Keefe To The City: Keys To A Comeback
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By Neil Keefe
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I am scared of Game 6. Actually I’m petrified. Since the end of Game 5, I have been thinking about Game 6. It’s all I have thought about.
I have created every single possible scenario and every imaginable matchup in my head. I have picked apart every move Joe Girardi might make and should make to counter a move made by Ron Washington, virtually becoming Girardi’s binder for the last 36 hours or so. I have scoured the internet for as much information on the series and Game 6 as possible. Is this normal? No. Healthy? Certainly not. But I’m forced to deal with the hand the Yankees have dealt me as a fan: three straight Game 7s.
I don’t know if Phil Hughes is going to pitch like he did in Game 3 of the ALDS or in Game 2 of the ALCS. I don’t know if Colby Lewis is going to pitch like the guy that was forced to pitch in Japan for two years because he couldn’t get hitters out here, or if he is going to be the guy that shut down the Yankees for 5 2/3 innings in Game 2. I don’t know if A-Rod will finally make an appearance in this series or if Bengie Molina will finally play like a Molina and stop hitting. I have no idea what is going to happen in Game 6. Maybe it’s better that way.
I have been counting down the seconds until 8 p.m. on Friday night knowing that it might be the last game of the 2010 baseball season for me. I might catch the Rangers-Giants or Rangers-Phillies World Series while flipping through the channels for a King of Queens or Everybody Loves Raymond rerun, but I won’t make an appointment to watch the World Series if the Yankees aren’t in it and I won’t care who wins. My baseball season is on the line from here on out, just like it was on Wednesday before the Yankees were able to extend it for at least one more game.
Win one game at a time and hope that you can win three games before you lose one. That’s where we are. Luckily I have seen this story before. I have lived through this story before. No, it wasn’t with the ’96 Yankees or the ’01 Yankees because those comebacks came in the World Series and ALDS. I lived through this same scenario with the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox. I sat there and watched them rip my heart out and stomp on it while the city of Boston turned into a scene from Independence Day. I sat in Fenway Park and watched it all fall apart six years ago, and then I had to watch them take down the Indians in similar fashion just days after the Yankees’ ace folded for the second time and Paul Byrd went into Yankee Stadium and came out victorious. That was fun.
I watched the Red Sox overcome a 3-0 deficit because Mariano Rivera couldn’t close out Game 4. Because Tom Gordon looked like Henry Rowengartner on the mound when he realizes he doesn’t have his fastball anymore. Because the right field wall in Fenway Park isn’t tall enough to work for wiffleball. Because Joe Torre didn’t want to bunt against Curt Schilling (and the only time he had to cover first base in the entire game he limped over there and it almost ended in disaster). Because the entire offense took off the final four games. Because Joe Torre had nowhere to turn in Game 7, but Kevin Brown.
No one is supposed to come back down 3-0. No one. But really 2004 was a perfect storm for the Red Sox. They were the better team and if you remember anything from the second half of that season on, it was evident that they were the better team, and the best team in baseball. Their starting rotation was Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Bronson Arroyo and Derek Lowe. The Yankees countered with Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber, Kevin Brown and El Duque. The offenses were nearly identical, except the Red Sox had Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, and the Yankees didn’t. It’s amazing the Yankees won a single game in the series. It’s a miracle they were ever up 3-0.
Then I watched nearly the same thing happen against in 2007 because CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona showed up like A.J. Burnett in series clinchers. Because J.D. Drew became a postseason hero — a phrase I thought I would never hear. Because Josh Beckett thought it was 2003 again. Because Mike Lowell — the man the Red Sox didn’t want in the first place and the player the Red Sox spent his entire five-year tenure with the team trying to get rid of — began to hit like Ted Williams.
What the Yankees are trying to do is comparable to what the Red Sox did in 2007. It won’t match what the Red Sox did in 2004 because nothing can and nothing ever will, but I think it’s important to include 2004 because no one gave the Red Sox a chance to win four straight in that series, and no one is giving the Yankees a chance to win three straight with Cliff Lee waiting in Game 7.
On my way to the Stadium for Game 5 on Wednesday I texted my friend Mike to ask him if he was going to go to the game. His response? “Not sure. I have a ticket, but it seems pointless to go.”
Here was one of the most dedicated and optimistic Yankees fans I know packing it in before the series was over. When no one is giving your team a chance to win and even your team’s fans are questioning whether it’s possible, that’s when it happens.
When a comeback begins and the wheels start turning, there is no stopping it. It’s like leaving the TV on SportsCenter when you fall asleep drunk and when you wake up hung over, SportsCenter is still running on a continuous loop, but the remote is well out of reach. There is nothing you can do about it and there is no stopping it. You have to just let it happen and watch those same NBA preseason highlights over and over and over.
I’m not ready for the 2010 season to end. I expected this season and this postseason to end the same way it did last year. The same way I expect every season to end. The only problem is this year the Yankees are faced with adversity in October, something they didn’t get a sniff of last October.
The other day Sweeny Murti gave the best evaluation anyone has of the situation the Yankees are currently faced with. Sweeny told Mike Francesa that the Yankees struggled for most of the second half, but then they went out and swept the Twins and everyone seemed to forget about all the flaws this team has. It wasn’t until the Rangers ripped them apart that everyone remembered about all the Yankees’ problems.
