Play by Play
This game, huge as it is, deserves a moment-by-moment description--consider this my own kind of scorecard. I apologize for its length, but as they say in AA, take what you can use and leave the rest behind.
Bases loaded. No one out. First inning. 2-0 Yankees.
The back of Manny's helmet, far shinier than the front, gleams in the lights from the cameras, and the flashbulbs, and the stadium roof, gleams under the glare of approximately 70,000 eyes, as he takes his long, slow constitutional behind the catcher to stand in the right-handed batter's box.
He's greeted by a tidal wave of stomachs, upholstered in various shades of team colors, as the crowd gets to its feet. He's greeted by Manny, Manny, Manny, Manny.
The wind is even blowing out to left field.
Manny delivers, with a bounding grounder that seems destined for the left-field corner, but so does A-Rod, diving to his right and mailing the ball over to Jorge Posada, who drags his knee, then his shin, then his calf, then his ankle, and finally his toe, in the manner of an NFL receiver at the white line, across the plate. The umpire calls Johnny Damon out.
Nomar makes contact, but the cheers are choked when Kenny Lofton wraps his glove around the ball.
Kevin Millar comes up, once again the representative of everything that's been wrong with the Red Sox so far this season, and everything that's been right this series.
If every game, every inning, between the Sox and Yankees, is like an arm-wrestling match (an image I often have while watching them play), Millar's golfed two-run base hit is the clenched bicep that drives the Yankees' hand to the table. For now.
"A most preposterous first inning," according to ESPN broadcaster Jon Miller.
Contreras, with his morose features, trudges like Eeyore back to the dugout, where a stern Joe Torre regards him with wordless reproach. Derek takes a last sip of water, heads out to the mound.
As Derek gets his one-two-three inning, I develop a kind of strange calm. The most I've done during these early stages is applaud our good plays. I haven't yelled, cursed or even muttered once. I am alone in the dark living room, and quiet. When something goes badly--such as a spectacular fielding error divided among every member of the Red Sox' right-side fielding staff in the first inning--I sigh at most, and recall that yesterday's victory started 3-0 and remained that way till the third inning. When something goes well, such as a strikeout from Lowe, or Millar's base hit, I clap, slowly, deliberately, then drop my hands in my lap again, remembering yesterday's sixth.
Bumping along in a boat. Letting the swells rock me first one way, then the other.
For the record, Johnny's hit was fair, but the umpires are not. But they are entities which may not be negotiated with. As arbitrary as fate. And like fate, they usually favor the Yankees.
There's nothing they can do, however, when Johnny goes them one better and makes the score 5-2 with a dinger off the Pesky pole.
The pitchers are being dissected before our very eyes. Contreras has rattled apart with the first exploratory incision. Derek may have a few layers left to go.
Bellhorn follows with a towering home run over the 380 marker. The cheers, while full-throated, retain a note of caution. It's just another preposterous inning, and only the second.
Manny and Ortiz, not to be outdone by the leadoff man and the AL strikeout leader, swing for the fences. Both fly out.
Nomar jerks one through the left side. Base hit. Stottlemyer, chewing contemptuously, pays Contreras a visit. Jeter visits for the second time in the inning. Most likely both take this opportunity to remind Contreras who they are playing, and what inning it is.
He's up to 52 pitches, though, and he's beginning to receive gift calls at what can only charitably be called the corners. His curveball begins to hang. Millar sends one to the hooligans under the Bud Light sign at the corner of the Monster. They are unfortunately waiting to receive his offering to the left of the foul pole.
Again. Foul to the left field corner, where the fans are said to commune during the game with Manny Ramirez.
Again. Almost the same place as the last, off into the night. Millar watches it from the plate, then hunkers back down to work, shaking his head. The park is on its feet, but how many more chances does he have?
None, as it turns out. Millar greets the next pitch with his left shoulder, and Contreras draws a warning from the umpire.
Torre finishes a discussion with the home plate umpire, and stumps away with his characteristic jerking gait, shaking his head.
Moments later, Mueller finds himself running two-thirds of the way to first base with the handle of the bat still in his hand. His broken-bat grounder finds Jeter, who finds second base, and Millar finds himself out.
"The inning is at long last over," Miller says. "And it's been a 36-pitch nightmare for Jose Contreras."
The Yankees offense begins the next inning by wasting an out on a pop-up from Gary Sheffield. This, contrary to what you might believe if you stand outside the borders of the Nation, makes me more nervous than if the tables were turned.
"Only seven innings left to go," says Miller.
Derek misses outside, gathers himself, misses outside again, pounding his glove in frustration. You want to cup him in your hands, surround him protectively like a teetering house of cards. All he needs to do is avoid collapse.
On a 3-1 count, A-Rod takes a step toward first base on a pitch that turns out to be Strike 2. His grounder is right to Nomar. Click, it hits Millar in the glove. Thump, his foot hits the bag. Businesslike. Ordinary.
Two straight strikes to erstwhile Red Sox-killer Jorge Posada. The cameras show both Brian Cashman, in the stands, and Joe Torre, on the bench, wearing the same tight-jawed expression.
