By Jason Keidel
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Junkies are, by definition, an illogical lot. The substance you choose to abuse is incidental.
I’m a sports junkie and, if you’re reading this, chances are that you’re plagued, too. And thus, no matter the Yankees’ or Red Sox’ record this season, we try to glean a theme from their summer Tête-à-têtes. Despite the fact that the Bronx Bombers started slowly against Boston in 2009 and still won the World Series is meaningless to you because you want Boston’s blood. It’s quite understandable considering this is baseball’s – if not America’s – iteration of the Hatfields and McCoys. And they renew the rancor 19 times every season.
No one would love a 19-0 bashing of Beantown more than yours truly. But these games matter strictly in the standings. There’s no greater meaning or wider narrative, no overarching symbolism in an arbitrary summer game. Regardless, every time Mo blows a game in Boston you reach back into your brain, recalling 2004. But each of the 162 contests this season counts the same, except for the fact that these Bostonian duels mean a direct bump north or south in the standings, which, again, is incidental since both teams have sprinted miles ahead of the American League. One team has already secured the division and the other has procured the wild card.
But in baseball’s summer marathon there are races inside races, all part of the sport’s innate charm, from no time clock to quirky ballparks to no tie scores to its historical prerogative as our pastime and authentic, American Melting Pot.
And when you glanced at the marquee beaming Beckett vs. Garcia you internally and immediately surrendered and looked forward to the next series. Yet there the Yankees were, three outs from slaying the Yankee slayer.
Beckett’s bona fides as a Yankee killer are long certified, going back to Miami, where he put the Bombers in a chokehold and made the Yankee Stadium infield his personal party room after shutting out the Bombers, a nine-inning yarn on their yard. I’m still stunned by the baleful image, losing a series to a cadre of kids once stuck (but never awestruck) in a 2-1 series hole, pinstriped boots jammed into the their throats, with enough remnants of the ‘90s dynasty to recall the kill shot. And Beckett continues his mastery over the pinstripes, entering last night’s game 2-0 (0.86 ERA) against New York.
Ever notice general managers, managers, players, and pundits can’t predict a game or series any better than you? If they could, they’d swap suits and cleats for betting sheets at their local sports book.
You’d like a more profound prognostication, something swathed in stats, but I’m afraid it’s no more complicated than the hottest team – or, more specifically, the best pitching – will win the World Series. None of us thought the San Francisco Giants would run away with the trophy last year, yet they handily handled the Texas Rangers, the talk and chalk of baseball after they spanked the Yanks in the ALCS.
And it doesn’t take a 10-2 series record to realize the Red Sox are, frankly, better than the Yankees. Their lineup hits for a higher average, has a better on-base percentage, and scores more runs. They have four batters (with over 100 plate appearances) batting over .300; the Yankees have none. And with Beckett and Lester leading their rotation in a short series, their pitching is better than the Yankees’ troubling quartet, “CC and the Three Variables.”
The Yankees’ lone edge – which could be vital in October – is in the bullpen, the very one that blew last night’s game Despite the Sunday burp in Boston, they are the best relief corps in the American League (Boston ranks No. 4).
The immortal Mariano Rivera is indeed mortal. We knew that, particularly against Boston, the only team against whom he’s struggled over his transcendent career. We just hope the Red Sox have a hiccup before this year’s ALCS.
And don’t fret the fall or refrain of the New York Yankees, who don’t need mojo or swagger or whatever your silly euphemism is for onstage arrogance. Do you really think Mariano Rivera is rattled by blowing a save last night? Do you think CC Sabathia trembles at the notion of Red Sox Nation? I’m hearing way too many Yankees fans refer to their club posthumously, as though the Sox clinched the pennant last night. Relax. Had Jack Curry proposed a 69-44 August record in April, you’d sign the line in a New York minute.
Had the Yankees won last night, their record would have swollen to 70-43. Sound familiar? That was their mark many moons ago, in 1994. Sound familiar? That was the only season without a World Series since 1904. That season ended without a winner or a whimper, an empty autumn, an unanswered question swirling like a dead leaf in the crisp October wind. There was no champion then, just as there isn’t one now. Those answers arrive another time, not in muggy, midsummer nights. The regular season isn’t lost because the season series is lost. It’s just one of those things and, thankfully, the other 143 games played against the rest of baseball are of equal heft.
The Red Sox and Yankees reaching the playoffs have become as predictable as the pumpkins glowing orange from your neighbor’s windows, the candlelight flickering behind the carved, demonic facades. This series won’t change that yearly, monolithic mantra of World Series or Bust. Would you want it any other way? Though we regard the Red Sox with supreme disgust and wince at their wayward hypocrisy, we need them, as an emblem of and repository for our sporting vitriol.
How many Red Sox fans have dropped an S-Bomb (steroids) on the Yankees’ dynasty? And where are they now that we learned that the meat of their order and soul of the squad, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, were squatting over toilets, tossing needles to and fro, blasting their tan tushies with equine cocktails that would make War Admiral blush?
Despite this, my hand throbbing with pain and regret as it rises, I tip my cap to Josh Beckett. If he pitches until he’s 60, he’ll always have a job. He can go 0-10 against the American League yet go six-and-oh against New York. Beckett is precisely the pitcher the Yankees covet: clutch, never daunted or haunted by the ghosts of Babe Ruth’s past, those apparitions Curt Schilling called out in 2001.
Aura and Destiny are indeed dancing at your local strip club, not pitching in the Bronx. But come October, will it be the Yankees or Red Sox stuffing bills in their bikinis?
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
What is it about the 2011 Red Sox that the Yankees just can’t figure out? Sound off in the comments below…