Friday, December 30, 2011

2003 ALCS: Destiny

How They Got Here
They were destined to meet in this series. They had built up their teams and traded verbal potshots over the past several years possibility built up over several years, the two longtime rivals circling each other from a distance, waiting for their turn to battle.

The New York Yankees started the 2003 season 18-3. That was it as far as the division race was concerned, with their sixth straight AL East title a mere formality at that point.

The Boston Red Sox started the season 14-7. Not 18-3, sure, but good enough to serve notice that while the Yankees may have been the class of the American League, the Red Sox were a close second. They cruised to their sixth straight second-place finish, only this time that second place finish was good enough for the AL Wild Card berth, their first since 1999.

The series essentially started in Game 3, when the Yankees' Roger Clemens and Boston's Pedro Martinez - the two dominant pitchers of their generation - matched up in a highly anticipated duel. Clemens and the Yankees edged Martinez and the Red Sox to take a 2-1 series lead. But again, it didn't matter. This series was the end-all, the peak of the Curse of the Bambino. There was no reason to believe this series would end anytime before Game 7. And after Boston scored three runs in the seventh inning for a comeback win in Game 6, that's exactly where the series would end up. The pitching matchup for Game 7 - Clemens against Martinez.

The Game
In retrospect, it's kind of a ridiculous argument. Eight years after this game, Red Sox fans still get outraged when thinking about how manager Grady Little left Pedro Martinez in the game to pitch the bottom of the eighth of Game 7. How crazy is that? It was Pedro Martinez! The pitcher of the 90s! The man who completely dominated the steroid era despite being built like a telephone pole. I would think there wasn't anybody the Red Sox fans wanted on the mound more in a Game 7 than Pedro Martinez.

And yet he was out there, still pitching with the Red Sox holding a 5-2 lead. Boston had knocked Clemens out of the game in the fourth while taking a 4-0 lead, then added an insurance run in the eighth after the Yankees cut it to 4-2. Then came the bottom of the eighth, and what happened next depends on where you stand on curses and hexes and other such supernatural things.

For those who believe in a logical, scientific answer to things, what happened was a lack of communication. Pitching coach Dave Wallace went to the mound to talk to Martinez with two outs and two on in the seventh, imploring him to "just get this guy." Martinez then struck out Alfonso Soriano to end the inning, walked off the mound, pointed to the sky, and went into the dugout, thinking his night was done. Instead, he went out for the bottom of the eighth, possibly thinking that he would only pitch to Nick Johnson, maybe Derek Jeter, before coming out. He got Johnson, then gave up a hit to Jeter, and still he stayed in. Then Bernie Williams singled, then Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada hit back-to-back doubles. At that point, Little finally went to take Martinez out, and at that point, the game was tied and Yankee Stadium was rocking.

For those who believe in the supernatural, the bottom of the eighth was simply the latest, greatest, and final act of the Curse of the Bambino. After tormenting the Red Sox for a generation, the Curse woke up one more time to wreck havoc on Boston's season, making sure that they not only blew a lead, but blew it to the Yankees, with their best pitcher on the mound. That was the only possible explanation.

Whatever reason you prefer, the winner of this game seemed preordained. It took three innings to do, but the Yankees finally put Boston away when Aaron Boone hit a home run deep into the left field bleachers in the bottom of the 11th, the fifth time a postseason series had ended on a home run.

After the ALCS was over, the Curse went away. That's the only explanation. The best way to make this loss especially painful for the Red Sox would have been if the Yankees had won the World Series, but they did not, losing to the Marlins of all teams. It was as if the Curse had woken up for one final roar then, seeing its work was done, quietly left the stage. To further prove the point, the Red Sox and Yankees met in the 2004 ALCS, with Boston overcoming a 3 games to 0 deficit to beat the Yankees on their way to their first title since 1918.

What I'm doing.

The list so far:
2. 2003 ALCS: New York 6, Boston 5
3. 1980 NLCS: Philadelphia 8, Houston 7
4. 2006 NLCS: St. Louis 3, New York 1
5. 1976 ALCS: New York 7, Kansas City 6
6. 1977 ALCS: New York 5, Kansas City 3
7. 1972 NLCS: Cincinnati 4, Pittsburgh 3
8. 1981 NLCS: Los Angeles 2, Montreal 1
9. 1982 ALCS: Milwaukee 4, California 3
10. 2008 ALCS: Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1
11. 1984 NLCS: San Diego 6, Chicago 3
12. 2003 NLCS: Florida 9, Chicago 6
13. 2004 NLCS: St. Louis 5, Houston 2
14. 1972 ALCS: Oakland 2, Detroit 1
15. 1973 ALCS: Oakland 3, Baltimore 0
16. 1985 ALCS: Kansas City 6, Toronto 2
17. 2007 ALCS: Boston 11, Cleveland 2
18. 1991 NLCS: Atlanta 4, Pittsburgh 0
19. 1973 NLCS: New York 7, Cincinnati 2
20. 1987 NLCS: St. Louis 6, San Francisco 0
21. 1988 NLCS: Los Angeles 6, New York 0
22. 2004 ALCS: Boston 10, New York 3
23. 1986 ALCS: Boston 8, California 1
24: 1996 NLCS: Atlanta 15, St. Louis 0

Still to come:
1992 NLCS: Atlanta vs. Pittsburgh

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