It's amazing how quickly fortunes can change. The night of the blackout last week the Yankees beat the O's down in Baltimore and then they won six more in a row. In the meantime, Boston's mighty offense was experiencing one of its few collective droughts of the season, and the Yankees put some room between the two teams. Going into Friday's game, the Bombers led Boston by seven, eight in the loss column.
Buster Olney wrote in an e-mail this past week, "The Red Sox are fading, right on schedule. They're like homing pigeons finding their way back to their cages; you don't quiet understand how, but it's absolutely predictable."
The A's are Boston's cheif competition for the wildcard. After Oakland swiped the first two games in Boston this week, Red Sox Nation was ready to damn it all and jump off the bridge. Yes, the offense was back in the final game, and they pounded Rich Harden, who pitched in place of a bruised Tim Hudson (only been just about the best pitcher in the league this year). But they blew those two games. 17 men left on base!
Last night, the Sox beat the Mariners, 6-4 while the A's faced a long night with Roy Halladay--the other guy who could be the best pitcher in the league. The Blue Jays beat the A's 6-3, and Doc had his 17th win. The Sox and A's are now tied for the wildcard spot.
But the fortune for Red Sox Nation gets better as Mark Mulder, one of Oakland's Big Three, could be out for the rest of the year. (Mulder had to leave after three innings this past week in Boston.) In his Under the Knife column yesterday Will Carroll, the injury guru over at Baseball Prospectus, wrote:
The A's pushed Mark Mulder onto the DL while he rehabs a strained hip. As with Randy Johnson's knee, this is Mulder's right (plant) leg, which understandably takes a lot of impact and torque in the pitching motion, even with great mechanics like Mulder. Mulder will miss at least two starts while on the list, but since he will be able to keep his arm loose, he shouldn't need much work before jumping back into the rotation. Expect the A's to be aggressive but smart with his rehab.
But it's apparently worse than that (I'm sure we'll hear more from Will in the next couple of days). According to the Associated Press:
A's left-hander Mark Mulder has a stress fracture in his right hip, a startling injury that will likely sideline him for the rest of the season.
"Yeah, six weeks I think is unrealistic to expect that he'll be in pitching shape," A's general manager Billy Beane said Friday night. "So yeah, we're resigned (that Mulder is done for the year.)"
Oh, man this is brutal for the A's. Somewhere, Michael Lewis is fuming. It reinforces just how much Oakland's success has depended upon the healthy, durable trio of Hudson, Mulder, and Barry Zito. Forget the other stuff, it's the Big Three or bust. They can still make the playoffs without the great offense, but it remains to be seen if they can do it without their top flight pitching.
I don't know how many times Oakland has to play Seattle again, but I know the Sox get to play Tampa and Baltimore a whole bunch. With this sudden turn of events, the wildcard will be Boston's to lose. They've got the advantage. I know Sox fans like Ed Cossette who have remained confident in this particular Boston squad throughout the painful losses and the slumps. Ed and his friends might have something to shout about in October after all.
Oakland's chances rest on the fate of Tim Hudson. I don't know how the hand injury will effect him, if it will slow him down any, screw with the way he throws certain pitches. He's been remarkable all year and is the soul of thier staff. If he's OK, and can bulldog his way through the next six weeks, Oakland will still be in it.
Meanwhile, the Yanks lost a close one to Baltimore in the Bronx last night, 4-3. The winning streak ends at seven. David Wells pitched well enough to lose, and Pat Hentgen threw a nice game for the O's. The Yankees had their chances late. Bernie couldn't do anything with two runners on in the eighth, and Nick Johnson had a chance with the bases loaded and two out in the ninth. But then he didn't. The O's brought in the ol' southpaw Buddy Groom, so Torre countered with Ruben Ruben Sierra. Sierra had 5 hits in like 10 or 12 at bats against Groom so Torre went with the percentages.
But I'm sure I was not alone among those Yankee fans who instinctively groaned. Aw, man, don't take Nicky Johnson out. Sierra looked at one pitch and he swung at that pitch. A strike-one fastball. Sierra swung late, and popped the ball to Gibbons in right to end the game.
The Yanks lead Boston by six games, seven in the loss column.
The Yankees received a pair of 23-year-old pitchers: righthander Justin Pope (4-11, 4.92 ERA for Class A Palm Beach) and lefthander Ben Julianel (4-2, 1.05 ERA, 9 saves, 78 Ks in 51 2/3 innings for Class A Peoria).
Hitchcock finally gets out of his penthouse prison and will get a chance to start meaningful games for a team struggling to make the playoffs. I wish him luck and am relieved, for him and for us, that he's finally gone.
GATOR GETS HIS
Today is Ron Guidry Day at the Stadium. I'm going with my friend Mindy, and a couple of her friends. I went to high school with Mindy but we didn't start to bond on the baseball tip until last season. Since then, we're famous baseball pals. Mindy went to spring training earlier this year and actually got to meet Guidry. She said he was a real humble southern gentleman, and she had a great time talking with him.
I was seven years old when Gator had his amazing 1978 season and I suppose it's the first memory in my baseball consciousness. I don't really remember the '78 season in any coherent way, but I was aware of the skinny little lefty who just killed it every time he pitched. I started following baseball in a deliberate, aware way starting the next year in '79. So I have much stronger memories of the playoff sweep in '80 by the Royals--George Brett's Revenge!--and the disastrous 1981 World Serious than I do of Reggie's homers or Chambliss' shot.
Guidry was my favorite pitcher and second favorite player overall next to Reggie Jackson. Willie Randolph was my third favorite. I liked the skinny guys because I was a skinny guy. I was also drawn to the quiet disposition, the cool professionalism that both Wille and Guidry displayed. Reggie of course was a totally different animal, but that's another story. You got to have a ying to your yang.
Anyhow, I'm going to enjoy giving the Gator his props in person today. I hope to have lots of casual conversations with fellow Guidry fans and get swallowed up in the collective memories of the crowd. That will be interesting. Should be a long-ass afternoon; we'll arrive at 2:00 for the ceremony. The game doesn't start until 4:00, so that'll be close to six hours out there when it's all said and done (sun block: check).
Fortunately, it's a tremendous day here in New York. It's one of those days that the radio calls one of the 10 best of the year. Absolutely perfecto. Hot, sunny, but not humid. With a cool breeze cutting the heat nicely. The city is dead, with everyone still on vacation, and I love it. This is usally my favorite time of year. When you can get great corn, and fresh tomatoes, and nobody is in New York. Couldn't have a lovelier Saturday for a wedding or a tribute to Ron Guidry at the Stadium.