Maybe this Yankees team doesn’t have what it takes to win two more games in this series and six more games total in the postseason. Two of the main offensive cogs from 2009 are sitting home because Brian Cashman thought Nick Johnson was a bargain. Mark Teixeira and his defense are done for the year, but maybe it’s a blessing given the way he was swinging the bat and killing rallies in the three-hole like a pitcher does in the NL. But I actually think the Yankees might play better without Teixeira as crazy as that sounds. It seems like teams always rally and second-tier and role players step up their own games and overachieve when a star player is out. Now that some of the other Yankees won’t be relying on Tex to have the big at-bat or to get the big hit, they will have to do it themselves. Losing your All-Star first baseman is never a good thing, but I think right now it might not be as bad as people are making it out to be.
It takes four wins in the ALCS to reach the World Series, the only problem is that three of those wins now have to come consecutively. It’s a three-game parlay to save the season and it’s a situation that no team wants to be in. But after watching the franchise I despise more than anything in the world pull off ALCS comebacks twice in the last six years and nearly three times, I have grown accustomed to what it takes to get up off the mat before the ten count. There are four main elements (one for each win it takes to win the series) that have to happen to pull off the unlikely and sometimes improbable. Here they are:
1. Have Your Ace On The Mound In Game 5
You can’t begin a comeback if you have a bender starting in Game 5. You have to take the series one game a time once your back is against the wall, and without any room for error, the ace can provide confidence and stability for a team that is battling just to extend their season one more game.
The Yankees did just that with CC Sabathia in Game 5. CC wasn’t the same pitcher he was in the regular season, but he wasn’t the pitcher he was in Game 1 of the ALDS or Game 1 of the ALCS. CC gave the Yankees offense a chance to win on Wednesday and they finally met him half way and put up enough runs to send the series back to Texas. A comeback begins with the ace and the first step has been clinched.
(If you’re a Phillies fan reading this, yes, you too are in position to pull it off after Roy Halladay’s Game 5 performance on Thursday. I just hope you don’t.)
2. Get An Early Lead And Catch A Big Break
I put these two things together because they are a parlay within the big parlay. They usually happen together and if you hit both, you’re golden. If you only hit one, it might not be enough.
The Yankees got on the board first in Game 5 and they were able to hang a crooked number and finally put the pressure on the Rangers for the first time in the series. After allowing first inning runs to the Rangers in Game 1-3, the Yankees put up a lead they were able to keep for the entire game. You could say that their one break so far has been the play in which the Rangers threw the ball around the infield like a bad men’s league softball team, but I think the Yankees’ true big break has yet to come.
The Yankees are going to need an umpire down the line to give them a big call or the ump at second to give them one on a steal attempt. Get a lead in Game 6 (and Game 7) and make your own breaks. The umpires are just waiting to mess a call up in the Yankees’ favor, and it will happen, but you need to make your own breaks sometimes too, so putting on the pressure will go a long way in making that happen.
3. Remember You’re Playing With House Money
You would think that the New York Yankees being down 3-1 in a series to a team that has never reached the postseason in their history would be pressing and worrying about being embarrassed. But it’s exactly the opposite.
Sure, the Yankees were the favorites to win the series before it started, but after the Rangers dominated them for three straight games, the perception of the series has changed. Now everyone is expecting and already penciling the Rangers in as the AL representative in the World Series especially with Cliff Lee. There has been enough time for the idea to settle in that the Rangers are the better team than the Yankees and the media pumping out this notion has made the public join the Rangers bandwagon. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first real sign that a comeback is possible because the shock factor of the Yankees losing a seven-game series to the Rangers is over. And because there isn’t a non-Yankees fan that is giving them a shot to beat Lee in Game 7.
It’s not like the Yankees were up 3-1 (or 3-0 like 2004) or that they were beaten in Game 7. Instead the Yankees have been outplayed for every inning of the series except for one inning in Game 1 and all of Game 5. The Yankees are the team playing with the casino’s money because they have already been considered finished in this series. The closer they get to forcing a Game 7 and reaching the World Series, the more the pressure will mount for the World Series-less Rangers. Once you let the team trailing in the series win Game 5, the pressure shifts to the team trying to put the series away.
Right now no one would be surprised if the Yankees lost this series, but everyone would be surprised if the Rangers did.
4. Win One Game You’re Not Supposed To Win
You can make the case that Game 1 of the series was the game in this series the Yankees weren’t supposed to win, but really the game they aren’t supposed to win will only be played if the Yankees can win Game 6.
I haven’t talked to one non-Yankees fan that thinks the Yankees have a chance against Cliff Lee in Game 7 after what they saw from him in Game 3, and maybe they can’t, but I would be more than happy if this series gets to the point where that is a real discussion.
I understand that there is more at stake for Cliff Lee in a potential Game 7 than just sending the Rangers to their first World Series. Cliff Lee is trying to add as many zeroes as he can to that contract he will be getting this winter and every win he accumulates in October only helps his cause. A Game 7 win against the Yankees, who will likely be giving him that contract, to send the Rangers to the Series and to beat the Yankees for the second time in the series and for the fourth time in the last two postseason will be sure to add some tens of millions to his new deal. Let’s just say Cliff Lee won’t be poor anytime soon.
If you told me in March that the Yankees would be down 3-2 in the ALCS in October, I would have signed up for it because to just to get into the postseason is hard enough and winning the ALDS is even harder (Hello, 2005-2007). Now the Yankees have a chance to return to the World Series if they can win two more games and for the first time in a long time, they are the underdog.
Completing the comeback won’t be easy, but nothing at this time of the year is.
Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe