is roughly equal, a lot of pre-series analysis has concentrated on the pitching. The Sox have Schilling and Martinez, who, though no longer the sterling pitcher he was at the turn of the century, is still very good -- except when he pitches against the Yankees lately. "Call the Yankees my daddy," he said this year. "I can't find a way to beat them at this point."
This quote inspired a Major League Baseball-approved Yankees T-shirt that read "Hey Red Sox ... Who's your daddy?" Baseball recalled the shirt this week because Boston fans were upset by it, so there's a collector's item to look for.
The Sox also have Arroyo, a back-of-the-rotation type who has had his moments, and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who has often baffled the Yanks but also gave up Boone's home run last year.
The Yankees, meanwhile, have Game 1 starter Mike Mussina, who seems to have righted himself after a shaky, injury-filled season, and then a whole lot of questions. Can Jon Lieber and Kevin Brown, who fought through sore backs to pitch well in the division series against the Twins, be counted on? Will Orlando Hernandez, with a tired arm, be able to pitch at all? Can Javier Vasquez get anyone out?
Both bullpens are strong, though the Yankees are a little stronger because they have Rivera at the end. But Rivera has had a family tragedy this week, and he was to fly home from Panama Tuesday. Even if he makes it back in time and is mentally ready, he could well be physically spent at least for Game 1.
And you know what? I'm not sure how much any of it matters. Talking about pitching in this series is like talking about defense and footwork in a fight between two heavyweight knockout artists. Yeah, it might come into play a little bit, but the bottom line is someone's going to land that one extra haymaker, and there's not much the other guy can do to stop it.
Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz and their Red Sox pals are going to get their big hits, and Gary Sheffield and Alex Rodriguez and their Yankees pals are going to get theirs. It's going to happen if the man on the mound is Mussina, Rivera, Schilling or Martinez and it's going to happen if the man on the mound is Tanyon Sturtze, Paul Quantrill, Alan Embree or Derek Lowe.
Prediction: It's going to go seven and it's going to be a humdinger.
And? Well, only a fool bets against the Yankees in October with money he can't afford to lose, but then again, it's only money: Red Sox in seven, celebrating on the field in the Bronx in front of 55,000 quiet New Yorkers.
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Fox cliché watch: Steve Lyons [PERMALINK]
Once again Fox played it cool Monday before Game 5 of the Astros-Braves series, forgoing the extended, cliché-riddled opening monologue. I have a theory that Fox doesn't believe games really count unless the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox or Cubs are playing, and I'm counting on a real stemwinder to open Tuesday's broadcast.
The Astros belted the Braves 12-3 to win the series, proving after all that when the two most pronounced postseason failures of the last decade get together somebody does indeed have to win. Congratulations and good luck to the Astros for their first ever postseason series win in eight tries, the prize for which is an NLCS date with the Cardinals.
It's never an upset when the Braves lose in October, but there was a big upset Monday night, at least for me, and that was the performance of Steve Lyons. The Fox B-team color guy got off to a shaky start, but then actually had what I thought was a good broadcast. This is Steve Lyons, whom I've long found to be one of the most annoying announcers in baseball, an opinion shared by legions of readers, judging from my in box.
Lyons opened the show with a doozy. On-screen with partner Josh Lewin, Lyons said about Braves starter Jaret Wright, who as a 21-year-old started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series for the Indians: "This is not the biggest game of his life, but it may be the biggest game of his career, and he should have his emotions in check."
Lewin did a kind of Scooby-Doo head jerk -- "RHUH?" -- but then let it go and changed the subject.
But from there on, Lyons was a vast improvement on his old self. There were no cute phrases -- "pickin' and grinnin' at first base" -- and there was a lot more solid technical commentary than I've ever heard him provide before. Has he been listenin' and cringin' to his old tapes or something?
He did a lot of dissecting of hitters' swings, for example, that, while not earth-shattering or anything, was reasonably informative and sounded like it came from a guy who actually played in the big leagues. It seemed to me that Lyons wasn't making his usual extra effort to be Steve "Psycho" Lyons. He wasn't great, but he was fine.
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Blue Jays! White Sox! Other great picks [PERMALINK]
I wrote Monday that Tim McCarver owes me an apology for saying that anyone who claims to have picked the Cardinals to win the N.L. Central "is revising history. They are not telling the truth." I picked the Cardinals and I'm not a liar.
Several readers wrote to say I should quit bragging about picking the Cards because the rest of my picks sucked dandelions. The N.L. Central was the only division I called correctly, though I did peg the Astros as the N.L. wild card and had the Yankees making the playoffs, but not as a division champ.
I also picked the Blue Jays (last place, 33 and a half games out), the White Sox (second, nine out), the Phillies (second, 10 out) and the Padres (third, six out) to win their divisions.
Folks, I wasn't bragging. I wouldn't have linked to my National League preview if I were trying to hide the rampant suckitude of my predictions. When have I ever been less than straight with you about the accuracy of my prognostications? Have I not begged -- begged! -- you not to base wagers of your hard-earned money on my picks?
But every once in a while I get one right, and I don't like being called a liar, even indirectly, on national TV when I do. Thank you for your continued support in these difficult times.
This column has been corrected since it was originally published.
Previous column: Ken Caminiti and steroids
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