Friday, August 14, 2009

ON SPORTS ~ The Template...


The Template:

where previously A-Rod became the enemy and the Sox re-loaded to avenge their 2003 post-season failures at the hands of the Yankees...

Over 4th of July weekend in 2004, we packed up our stuffed apartment and moved it across town into our new house. It was built sometime before 1900, but it was new to us all the same. We didn't have the cable connected that first weekend so we were left to listen to the Sox/Yankees series on the radio as we unpacked. Things didn't go so well for the Sox in that series in the Bronx, and their fast start to the season had slid into mediocrity. As the month went on, they seemed to be sleep walking and the upcoming trading deadline on July 31st weighed heavy on the minds of fans and players alike. As if the Sox needed any further pressure, the Yankees came back into town on July 23rd for another weekend series and promptly beat high profile off-season acquisition Curt Schilling in the first game. What happened on Saturday, July 24th, has since become known as the turning point for the Sox' 2004 season. In reality, they continued on in mediocrity through much of the next few weeks before righting the ship and finding a way into the playoffs once again. But what happened in that game in July created a template that they would turn to again when much more was on the line.

We got a call late that Saturday morning from a friend who was on his way in to the game and had 1 extra ticket. Andy was under the weather and promptly declined the offer, passing it along to me. Being unshowered and unprepared to scoot into town, I took a pass as well figuring there was no way I would make it by first pitch. Not long after we hung up the phone the skies opened and the rain came. After an hour rain delay the game got underway, meaning I would have had plenty of time to get there after all. Never turn down an offer to a Sox/Yankees game. Never.

With the Sox losing early on, young Sox starter Bronson Arroyo faced superstar, and recently dubbed Sox enemy, Alex Rodriguez with runners on base. Bronson was a laid back kind of dude who wore his hair long and stringy and liked to strum the guitar and pretend he was Eddie Vedder off the field. He was also skinny as a bean pole, but unafraid of the big league pressure or the stars he faced. And so it came to be that he hit A-Rod with a pitch and Alex took offense. He started barking at Bronson without making much of an effort to take his free base. Now, I'm not a lip reader, but I'm pretty sure that when Sox catcher Jason Varitek got between A-Rod and the mound and began to escort him to first base, A-Rod told Bronson F-U. And I'm pretty sure Tek told him the same thing right back. A-Rod then invited a reaction with "C'Mon" and Tek promptly obliged by blindsiding Alex with a gloved stiff arm right in the kisser and an attempted wrestling throw down before he could continue the conversation.

That little melee between these same teams in the prior year's playoffs had nothing on this scene. Benches cleared instantly and a fracus ensued before the Umps could get a handle on things. The Yankee's starting pitcher, Tanyon Sturtze, reached in to drag Sox player Gabe Kapler out from the fringe of the pile and found himself in a headlock by Big Papi, David Ortiz. Kapler has one of the most drool-worthy bodies you will ever see and used it to bloody Sturtze's uniform.

After all was said and done, Tek and A-Rod, and I think Kapler too, were tossed from the game and order was restored. Both starting pitchers stayed in the game. The crowd was electrified from the fight because they watched their Catcher do to A-Rod what they themselves had been wanting to do to him figuratively ever since he landed with the Yankees instead.

Game On. The Sox battled back and took the lead and knocked Sturtze out of the game by the 4th innning. Seems he had a bruise on his pinky that caused more trouble for him than that gash over his ear. Poor Sturtze. He hailed from MA and grew up with this rivalry. Guess he couldn't help himself getting all riled up like that. Sox Manager Terry Francona got too riled up on a close call in the 5th and got himself tossed out of the game. These guys were dropping like flies.

It wasn't long though before Bronson's luck turned and he let the Yankees back into the game in the 6th. The bullpen was called on much too late to do anything about it and before we knew it the Sox were losing by 5 in the blink of an eye. Well, actually, it wasn't a blink of an eye because it had taken 2 1/2 hours to play only 2/3 of the game. And don't forget that rain delay to start things off. Our friend at the game was certainly getting his money's worth.

Another hour later and they had finally finished playing the bottom half of the 6th, during which time the Sox offense ignored the futility of their pitching staff and got back 4 of the 5 runs they needed. Seems that the Sox weren't the only ones with an ineffective bullpen. The Yankees were running out players I'd never heard of at this point. And there were still 3 more innings to go. But things didn't seem as gloomy as the overcast skies anymore.

The battle of the bullpens continued and the Yankees kept the upper hand, getting a little breathing room with another run so that by the 8th inning they were winning 10-8. With 2 outs, big basher Manny Ramirez came to the plate with visions of homers in his eyes ready to feast on the Yankee pitcher of the moment. But Manager Joe Torre would have none of that. He called on possibly the greatest closer that has ever lived, Mariano Rivera.

When Rivera comes out of the bullpen at home in Yankee Stadium, Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blares menacingly from the loudspeakers. When he comes out of the bullpen on the road, there is the silence of dread all around, for he looms like a dark thunder cloud just waiting to slam the door on your hopes. And that's just what he did to Manny. Fly out. Lead intact. Headed to the 9th.

Miraculously, the Sox bullpen set down the Yankees in order for the only quick and easy part of this never-ending game. So the Sox were down to their last 3 outs against You Know Who back up on the mound. But Nomar doubled, advanced on a sacrifice fly and scored on a single by Kevin Millar. Down by 1 run with 2 outs left in the game and a runner on 1st. Bill Mueller (pronounced Miller) at the plate. Bill had been stranding runners left and right all day long. Not exactly the optimism you might have with Manny or Big Papi at bat.

But you know I wouldn't go to all this trouble to tell yet another sad tale of woe for the Sox and success for the Yankees. Billy Mueller whacked Rivera's pitch over the fence and into the bullpen for the game winning home run to beat the Yankees 11-10! It took 4 hours plus an hour rain delay, a brawl, 3 player ejections, 1 manager ejection, poor pitching, luck - good and bad, and clutch hitting for this game to be decided. It was Rivera's first blown save and loss of the season. He appeared to be in shock. No one was more shocked than us. But not Bill Mueller. He proved that it could be done. It might have been a fluke, but it was possible.

T-Shirt showing box score of The Game states "HBP NY #13 (A-Rod), BY #61 (Arroyo) WITH ASSIST BY #33 (Varitek)"

next week, THE SHAKE-UP, in which Molly says goodbye to #5...

1 comment:

Sandy Nawrot said...

That is a shirt of a true fan!