You just don't expect these kinds of things to happen. Yes, even if you are a Yankee fan, spoiled by winning and success, you don't necessarily plan for your wildest dreams to come true. But that is what happened late Monday afternoon as the Bombers' B-Squad, featuring a starting line-up which included the likes of Nick Green at short, Bernie Williams in center, and Sal Fasano behind the mask, edged by a flat Red Sox team, 2-1. It was the only briskly played game of the turgid, five-game sweep, which will go down as the sequel to the famous 1978 Boston Massacre. David Wells pitched well for Boston but his teammates were lifeless with the bats and were shut-down by Corey Lidle, Octavio Dotel, Mike Myers, Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth. With a runner on second, Alex Rodriguez made two fine defensive plays in the fifth inning; a wild-pitch Keith Foulke (or a passed ball by Javey Lopez--but does it really matter?) in the eighth inning allowed the go-ahead run to score.
The Yankees have to be downright giddy about the win, which puts them six-and-a-half games in front of the Sox. New York beat Boston every which way over the weekend--blowing them out on Friday and then again against Beckett and company on Saturday, before coming-from-behind against Schilling and Paplebon Sundaya night, then finally finally winning a low-scoring affair yesterday. It may not exactly have been a massacre--other than Lidle, the Yankees' starting pitching was not sharp, while their bullpen was taxed considerably--but it was a thorough beat down.
Right on time like the IRT, Joe Sheehan has fine analysis of the series over at Baseball Prospectus. To Sheehan, it comes down to this:
The Red Sox used seven pitchers over the weekend who they'd planned to have reasonably significant roles for the 2006 team: Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, David Wells, Jonathan Papelbon, Keith Foulke, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez. Those pitchers threw 28 2/3 innings, allowed 20 runs, all earned (6.28 ERA), struck out 23 men, walked 16 and allowed just two home runs. It's not a good series by any means, but when you consider how much of that is Beckett's man-with-blindfold act Saturday (nine walks in 5 2/3 innings), it's passable.
The Red Sox also used seven other pitchers, including both starters last Friday. Those pitchers threw 17 1/3 innings, allowed 29 runs, 28 earned (14.54 ERA), walked 15, struck out 17 and allowed five homers.
Let me boil that down for you: The Red Sox are the 2005 Yankees, but without Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small. At the time they were acquired, there was basically no difference between Chacon and Jason Johnson, between Small and Kyle Snyder. The Yankees hit the lottery last year, and the Sox didn't this year. Where the Yankees got 160 or so innings of above-average pitching from two guys who were useless before that and useless after, the Red Sox got well, you can read the numbers.
Add that to the fact that the Yankees are a ridiculously patient and opportunistic offensive team, and there's your story.
I've written a lot about how Yankee fans have adopted a sense of entitlement when it comes to winning over the past decade. Of course, it is a sentiment that has been reinforced by the team's owner for a generation now, so it's only natural for the fans to pick it up too. (It fits so well with our instant gratification culture.) The most distubring part of this attitude is that often prevented fans from appreciating just how difficult it is to win, no matter what kind of wild competetive advantages the Yankees have. One of the most memorable qualities of the 1996-01 Yanks was that from Joe Torre on down to the players, this was a team that understood and appreciated how just hard it is to play the game well, and just how difficult it is to win. How hard it was to stay healthy, and play well enough to create your own luck, your own good fortune. To miss out on that basic fact is to miss what made that team truly great. (Do you think Joe Torre appreciates how hard his team played this weekend? He was virtually reduced to tears by the end of it, bless his heart.)
But while I always felt grateful for all of the winning during the late nineties, I too found myself caught up in the greediness of "win or else." When Derek Jeter made that improbable flip to Jorge Posada in Game Three of the ALDS in 2001, I didn't allow myself to really enjoy the moment. It won't mean dick if they don't come back and win the game, if they don't come back and win the series, I said, arms-folded, reduced to the ultimate kind of baseball snobbery. Yo, I sat there, rattled, okay, but not able to truly savor those two crazy World Series wins that year because what would they mean if the Yanks didn't win it all? (To this day, I have a hard time watching them when they are on TV.) When your team has won three straight titles, all you can live for is four-in-a-row. What else is there?
But if the 2001 post season taught us anything it is that you can't always have everything you want, but, as the song goes, you can get what you need. The city--yes, even non-baseball fans followed the Yankees in the months following 9.11--needed a distraction, some theatrics and entertainment and the Yanks delivered just that. They gave the city everything it could have asked for save another victory parade down the canyon of heroes. Though it ended badly for the Yanks, the 2001 team will likely be remembered as fondly as any of the championship editions. We were reminded that baseball is just entertainment--and at times we desperately need that entertainment--and pales in comparison with the larger troubles of the world. The 2001 World Series also made for a kind of beautiful baseball justice. In the end, the Yankees, with all the karma and mystique and all that, were simply out-Yankee'd.
All of which I bring up because over the past several seasons, I've tried to appreciate things moment-by-moment, game-by-game, even more. I don't want to say that any given season is been horrible simply because the Yanks don't win a title. That's just too limiting, the easy way out. This five-game sweep does not guarentee a playoff spot for the Yanks, it does not necessarily spell curtains for the Sox. It doesn't look good for Boston, but stranger things have happened and there is plenty of time left. It might not portend to anything at all, and for the moment, that's just fine. It doesn't have to be anything more than it is--a rare, perfectly-contained success. Forget about Boston's misfortunes, think about what the Bombers have done. Still no Matsui or Sheff and for the time being, they aren't being missed. The Yankees really proved something to themselves, and I'm sure the rest of the leagaue is taking notice. This is the best that Yankee fans have felt about themselves vis a vis the rivalry with the Sox since Boston's historic playoff run in 2004. Lots more to come, but for today, there is a lot to be thankful for. Don't let it give you a swell head, but don't discount it entirely and let it pass you by, either.