Derek, determined to keep things interesting, bungles the next two pitches, evening the count.
Sometimes, I think--as I do a few seconds later as the pitch comes in "juuust a little low,"--that Derek's number was selected for his favorite pitch count.
Another pitch, and what started as an 0-2 count becomes a two-out walk. This is a microcosm of why we are not yet relaxed.
A microcosm of why we are still optimistic, however, comes along in the person of Johnny Damon, who snags a fly ball in center field to end the inning.
"One man left on base," Miller sums up as the Sox jog in off the field.
A few minutes later, Johnny Damon comes up with two outs, and the little squares on ESPN's schematic diamond remain dark. The first one lights up, finally, as Damon goes 3 for 3. Seven hits in thirteen at-bats in this series.
Did Mark Bellhorn wear those white gloves before? They look like Mickey Mouse's hands.
"This is a stolen base waiting to happen," Miller remarks as Bellhorn stands in.
A pickoff throw, and Damon hits the miked base bag with an "Oof." Safe.
Bellhorn, meanwhile, has quietly worked a 2-0 count, but abandons Johnny mid-run toward second as his pop-fly finds Matsui's glove.
NYY 2 4 1
BOS 6 7 0
Peter Gammons is telling the broadcasters he doesn't feel that New York will be able to make a deal with Randy Johnson as Bernie Williams smacks a single to right. We've reached the Lull--it happens at every party, in every day, the lowest point of the energy trough. It's a last breather before the home stretch.
The cameras show someone reading the Globe in the stands. The headline: "Lowe Puts Deadline Out of Mind."
Tony Clark waves the bat in a slow arc over the plate while looking out at Derek, as if charming a snake. He chops it foul, the count still 0-2. Trade talk continues.
The cameras show Manny, his face impassive, a blue ribbon pinned to the front of his cap, swaying back and forth, staring at the grass, biting his lips. He's a humongous child, and right now, like the rest of us, he's bored.
Bored? How can this be?
A double play gooses the crowd slightly, but so far things have been quiet. Too quiet.
Tom Brokaw, Katie Couric, John Kerry and Ben Affleck are lined up in the luxury seats. I can't help but think that there are vastly poorer, vastly more deserving die-hard fans who could be there instead. Think of the heckling that could be accomplished from those boxes.
Jeter makes a throw on the run to throw out Ortiz before Ortiz even enters the camera shot. Curt Schilling leans on the dugout post, chewing, watching. Manny repeats his previous at-bat almost exactly, with a fly-out to right center. Contreras appears to be settling down. The arm-wrestling match has returned to dead center.
Someone in wire-rimmed glasses is taking animatedly to Cashman. Enrique Wilson disposes of Nomar at first base.
NYY 2 5 1
BOS 6 7 0
John Kerry does an interview from the stands. He says he is certain Grady Little made a mistake. Ask him who the three and four hitters are in the lineup, though, and it's a different story.
Kenny Lofton, in the small time the camera spends focused on him, rolls his eyes at a called strike and backs out of the box. He fouls to the left field stands. Manny hook-slides directly into the wall.
John Kerry is droning on as Bellhorn steps on the bag to record the out at first base. If you were wondering why Bellhorn was stepping on the bag and not Millar, you're out of luck.
The DNC is ruining everything.
Derek Jeter at bat. John Kerry keeps blabbing on about doping. "Could David Ortiz be part of your cabinet?"
"Ha ha." Kerry says. He still probably has no more idea who Ortiz is than ever. "I'd like to welcome the World Champion Red Sox to the White House."
Thanks for the jinx, John.
In case anyone cares, Derek Lowe just struck out the other Derek.
Next batter, and Johnny flattens himself against the scoreboard, and the ball drops stupidly back down onto the warning track. Manny makes a halfhearted scoop-and-throw to where Gary Sheffield is standing on second base, blinking.
A shouting woman in the stands holds up a "Bill Mueller for President" sign.
A-Rod represents the third out. Derek elects not to chase a slow roller all the way toward first base, however, and Sheffield blinks some more on third base. Why does Sheffield blink so much?
Tom Brokaw is open-mouthed.
I'm waiting for a bad analogy here between Boston's security preparations for the DNC and the Red Sox' game plan with Derek Lowe in a jam.
Curt Schilling is shown in the dugout, absolutely mauling a piece of bubble gum with his teeth. His competitor's heart must ferment with jealousy, watching all this going on with his butt on the bench. I can't wait to see him pour that into his next start.
Two strikes on Posada. Fenway to its feet again. Juuuust a little outside. Awwwwwwww...
"I love it when the umpire does not let the crowd dictate the call," Miller says.
I, myself, love it when the broadcasters don't let the game dictate their dialogue, Joe.
NYY 2 7 1
BOS 6 7 0
Just a half-inning, but it's taken as long as the first three combined. Or so it seems.
Millar leads off the Sox fifth. His black bat hangs out over the plate as Posada gloves the ball down in the dirt. He didn't go, says the third base ump.
Next pitch..."AND MILLAR HITS ONE A MILE. BALL HEADED FOR NEW HAMPSHIRE."
