Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The last loss

In a valiant attempt at shortening a baseball fan's winter, NESN has been replaying all of the Red Sox - whoops, that's World Champion Red Sox - World Series games from 1975 and 1986, as well as the ALCS and Series games from the past season.

It's a great idea, and NESN does it up right. The games are shown in their entirety, first pitch to last, which means we have to take the bad with the good - yes, Calvin Schiraldi is still prominently involved. Last night, NESN revealed the final hideous blemish before the most beautiful stretch of Red Sox baseball in, oh, 86 seasons. Of course I speak of the 19-8 beat-down administered by the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS.

I doubt I could have watched this grotesque four-hour-plus monstrosity had the Yankees polished off the Sox the next day. But as you may recall, the plot took an unpredictable, unprecedented twist, and history will remember this game as the Yankees' final hurrah before they collapsed like chintzy lawn furniture, losing the final four games of the series, not to mention their arrogant sense of superiority over the Red Sox.

Hell, yeah, this one was easier to stomach on a second viewing, knowing now what we didn't know then. (Dude, I think I just channeled Bob Seger there.) In fact, it was so tolerable I even took notes. Here, then, are a few scratchings on the notepad, your favorite nitwit blogger's observations from tonight's episode of the Empire's Last Stand:

~ Good to see Jerry Remy come out of hibernation for the pre-replay analysis. Say, I wonder if he saw his shadow today?

~ Not that Yankees starter Kevin Brown needs anger management counseling, but in the second inning, he started muttering to himself after a pitch . . . and it was a strike. He just looks like the kind of guy who might punch an inanimate object. Like a wall. Or Jason Giambi.

~ Johnny Damon was hitless in the series (0 for 9) until singling in the four-run second inning that gave the Sox a temporary 4-3 lead. How quickly things change. Damon, as I suspect you will recall, ended up being the offensive hero in Game 7, with two homers, including a game-breaking grand slam. Since then, the follicly-endowed centerfielder has emerged as the rock-star of the champs, appearing on Letterman, writing a book with Peter Golenbock, getting married in a lavish wedding that was covered by all the celeb rags, and just this week, finding time to heal T.O.'s leg. Busy dude, that Johnny Jesus.

~ Brown and Sox starter Bronson Arroyo both were bounced in the third inning. Arroyo gave up three in the first, then with a 4-3 lead in the third, he coughed up the tying run when A-Rod launched a scud over the Monster that should be landing right . . . about . . . now. Curiously, as A-Rod circled the bases, his famous purse was nowhere to be seen. Must've put it in Jeter's fanny pack while he batted.

~ I had completely forgotten that Ramiro Mendoza pitched in this series, but there he was in the third inning, balking in the Yankees' sixth run. Mendoza, Theo Epstein's personal "Ishtar," never seemed to be able to reconcile himself with the end of his successful Yankees career - hence the cruel nickname, the Imbedded Yankee. I'm not sure that's entirely fair - he was effective at times for the Sox - but I did find it strange that, while facing Jorge Posada, he looked to him for the signs instead of Varitek. Come to think of it, heading to the Yankee dugout after the inning was over and shaking hands with Stottlemyre and Torre probably should have been another tell-tale sign of his loyalties.

~ Watching Orlando Cabrera crank a bases-loaded double in the fourth to tie it at 6-6, it struck me that all three players who arrived when Nomar departed are ex-Sox now, too. I knew it before, but I guess it never registered, if that makes any sense. Dave Roberts, god bless his speedy feet, is a Padre. Doug Mientkiewicz is in New York, presumably getting some hot Mets memorabilia authenticated. And the caffeinated Cabrera is a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim. (That's LAAoA on the cap insignia, if you're keeping score.) Of all the offseason departures, it's OCab I'll miss the most. Whether he was replacing an icon or bounding after a grounder in the hole, the cat did everything smoothly and with much grace.

~ I've counted six times in the first four innings that the Fox cameras have forced upon us either the patented Jeter Fist-Pump or the Jeter Prance Outside The Dugout After Something Good Happens For Team Evil. Don't know about you, but I can't get enough of The Captain and his all cheerleading intangibles. (Gag.) Which reminds me: If you had one slap left to give, would you use it on Jeter? A-Rod? Or Joe Buck? Discuss.

~ Curtis Leskanic looks like a brunette Yosemite Sam. Yosemite Sam had better command of his breaking stuff, however. Sheffield hit a three-run bomb off him that came damn close to shattering the Citgo sign.

~ I'm not saying that Tim McCarver is the anti-Christ. I just find it curious that his uniform number during his playing days with the Cardinals was 666.

~ Man, Hideki Matsui has a freakin' giant head. I'm guessing he's a size-9 hat, and the damn thing is still too small - it falls off his monster melon every time he runs. The sucker reminds me of some classic dialogue from "So I Married An Axe Murderer," one of Mike Myers's more underrated efforts. Quick google search and here you go:

Mike Myers as Stuart Mackenzie: "Hideki! Move your head! Look at the size of that boy's head!"
Tony: "Shhhh!"
Stewart: "I'm not kidding, that's like an orange on a toothpick!"
Tony: "Shh! You're going to give the kid a complex."
Stewart: "Well, that's a huge noggin! That's a virtual planetoid! Has its own weather system! Head! Move!"

A moment later . . .

Stewart: "Head! Paper! Now! Move that melon of yours and get the paper if you can! Haulin' that gargantuan cranium about! I'm not kidding, that boy's head's like Sputnik! Spherical, but quick pointy in parts. He'll be crying himself to sleep tonight on his huge pillow!"

Editor's note: The kid's name wasn't really Hideki; it was William. An oversight on Myers's part for sure.

~ Fourth inning, someone on the Sox lines to first base for a double play. Fenway is quiet . . . except for one leather-lunged joker: "Hey Olerud! Nice helmet!" Kills me every time.

~ Wife, sixth inning: "Look at his stupid facial hair. How does he go out in public like that?" Any guess whom she might have been talking about? Here's a hint: his breath likely reeked of KFC and Jack Daniel's. Yeah. Millar. Who else, really?

~ So it's 13-6 in the sixth, and I relent and let my wife switch it to "Extreme Makeover: Beastly 'N' Deformed'" (or something like that) for a few minutes. The next time I switch back, it's 17-6, and I suddenly felt that old familiar feeling of resignation, the sick sense that the Yankees would laugh last again. For a brief moment, I was reminded of what it used to be like to be a Red Sox fan.

I recall thinking the night of Game 3, as I sat in the Globe office, waiting with the rest of the crew for the game to end and the writers' stories/season obituaries to flow in, that maybe, just maybe, this is how it has to be, that now that rock-bottom was struck and all hope abandoned, the Sox could do the unthinkable, win four straight, and make the greatest comeback in sports history against their most bitter rival. Hell, I thought, maybe this is the way they have to do it. But I'm not going to tell you I believed such an improbable notion.

I didn't watch to the last pitch of last night's replayed whumpin', just as I didn't that night at work. Even in retrospect, one can only watch Jeter fist-pump so many times before the homocidal tendencies set in. ("Redrum! Jete-Jete! Redrum! A-Rod!") So, with comfort in knowing that the final, brutal 19-8 score did not foreshadow the season's end, we flicked to "Extreme Makeover" for the night.

The Red Sox's extreme makeover would begin the next day. I'll be damned if it wasn't beautiful.