SERIES: AL championship series; Game 1.
Baseball’s most bitter rivalry will be renewed in the AL championship series for the second time in five years when the teams open the series Wednesday night at a raucous Yankee Stadium.
“The only thing that would come close to this rivalry for me is when I grew up in the ’50s and having the Dodgers-Giants rivalry,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “It was warlike.”
Red Sox second baseman Todd Walker said the rivalry is one thing, what’s at stake is something else entirely.
“The team that wins this wins the World Series. We’re the two best teams in baseball,” Walker said. “No disrespect to the Cubs and the Marlins, but we’re the best two teams.”
It appeared that the Red Sox weren’t going to hold up their end of the bargain, falling behind 2-0 in the division series to Oakland. But with the relentless style that has been characteristic of its season, and with the help of numerous Athletics blunders, Boston rallied to tie the series at Fenway Park and win it in Game 5 at Network Associates Coliseum on Monday night with a 4-3 victory.
“It’s not like anything I’ve ever felt before,” Lowe said. “It’s a win for Boston, for the Red Sox nation.”
Those long-suffering Red Sox fans will now be cheering for their team to accomplish a task they failed at in ’99—beating the hated Yankees for a trip to the Fall Classic, which Boston hasn’t reached since 1986.
That Red Sox team lost 4-1 to a Yankees club that went 11-1 in the postseason to win the world championship. While the current Yankees don’t appear to be nearly as dominant, the challenge for the Red Sox is still a formidable one.
“If you hear `1918’ once, you’ll hear it 10,000 times over the next seven days,” said Lowe, their scheduled Game 2 starter. “But until you win one, the Yankees fans are going to keep on saying it.”
New York has been off since completing a four-game victory over Minnesota in the first round. After a sloppy Game 1 loss, the Yankees looked like a different team in the rest of the series, as their starting pitching held the Twins to three runs in the final three contests, their struggling offense started to produce and closer Mariano Rivera went back to being all but unhittable in a pair of two-inning saves.
The well-rested Yankees have been able to set their pitching rotation for the series, with right-hander Mike Mussina set to pitch Wednesday, followed by Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells in Games 2, 3 and 4.
Boston will only be able to start ace Pedro Martinez twice in the ALCS after he pitched Game 5 against Oakland. He won’t start until Game 3 in Fenway Park, with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield opposing Mussina in the opener. Boston had to fly to Oakland after winning Sunday, play Monday night and immediately head back East.
In addition, the Red Sox are likely to be without center fielder and leadoff hitter Johnny Damon, who suffered a concussion in a frightening collision with second baseman Damian Jackson on Monday night. Damon, who was on the ground for nine minutes before being taken off the field in an ambulance, has a “significant” concussion, according to team officials.
It was not clear when Damon will be able to rejoin the team, and his status for the series is in question.
All of that, however, may matter little in what seems certain to be a long, hard-fought series between closely matched AL East archrivals. The Yankees won the season series 10-9, but Boston outscored New York 117-86 in 19 games that mostly felt like postseason contests.
“Do I hate the Boston Red Sox? Do I hate their players?” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter asked rhetorically. “No, I don’t hate their players. I want to beat them, though.”
The key in the series is likely to be whether the Yankees’ superior starting pitching, the club’s biggest strength, can hold down the Red Sox’s major league-best offense. New York suffered several blowouts this season at the hands of the Boston, which led the majors in almost every offensive category.
Boston’s bullpen, a major weakness during the regular season and still a big question mark coming into this series, was much-improved toward the end of the Oakland series, although projected Game 2 starter Lowe had to be used twice in relief in the five contests.
Game 2 will be Thursday night at Yankee Stadium.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Red Sox - 2B Walker (.283, 13, 85), SS Nomar Garciaparra (.301, 28, 105, 120 runs), LF Ramirez (.325, 37, 104), DH David Ortiz (.288, 31, 101), 1B Kevin Millar (.276, 25, 96), RF Trot Nixon (.306, 28, 87), 3B Bill Mueller (AL-leading .326, 19, 85), C Jason Varitek (.273, 25, 85), CF Gabe Kapler (.271, 4, 27). Yankees - 2B Alfonso Soriano (.290, 38, 91, 114 runs, 35 steals, 130 Ks), SS Jeter (.324, 10, 52), 1B Jason Giambi (.250, 41, 107, 129 BBs, 140 Ks), CF Bernie Williams (.263, 15, 64), C Jorge Posada (.281, 30, 101), LF Hideki Matsui (.287, 16, 106, 42 doubles), 3B Aaron Boone (.254, 6, 31, 8 steals), DH Nick Johnson (.284, 14, 47, 70 BBs in 96 games), RF Juan Rivera (.266, 7, 26).
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Wakefield (11-7, 4.09 ERA). The right-hander will be looking to improve upon his first start of this postseason, a 5-1 loss to the Athletics in Game 2 on Thursday. He went six innings and allowed five runs—three earned—in falling to Barry Zito. Wakefield followed the defeat up with 1 2-3 innings of scoreless relief in Boston’s 5-4 victory in Game 4 on Sunday. He faced the Yankees four times this season and went 2-2 with a 3.96 ERA, including an 11-0 win Sept. 6 at Yankee Stadium when he allowed four hits in seven innings. Wakefield is 6-8 with a 5.08 ERA in 30 games, including 13 starts, against the Yankees.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Mussina (17-8, 3.40). The right-hander lost New York’s playoff opener last Tuesday, 3-1 to Minnesota. He pitched well but was victimized somewhat by poor defense, allowing three runs in seven innings. He went 0-0 with a 3.04 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox this season, pitching at least 7 2-3 innings in each game. Mussina has had success against the Red Sox throughout his career, going 16-11 with a 3.09 ERA with five complete games and two shutouts in 39 starts.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Red Sox - Boston’s slugging percentage in the division series dropped to .378 after it set a major league record in the regular season at .491. … DH Ortiz finished the ALDS 2-for-21. … The Red Sox bullpen did not allow a run over 7 2-3 innings in the final three games against Oakland. Yankees - New York is making its sixth trip to the ALCS under manager Joe Torre and 11th overall. The Yankees have not lost in the ALCS under Torre and are 9-1 all-time in league championship series. … OF Rivera, who has taken over as the regular right fielder and started all four games against the Twins, was one of four Yankees to hit above .300 in the series (.333). … SS Jeter led New York with a .429 batting average (6-for-14) against the Twins and has 107 postseason hits.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Red Sox - 42-39 on the road in regular season, 1-2 in postseason. Yankees - 50-32 at home in regular season, 1-1 in postseason.