The best life lesson I ever learned came from a Head and Shoulders
commercial: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. That commercial also led me to habitually lather up each side of my head with two different kinds of shampoo to see which one gave my hair more sheen and more bounce, but that's beside the point. I guess the point is, I've had a full year to digest last year's memorable AL Championship Series, but nothing accurately captures the way I feel about that week like my first impression. In the almost immediate aftermath of that epic Game 7, I sat down to taunt an awful Red Sawx fan I often trade jabs with, but instead I just verbally vomited some gooey, emotional chick drivel onto the screen. And you know what? It felt right. It still feels right. Slack offers me a second chance to look back with fondness on that series...but I'll let down my guard and air my first impression:
October 16, 2003
What a freakin' game. The truth of it is, the Yankees won an amazingly played season series 14-12, and they went 4-3 in the most ridiculous ALCS of the most ridiculous playoffs of the modern era. This is what rivalries are all about. The next time I hear another Midwesterner try to spout out garbage about Cards/Cubs I may spit in their faces or stomp on their testicles. This is the rivalry. This is what sports are all about. This is why sports were invented. For this. This game should be on ESPN Classic every single day 'til spring training. This is the rivalry.
For a while, I thought 80-
years of kickin' the Sawx' sorry asses was over. Trailing 4-0 in the fourth, runners on the corners, Moose on the hill for the first time ever in relief. How would this guy handle inherited runners for the first time in his career? Pretty darn well, Moose calls. But with Pedro kicking into high gear, it looked pretty grim there. At home, [Donnie, Dorsey Levin and I] tried everything in our power to help the Yanks, we tried a million reverse jinxes, we prayed to anyone for anything to get our motor going. Anything, just a little single, that's what you need off Pedro. All we need is a Baltimore chop, a Texas leaguer, a seeing-eye single, a ball through the wickets, a humpback liner that falls in for a hit, a bloop and a blast, a comebacker, a dying quail, anything! Eighty-plus years of wiping the floor with these guys, and it's
gonna go down the drain. Eighty-plus years of superiority out the window in just 12 more outs. It's all reversing. Nine more outs. History is changing. Six more outs, now five. An era is dying here...
Finally we broke through, there is a God. Grady Little remembered that he's well, Grady Little, and
the Yanks tied the game in the 8th inning on some Jeter-led heroics. Bullpen phone not
working, Dave Wallace? Grady lose his voice? Where's the relief of the un-Pedro Pedro? On the other hand, Moose and Mo threw six ludicrous innings of four-hit shutout ball, maybe the greatest middle and end relief performances I've ever seen in crunch time (and I'll even give you Pedro's six perfect innings in relief in Game 5 of the ALDS
Cleveland in '99).
So after sweating for hours in one of the most intense games of all time, they come back from commercial and Booney Delluc steps into the box. Joe Buck says something like "Red Sox fans will tell you they were just five outs away...and Boone hits one deep..." Silence. The ball sails into the Bronx night, Mystique and Aura show up like Elijah at Yankee Stadium, and the ball hits the seats. We go beserk. I mean beserk. Heavens to Betsy, whoever that slut is, 80-plus years and the Curse of the Bambino still stands as strong as the Yankee resolve.
On one of the most memorable nights in sports history,
a true "where were you when" game, the only thing I could say to sum things up comes from Boone's post-game comments: "This is stupid." Yes it is. Stupid.
At 2:15 am, the adrenaline's still pumping. I hope this one never goes away, fellas...
And it hasn't gone away. I still feel like a giddy schoolgirl with perky budding breasts when I think back to that night -- the three of us sitting there with our heads in our hands, wondering what the Bostonians would say when they called to taunt us. As Yogi
likes to say, "We've been beating these guys for 80 years." That night it looked like all of that would come crashing down on the limp wrist of Gaydro Martinez. In a weird, sad, unfair way, all the Sawx had to do is beat the Yankees once and all of the teams' personal history was wiped away like the McFly family picture. Thankfully, we jumped back to the future
in time for that history to remain intact. And staying true to the analogy, Boone's improbable game 7 shot was like George's right hook, and Sawx fans have been washing our car for the last year.
I'm definitely confident in the Yankees this time of year. It's October, it's Yankee time. The only thing that scares me this year is what Kevin Millar said the other day: "I'm pretty sure we're five outs better than last year." I'm nervous because they are. And they're not only five outs better, they're much, much better than last year, on both sides of the ball. They've upgraded their infield defense dramatically (including a little rhinoplasty at shortstop), traded John Burkett for Curt Schilling, imported a legit closer in Keith Foulke and nurtured the emergence of David Ortiz as one of the scariest at-bats in the league. All that being said, I'm with Yogi on this one...we've been beating these guys for 80 years, and as Bob Weir moans in Looks Like Rain: "That's not gonna chaaa-yaaange."
