NEW YORK – Just to recap, Tuesday night here at Yankee Stadium:
- The first 19 Boston Red Sox batters were retired.
- But Mike Mussina, the pitcher who had the Bronx whispering Don Larsen into the seventh inning, wound up with four earned runs.
- It didn't look like it would matter because of the shelling of Yankee stopper Curt Schilling, who gave up six runs in three miserable innings.
- Much of that was due to Hideki Matsui, who knocked in five RBIs and scored twice as New York jumped to an 8-0 lead.
- Of course, Matsui then bumbled a David Ortiz fly ball during a frantic Red Sox comeback in the eighth inning to make the game 8-7 and put Ortiz, the potential tying run, on third.
- Which caused Joe Torre to bring in a closer who spent the morning at a double funeral in Panama.
Think the American League Championship Series is going to live up to the hype or what?
New York 10, Boston 7. And oh my, is this one ever on.
"Well," Torre said, "all of those people who say (I) sit in the dugout and it's calm, you didn't want to be there tonight. Each game is going to be an emotional roller coaster, there is no question."
They make some big roller coasters these days, but none of them can compare to the twists and turns of the game that gave New York a 1-0 lead in the ALCS. Game 2 is here on Wednesday.
In the seventh inning, when Mussina struck out Johnny Damon for the third time, had an eight-run lead and flirted with perfection, this was all but over.
Yankee Stadium was in full sing-song mode – teasing Game 2 starter Pedro Martinez with the rhetorical question "Who's your daddy?" and, in an effort not to jinx the Moose, refusing to say anything that even rhymed with "no-hitter." Considering Mussina seemed to be working with a perpetual 0-2 count, it didn't seem like he needed any superstition.
For the Red Sox – who had scored 964 runs since opening day and came into this series full of bluster – this strikeout fest was more than frustrating. This was a humbling humiliation that would crush lesser teams.
But Mark Bellhorn broke the string of perfection with a deep double and the floodgates opened. Suddenly it was 8-3, then 8-5, then 8-7, then "Enter Sandman" time.
The Yankees were fortunate Mariano Rivera, who had buried two cousins in Panama on Tuesday morning (both had suffered accidental electrocution deaths at his home Saturday), had his five-hour flight back to the States make it in time.
One thing Torre didn't worry about was his ability to concentrate. "I don't think I trust anybody more than Mariano," Torre said.
After getting through a day such as Rivera's, having the ball handed to you with the game on the line isn't such a big thing.
"The most difficult part of my day was leaving my family, knowing they are still in pain," Rivera said. "It was tough, you know, coming on that plane alone. I was thinking, you know, just there's tears coming out of my eyes."
It was that kind of night in the South Bronx.
The surprise at the start of the game was the shellacking of Schilling. As an Arizona Diamondback, Schilling tortured the Yankees in the 2001 World Series, giving up just three earned runs in 21.2 innings pitched. It was that mastery of the Bombers that caused Sox general manager Theo Epstein to spend last Thanksgiving in Arizona convincing Schilling to come to Boston and not New York.
Instead the Yankees jumped all over him. By the third inning, Schilling was pulled, left with a glazed look and a sympathy hug from pitching coach Dave Wallace.
"He just didn't look right," said Sox manager Terry Francona, as worries about Schilling's tender right ankle magnified.
But rather than folding under the circumstances, Boston never stopped competing no matter how dominant Mussina was. "The vibe in the dugout was actually pretty good, even when we were down," Francona said.
By the end there was the close, nail-biting game everyone expected. If there is ever such a thing as a moral victory in a playoff series, Boston got it.
"The goal is to win," Francona said, "(but) we actually gave it a pretty good run."
Here is the thing about New York, though. No matter how good the opponent may look on paper (and boy Boston looks good), the Yankees have a roster full of been-there October heroes. From Mussina's perfection, to Rivera jetting in from Central America, to Bernie Williams knocking in two clutch eighth-inning insurance runs, New York is still New York.
But here is the thing about Boston. The Red Sox are not going to stop coming and are not going to stop battling and believing until you drive a stake through their heart. The lineup is loaded. The danger is always there.
An eight-run hole in the seventh? Why worry?
"(Boston) is so capable of doing what they did tonight," Torre marveled.
But, then again, so is New York.
Which is why after one wild, unpredictable and fantastic fall night, this much-anticipated ALCS is more on than ever.
So buckle up. The roller coaster ride has just begun.
- New York
- Joe Torre
- Red Sox