The Oakland A's trailed the Red Sox by one run in the bottom of the ninth last night. The first two batters reached base on walks, and then the A's sacrificed---?!?!---the runners over. Jermaine Dye was then pinch-hit for---?!?!?!---and the last three hitters were unable to put the ball in play, drawing a walk and two strike outs. The Red Sox bullpen, which has been much maligned all season, came through when they needed to.
The never-say-die Red Sox completed a dramatic comeback to advance to the ALCS, and will face the Yankees tomorrow night in the Bronx. Pedro Martinez got the win, and Derek Lowe saved the day, recording the last two outs in the ninth. Barry Zito surrendered a three-run blast to Manny Ramirez--who would have made Alfonso Soriano proud hot dogging it around the bases--and that proved to be the difference.
The ninth inning surely took years off the lives of Red Sox fans. The Fox network kept cutting back to a live feed at a Boston bar, and by the middle of the inning, the place was suddenly still, waiting for something to go wrong. Fox also showed Red Sox fans in the crowd in Oakland, and cross-cut between shots of the Sox and A's benches. Seeing virtually everyone in the park reduced to a nervous wreck was a memorable sight, for sure. Oh, the tension.
But this year's Red Sox have nine lives, and plenty of chutzpah to go with it. The A's opened the door for them, and they slipped through it, and got what they've wanted all year: a shot at the Yankees to get to the World Serious.
This may be as good as it gets for baseball, and for one of its great rivalries---at least as far as the Sox are concerned---but it's not going to do wonders for my mental health. And shit, I'm a relatively well-adjusted guy; think what it's going to do for the rest of the fanatics in Boston and New York.
Starting today, the fireworks will start. The Yankees' paper lion owner, G.M. Puff'n'stuff, has already issued his battle hymm, and I'm sure the higher ups in the Boston organization will start to tweak him, and the ever-sensitive Yankee fans shortly. When Johnny Damon wakes up from the terrible collision he suffered last night, I'm sure he'll start running his mouth too. Todd Walker, Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar: we're ready for your close ups.
It is likely that Tim Wakefield will get the ball in Game One for Boston. He'll face Mike Mussina. I would expect that Derek Lowe would go in Game Two against Andy Pettitte. Then, Pedro vs. Rocket in Boston on Saturday, followed by Boomer vs. Burkett or Suppan on Sunday.
The pitching match-ups clearly favor New York. If the Yankees starters do their jobs, the Bombers should advance. But Boston's offense is a powder keg waiting to be lit. It is unlikely that they will go out like the impatient Twins, and therefore, one of the Yankees' major weakness'---their middle relief---will have to perform. The Sox pen performed admirably against Oakland, while the Yankees' pen rested. Who will play a significant role: Jeff Nelson, or Jose Contreras?
On the other hand, the Yankees offense is starting to catch fire too, and they will put more pressure on Boston's bullpen. Both teams have shakey defense, and both teams know each other inside and out. I expect for us to be in for a week and a half of gut-wrenching games, sleepless nights, and emergency trips to the shrink.