Here's a very quick breakdown of the series, as Donnie and I see it (incidentally, Donnie's alive and doing well):
In center, Johnny Damon has the slight edge over Bernie Williams offensively, but not necessarily if Bernie gets hot and stays out of the double play. Good ol' 6-4-3 Bernie. I have faith though that Bernabe is going to show off his former self and turn some heads in this series. Defensively, both men are a total liability with a runner on third. And while Damon has more range out there than Bernie, neither man has any sort of arm at all. I'm not entirely sure that either Damon or Bernie could gun down Gary Carter and Christopher Reeve in a three-legged tag-up to home plate.
And if one concedes that Manny and Sheff are about equal in terms of greatness and coolness to their respective teams, then the big question is this: Is the difference between Manny Ramirez and Hideki Matsui greater or less than the difference between Gary Sheffield and Trot Nixon? That's clearly debateable, but I personally think the Yanks have the edge there. Matsui, slipples and all, put up one of the quietest .298/31/106 seasons of all time. He's actually as clutch as they come, he plays great defense, he may or may not give happy endings and he's swinging as hot a bat as they come (.412 in the ALDS to Nixon's .250). Plus, Nixon doesn't have the Rocket to beat up any more, the one advantage of losing Clemens to free agency. All in all, I give the Yanks the slight edge in the corners, with Damon claiming a slight edge in center. In other words, neither team has a clear advantage in the outfield: Even.
This is an ongoing debate amongst some Sawx fans and my Yankee bretheren...Who's better, Varitek or Posada? I'm not sure this one is ever going to be answered properly, but it's clear that both sides will stand by their man 'til the bitter end. Posada looked like he could have been an MVP candidate early on, but took a fastball off the noggin in May and hasn't been nearly the same. But his OBP, more a Red Sawx stat than a Yankee one, remained above .400 this season, good for fourth in the American League. That's also about 10 points higher than his Boston counterpart, who finished a still impressive 10th. Posada hit 21 homeruns to Varitek's 18, drove in 81 runs to 'Tek's 73, scored 72 runs to Varitek's 67, walked 88 times to Varitek's 62. Defensively I like Posada this year, despite what people have said about him. He's really improved behind the plate, and now I consider him to be a bit better than 'Tek. Posada allowed 67 stolen bases while gunning down 25 runners, for a caught stealing percentage of 27 percent. 'Tek, on the other hand, allowed 77 runners to steal out of 100, giving him a caught stealing percentage of 23 percent.
Plus, Varitek is a total fuckin' pussy who didn't take his mask off when provoking a fight with A-Rod. I'm serious, what kind of shit is that? Posada would have. Hell, I know 10-year-old girls who probably have enough common baseball sense to fight fair. Anyway, I'm giving a slight advantage to the Yankees.
RIGHT SIDE OF THE INFIELD
This is arguably the weakest area of both teams, unless you consider Millar's Jim "The Anvil" Niedhardt goatee and John Olerud's oversized mini-ice cream fielding helmet as team strengths. I think the Red Sawx have the nice advantage at first base, with Kevin Millar and Doug Mientkiewicz being the best offensive and defensive players of the four first-baggers. Olerud and Tony Clark are probably the more complete players, but Francona has made it clear that he'll use both Millar and Doug E. Fresh in almost every game. And mark these palabras: Tony Clark will have a huge hit in this series. A huge hit.
But while everyone and their mother may think Mark Bellhorn/Pokey Reese second base combo is superior to the Yankees' Miguel Cairo, I would beg to differ. Cairo had a magnificent year for the Yanks, nearly hitting .300, providing some big hits this season, doing exactly what he needed to do. Mark Bellhorn, on the other hand, is a Sawx fan's dream. He's got a high OBP, he annoys pitchers by going deep in the count. Basically he doesn't swing the bat, and when he does he makes pretty good contact. But, and here's the catch, he struck out 177 times this season, good for a top-ten ranking all-time for a single season. So while he may be a patient hitter, sometimes he's a bit too patient and that could cost his team. In a match-up of Bellhorn and Cairo, there's just no way you could give a clear advantage to the Sawx. But factoring in the first basemen, I'll give the Sawx their due here: Slight advantage
LEFT SIDE OF THE INFIELD
Say what you want about how good Bill Mueller and Orlando Cabrera are, how much better defensively they are than Nomar and whoever used to play third in Boston. Say a million and one great things, but just realize one thing: This is the mismatch of the series, and this is why the Yankees are going to win.
