You didn't think it was going to easy now did you? Well, okay, maybe Yankee fans were feeling pretty good about themselves with thoughts of a perfect game dancing in their heads as Mike Mussina started the seventh inning with an 8-0 lead. But before you could chant "Who's Your Daddy?" the perfect game was lost and the Red Sox were alive. It took a clutch double by Bernie Williams and a four-out save by Mariano Rivera to finally kill Boston for the night, but the Sox threw some kind of scare into the Bronx along the way.
Which was to be expected. Although these two teams affect different aesthetic personalities, they have more in common than not on the field. Both offenses are resilient and relentless. The Sox mount a comeback and then the Yanks add some insurance runs of their own. How do you stop these teams? The Yankees came away with the win yesterday but it was by the skin of their teeth. Why wouldn't this series go to the last inning of the seventh game again? It may not, but that's at least how it feels with these two teams.
Curt Schilling was off his game and the Bombers got to him early. Unable to push off his ailing right ankle effectively, Schilling's fastball was clocked in the high 80s instead of the mid 90s. With two out in the first inning, Schilling hung a 3-1 breaking pitch to Gary Sheffield which was lined into left for a double. He got ahead of Hideki Matsui 0-2 and then Godzilla poked a good split-fingered fastball into left for an RBI double. Bernie Williams followed and smacked a first pitch fastball into center for an RBI single.
Schilling hung an 0-1 slider to Jeter to start the third, which went to center for a single. Alex Rodriguez reached on an infield single to shortstop and then Gary Sheffield walked. Schilling threw a fastball--was it a flat cutter?--to Matsui which was roped off the right field wall for a double. Trot Nixon slipped allowing Sheffield to score all the way from first. Sheffield threw threw an imaginary punch in the air and then chest-bumped Alex Rodriguez, clumsily knocking the helmet off his head in the process. Matsui would score on Jorge Posada's sacrifice fly and Schilling did not return for the fourth inning. According to the Boston Globe:
"If I can't go out there with something better than what I had today, I'm not going back out there," he said. "This is not about me braving through something. This is about us and winning the world championship, and if I can't give them better than I had today, I won't take the ball again."
Conversely, Mike Mussina was brilliant. His stuff was sharp and he kept the Red Sox guessing. In the top of the fourth, Mussina went to a full-count on the first two batters (Johnny Damon and Mark Bellhorn) and struck them both out looking; Damon on an inside fastaball, Bellhorn on a fastball away. He then froze Manny Ramirez with a breaking ball to get him looking too.
Curt Leskanic and Ramiro Mendoza worked the fourth and fifth respectively for Boston. Kenny Lofton led off the sixth with a solo home run off of Tim Wakefield. Derek Jeter followed--he would ground out to third--and the Yankee fans loudly cheered "Who's Your Daddy?" Moving along, Johnny Damon struck out for the third time of the evening in the bottom of the seventh. At that moment the only tension in the game was whether or not Mussina could pull off the improbable perfect game. He got ahead of Bellhorn with fastballs 0-2 and then Bellhorn smacked an outside heater off the wall in left center field for a double. So much for perfection.
Manny Ramirez hit a first pitch curve ball to Jeter for the second out, and then it got exciting. David Ortiz fought off an inside curve ball to right for a single. Mel Stottlemyre came to the mound for a visit. Then Kevin Millar lined a double off of Matsui's glove in left. The Yankee lead was 8-2. Matsui sprinted for Millar's ball and got a glove on it. But he couldn't hold on. The first pitch to Trot Nixon nailed Jorge Posada in the chest and scooted away, clearly a cross-up between Mussina and his catcher. Millar moved to third and scored when Nixon singled to center on the next pitch. So much for perfection, Mussina's night was over.
Taynon Sturtze replaced him and threw two fastballs past Jason Varitek. Boston's switch-hitting catcher was 0-36 at Yankee Stadium this year at that moment, but Sturtze got greedy and tried to muscle another fast ball past him. But it wasn't high enough and Varitek pounded it over the right field fence for a two-run dinger. 8-5. The chanting ceased, the sweating commenced.
Tom Gordon came on in the eighth and Bill Mueller reached on an infield single. Miguel Cairo made a terrific diving stop to his left but couldn't get the ball out of his glove smoothly to make a throw. Damon followed and whiffed for the fourth time of the night. Mark Bellhorn flew out to Matsui. Mariano Rivera, who didn't arrive at the Stadium until after 8:00 p.m., started warming up. Manny Ramirez then fisted a breaking ball that was up and in into left for a bloop single. A great piece of hitting. Mueller advanced to third.
I figured Torre would go to Rivera to face the lefty Ortiz. So did the Fox announcers. But he stayed with Gordon who fell behind the "Cookie Monster" 2-0 and then 3-1. Ortiz then launced a long fly ball to the deepest part of left center field. It was a few feet short of a home run. Matsui tracked it down and then ran past the ball at the last moment. Looking like a backward elbow macaroni, Matsui reached for the ball which knocked off his glove. Two runs scored and Ortiz was reached third. It could have been a game-tying home run, it could have been the third out. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.
Enter Sandman. Rivera came on to pitch to Kevin Millar and promptly fell behind 2-0 before getting the burly first baseman to pop up to Jeter to end the inning. Yankee Stadium was officially shook. Who's your daddy now? The hard-throwing righty Mike Timlin retired Derek Jeter to start the bottom of the eighth and then threw two fastballs past Alex Rodriguez. The next pitch was up and in and brushed Rodriguez back. After two balls that missed outside, Rodriguez lined a single into left. Timlin got ahead of Gary Sheffield and narrowly missed striking him out with a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner. Sheffield fouled a pitch off and then dumped a single to left. Timlin stayed in the game to pitch to Matsui, who had 5 RBI on the evening, and got him to pop up to short. But Bernie Williams shot line drive over Manny Ramirez's out-stretched arm in left for a double, scoring two runs to give the Yankees a three-run cushion. Ramirez one-upped Matsui misplaying the ball.
In the ninth, Trot Nixon popped out to Jeter on Rivera's first pitch. But Rivera left several pitches up in the zone to Jason Varitek who eventually singled hard to right. Cabrera bounced a single through the hole to left and suddenly Bill Mueller was at the plate representing the tying run with just one out. Yipe! He worked the count even at two, then Mueller hit a ground ball to Rivera who started the 1-6-3 double play. Exhale. Game over. The Yanks pound Schilling, Mussina was close to perfect, the Sox mount an impressive rally, neither bullpen was especially good, Rivera saves the day and the Yanks snake away with the victory.
Game One in the books. And they're just getting warmed up. What's next?