Wednesday, October 20, 2004

tale of the tape

If you know little or nothing about baseball, I would say that you still may find this entry interesting, but I would suggest that you ignore the segment between *JARGON BEGINS* and *JARGON ENDS*. Only true baseball converts will get this part. To the rest, if you have ever been emotionally involved in something you have seen on TV be it sporting or otherwise, you will appreciate how I felt this morning.

My favourite baseball teams can be easily classified as follows :
#1 The Oakland Athletics (aka A's)
#2 The San Francisco Giants
#3 The Boston Red Sox
#4 Anyone but the New York Yankees.

As the A's and Giants both narrowly missed the playoffs this season, my attention has been naturally drawn to the American League Championship Series between The Boston Red Sox and The New York Yankees. You may consult the above chart to find where my loyalties lie! It consists of a "best of seven" matchup with two games in New York, three in Boston, and the final two back in The Big Apple. Once one team wins its fourth game, they go on to the World Series while the opponent must prepare for next season.

Add to that tension the bitter rivalry between The Sox and The Yanks, which goes all the way back to 1918 when Boston traded one Babe "The Bambino" Ruth to the Yankees (a trade which resulted in what is known as "The Curse Of The Bambino" which is reportedly responsible for The Red Sox' failure to win a World Series Championship since), and you get an idea to the importance of this series. This is what spectator sports is all about. So what if you can do nothing to influence the outcome? So what if it's only a load of guys running after a ball? Excitement just does not get much better than this!

The Yankees, who are the Manchester United of baseball in that they have the top salary earners on their staff and begin EVERY game they play as favourites, proceeded to prove this by winning all of the first three games. Each game would be played overnight, so I would tape them and watch them the next morning with the added benefit of fast forwarding through all the non-action bits (which are very frequent in baseball!). After the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the series, however, my interest took a nosedive. NO TEAM IN BASEBALL HISTORY HAS EVER WON A SERIES HAVING BEEN 3-0 DOWN, IN FACT NONE HAVE EVER EVEN FORCED A GAME SEVEN. I just clicked on the website the next two mornings to check the scores of Games 4 and 5. To my surprise the Red Sox won them both, each in exciting fashion.

This piqued my interest enough to set my video for last night's game 6 back in Yankee Stadium. I got up this morning at 6am as has been the norm, and was pleased to see my weight has finally dipped under the 18 stone mark. I then got myself a coffee and started watching the game.

The big story going into the game was the condition of Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, who had the most wins during the regular season, but who had also damaged his push-off ankle against the Anaheim Angels in the last round. He was hit all over the park in Game 1 against the Yankees, but since Games 4 and 5 had gone to extra innings, Boston's bullpen was stretched to its limits so if he was at all fit Curt really had to put in a quality start if there was to be any chance of prolonging the series to a Game 7.

Schilling produced the most incredible comeback pitching performance I have ever seen. He pitched 7 quality innings, and his only slip up was a solo home run hit by Bernie Williams in the 7th which just stayed fair. The rest of the time he kept the Yanks' incredible lineup of Jeter, A-Rod, Sheffield, Matsui, Posada & co in check, and was ably backed up by 4 runs from his own team's line-up which is pretty impressive in itself.

The umpires played an enormous part in the game, with two incredibly gutsy decisions. With Boston already up 1-0 and 2 runners on, their 2nd baseman Mark Bellhorn hit a shot to left field which at first appeared to come back off the wall for Hideki Matsui to field and throw back to the infield, but on viewing the replay tape it was clear that the ball cleared the wall and actually hit off of a fan and thus should be declared a home run. Red Sox manager Tony Francona came out to dispute and to their credit the six-strong umpire team agreed to converge and discuss what they had collectively seen. Obviously some of them had seen what had happened so it was left to the crew chief to announce to the home town crowd that it was in fact a home run and what had been a 3-0 lead for the visitors was now one of 4-0.

This third inning appetizer was nothing to the main course the officials were to serve up in the bottom of the seventh! Schilling had been relieved by Bronson Arroyo, who was himself hit all over the park in Game two but pitched a solid inning in relief in Game 5 the previous night. With 1 out in the 7th, one run was already in, it was now a 4-2 game, with Derek Jeter on 1st and A-Rod at the plate. Rodriguez chopped a grounder between the mound and first base, which Arroyo fielded himself and went to tag the runner for the 2nd out. Instead, the ball fell out of his hand, the runner was declared safe, and Jeter strolled in for another run to make it 4-3.

Or did it? Francona was out again protesting. Arroyo was down on his honkers in disbelief. Then we saw the replay. To quote a famous baseball commentator, HOLY COW!!! As A-Rod passed Arroyo he clearly swatted the ball out of the pitcher's hand, which of course is interference, and should be out. The umpires went into their second huddle. After a prolonged consultation, they called A-Rod out and demanded Jeter return to first. It was then clear why they had taken so long to decide. Clearly it was obvious what had happened and what the correct call was, and the only thing left to determine was how to handle the eventual reactions of both the crowd and Yankees coach Joe Torre. After the crew chief made his signal, Torre was allowed rant for a good 5 minutes without being ejected, and Francona had to take his players off the field as the hometown fans hurled missiles onto the playing surface. All six umpires deserve medals.

After it all died down, what had been a situation whereby it was 4-3 Boston with 1 out and a runner on 2nd, it was now 4-2 with 2 out and a runner on 1st. What a difference. Arroyo picked himself up to get Gary Sheffield to pop-up for the final out. The Sox went quietly in the top of the 9th, and so it was set-up for a Red Sox reliever to get the 3 outs required to bring us all back the following night.

Back in Game 1 I could not believe the fact that the Red Sox had Keith Foulke in their bullpen. I had followed my beloved A's all season so did not know where he had been traded. Sure, he's an established closer, but when asked THREE TIMES to close out victories for the A's last year AGAINST THE RED SOX he choked and Boston came back from 2 games to 0 behind to win that series 3-2. So I was equally surprised when I saw Foulke was being brought in to pitch the bottom of the 9th for the Sox against the meat of the Yankee's batting order, especially when you remember Boston is a club which more than most has been influenced by ghosts from playoffs past!!!

With me well on the edge of my seat, he walked the leadoff hitter Hideki Matsui, to bring the tying run to the plate, but proceeded to strike Williams out swinging for the first crucial out.

Welcome back non-baseball fans! Basically when it came to the end of the game Boston just needed to get TWO Yankees out to win the game and be the first to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie. Fully engrossed in the game, I wondered who the next batter would be.


Imagine my frustration!!! Let's just say an expletive or two was yelled!!! Luckily the sports channel that carries baseball, NASN, is currently showing a replay of the game and has JUST reached the part where the tape ran out. I still don't know who won as I type. There will a pause between this line and the next as I return to the edge of my seat.


He got the second out, but then walked Ruben Sierra. Now a home run wins the series for the Yankees.


3 balls and 2 strikes so far to the Yankees second-string first baseman Tony Clark.


Oh wait, hang on....There's still Game 7 tonight. I'm gonna set my VCR for 8 hours on Long play. Don't ring me in the morning, I'll be busy.

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