I want to get this out there, because Slack didn't exist when Jeter was slumperrific...Every season since his rookie year, I've liked Derek Jeter. Some seasons he's better than others, hence some seasons I like him and some seasons I love him. But this season I fell IN love with Jetes. I'm in love with him. He became the Captain of Captains this year. He started off slowly, and I mean very slowly. We all know he was hitting .189 in mid-May. And the press and the Yankee-haters came out in droves. But instead of saying Jeter is on the decline, they claimed that Yankee fans were booing Jeter and that we were saying he was on the decline. Clever girl. To quote El Guapo
, and not Rich Garces: "That was a good trick too" (which was actually the second most quoted El Guapo line in the Cowboy household growing up, just ask Ace's brother Red). It was a trick, because these people weren't looking at both sides of the story. Point of fact: EVERY TIME that Jeter came up, the fans gave him a standing ovation. Think about that for a second: Every single time he stepped to the plate, in mid-fucking-May, batting under the Mendoza line
, the Captain got a standing ovation. When he got a hit we stood and cheered. When he didn't, and he didn't quite often, we gave him a little friendly boo, a little encouraging boo if there is such a thing, a little "you'll get there eventually but right now we gotta let you know what's up, Jetes." We were like Casper the Friendly Ghost...we were booing, but we were there to help. And he knew it. And he said so. And he said he'd break out of it, and boy did he ever. This was easily his best season ever. And he's dreamy
At the hot corner, Red Sawx fans could have had Alex Rodriguez for an extra, what, $3 million a season or something. But the Yanks got him, thanks again to Yankee-for-life Aaron Boone, and now he's catching fire. There's just no way in the world the Yanks can lose this series if A-Rod hits the way he does against Minnesota -- hitting .421 with a homerun and 3 RBI and 3 runs scored, 2 key stolen bases and clutch hit after clutch hit. He's still a question mark to me, but if he shows up, look out. On the left side of the infield, there's a yuuuuge advantage for the Yanks
There's no discussion here. David Ortiz is a wicked mawn-stah and perhaps the best free agent signing of the last few years. Even if Ruben Sierra and Kenny Lofton come up with big hits again in this ALCS, they can't hold a candle to Papi and his cool beard. I fear Ortiz. Manny is a punk, I wanna fight him in the streets like Tommy Gunn as my wife and kid look on. But Ortiz I respect, he makes me wet myself in that non-erotic way. Major advantage, Sawx
I'm out of gas here, folks...and I have other work to attend to. So let me break it down like this:
Schilling is better than Moose, and now that I look back at the offseason, I can't believe I didn't want this guy. Trading for Vazquez instead of Schill may work out in the long run, and I bet it will, but for this year and next, Schill was the right move. The only thing is his health...will this injury affect Schill's ability to pitch Games 1, 4, and 7? Will it affect his pitching in any games in which he pitches? Will I give him the antitdote? To what? To the posion he just drank, mwa ha ha ha. Sorry. Anyway, Moose kills the Red Sawx, and hopefully he'll do the same in this series.
Jonny Lieber is ugly as sin, but he's also a very good pitcher in Yankee Stadium, going something like 11-3 with a 3.68 ERA. I'll take that. Plus he's going against Pedro, who is a warm weather pitcher going on a probable cold night. Despite my personal feelings on the man, Pedro's still a great pitcher with some gas left in the tank...but it's all about which Pedro shows up. I'm guessing he bombs in Game 2, but I may have some bias there. And let me admit this: If I were a Red Sawx fan, I would have the "Karim Garcia? Who are you? Who are you to challenge Pedro Martinez?" on a digital file that I could play on my iPod at all times. Great sound byte.
And then it's anybody's guess. Does Jerk Brown show up like the old Jerk Brown the way he did against the Twins? Do the Sawx pitch Wakefield knowing he's a Yankee killer but gave up Booney's shot? Does Bronson Arroyo really have blonde braided wannabe dreads? Will El Duque come out of his retirement home to pitch and go to the store for some prune juice and apple sauce? Hey Coney, how come you don't got a dance, man? Vazquez, does he pull an EA Sports and get in the game? How will the Sawx bullpen fare against the Yanks' hitters? Will Rivera stop electro-shocking his family members and rejoin the team? Will it even matter since the Sawx own his ass anyway? Is Foulke as invincible as he looks against NY? Timlin sucks, right? Lots of questions after Game 2 and in the bullpen, and those factors may decide the series in addition to the lobsided left side of the infield game. STARTERS, Slight edge to the Sawx...RELIEVERS, Slight edge to the Yanks.
But the managing and the intangibles, not to mention home field and all else, goes to the Yankees. I see Francona giving Beantown the shaft at some point in this series. And I see the Yankee ghosts coming back to give a little umph to the boys. And that's why I think the Yankees win this thing in six games. That's right, seis games and no more. And then maybe I'll steal a whole bunch of "Who's your daddy"
t-shirts from MLB quarantine and mail 'em to my pals in Boston. I mean, what a bunch of whining d-bags. They, sniff, made fun, sniff sniff, of meeeee, waaaaaa. I just want to slap all of you bitches across the face and say, "I had to stop her from screaming
Anyway, time to wrap up. You better wrap that gavel up, B. Here's my reiterated, professional amateur opinion: Yanks in 6...call it bias, call it Shirley, but that's the way I sees it. Sound off in the comments section with your own opinion of the series and perhaps your thoughts on how much Manny needs to get hit by a bus.