It comes out of nowhere, bouncing off the Coke bottles, the ghost of a pitch returning to haunt center field. Gone but not gone.
Schilling and his gum are on camera again, as Mueller strikes out with a swing that practically screws him into the ground (to borrow a line from Bad Tom).
Fireworks are beginning across town to welcome the DNC. The only fireworks from Fenway Park so far this inning have come from Kevin Millar.
That's how it'll stay, too, as Sheffield reels the ball in yet again. He and the ball seem to have an understanding--it keeps finding him like a little dog playing fetch.
NYY 2 7 1
BOS 7 8 0
Come on, when does the other shoe drop?
I have not been a fan of the outfield grass pattern this season. Earlier it was a series of haphazard stripes, and right now it looks like the pattern on one of those red and white flannel shirts lumberjacks wear.
Striyike Threee on Matsui, and he does not like it.
Is Derek aware that it's the sixth inning? Don't anybody tell him.
None of the Red Sox' uniforms seem to fit correctly. Nomar's is too tight. Manny's is too loose. Derek's sleeves are flapping in the breeze. Every member of the Sox infield boasts a wild growth of bushy facial hair, and several of them accompany this with bristling stubble on their heads. They are the anti-Yankees, whose uniforms are spic-and-span but for the allowable infield dirt, who carry their usual uniform martial haircuts. The Sox by comparison look like dishevelled geniuses.
Or at least Derek Lowe does, as he works another 0-2 count.
Terry rocks gently. He's chewing what appears to be a huge wad of pink bubblegum, but spitting nonetheless. Pokey and Tek are also benched, Tek mouthing sunflower seeds, glaring out at the field.
Breathe in. Breathe out. A swing. An out.
It can't be this easy. If it turns out to be, I will be studying this play-by-play of mine for weeks, trying to figure out how. It's never this easy.
Johnny Damon swings at a bad one. Contreras appears to be wrestling his way back up off the mat.
Could the unthinkable be happening? Could we be witnessing a pitcher's duel between...Jose Contreras and Derek Lowe?
ESPN plays a clip of a wired-up Kevin Millar calling Damon's home run. Is our Cowboy Up Kevin coming back?
Bellhorn hits a lazy double to the bullpen wall in center. The crowd wanted a homer. The crowd is getting greedy.
Contreras finally says, "no mas." Or, rather, Torre says it, but Jose doesn't put up much resistance.
Felix Heredia comes in for a lefty-lefty matchup with Ortiz. His ERA is 5.93.
"Toward the wall...but...not...caught by M--...off the wall..." the ball traces an extreme parabola, from stands to night blackness back down toward the wall, hooking into the corner, ricocheting like a pinball. Miller miscalls the ball's flight at least three times, Matsui misplays the carom, and Ortiz bats in Bellhorn.
"An easy out at Yankee Stadium," Miller comments.
Aww. Too bad.
NYY 2 7 1
BOS 8 10 0
Brett Prinz, a wet-behind-the-ears right-hander, follows Heredia to face Manny. Poor kid.
Theo Epstein is looking particularly constipated lately. Cashman, meanwhile, is now grinning and chatting with his cronies.
Sheffield runs, dives, hook-slides, and lets a fly ball from Manny go. Ortiz rumbles into third. One out, and Nomar nearly wipes out the umpire with a foul ball. The cameras show Nomar chivalrously handing him back his mask.
Manny and Ortiz are giggling about something at first and third.
Nomar strikes out on the high cheese. Two down and two on, and a chance to put this thing away for Kevin Millar.
Prinz clearly fears Millar. He nibbles around the plate. Ball one. Wild curveball fouled off, lucky foul for strike one. Outside again, ball two. Broken-bat bloop! Left field! Millar suddenly can do no wrong. It's like he's been saving all his hits for this weekend. Which is okay by me.
NYY 2 7 1
BOS 9 11 0
The crowd smells blood. Prinz loads the bases.
"People talk about them missing Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite," Rick Sutcliffe (replacing Joe Morgan in the broadcast booth tonight) points out. "But they forget about the importance of David Wells, who hasn't played on a losing team since 1995."
Belli grounds right back to Prinz. Despite Sutcliffe's remarks and a camera shot of Mike Mussina looking like something out of Night of the Living Dead in the Yankees' dugout, I'm still nervous.
I thought I heard Jon Miller talk about Derek Lowe in the past tense.
"Did they pull Derek?" I ask. "Tell me they didn't pull Derek."
Then I realize what I'm saying.
Bellhorn boots the ball Buckner-style. Kenny Lofton's the first man on base for the Yankees in three innings.
Kapler camps under a pop-fly from Jeter. Lofton stays right where he is.
Sheffield waves at a low offering from Derek, but it's hard to distinguish from his irritating batting stance. He didn't go, says the umpire.
"Come on. He swung. He went."
Belli one-hands Sheffield's pop-up. "You gotta love the passion of these Red Sox fans," Sutcliffe says. "They're up 9-2 and they cheer their catcher catching a pop-up."
Hey. You don't know where we've been, Sutcliffe.
Example: Derek works two strikes on A-Rod (who's getting the "Roooo-gerrrr" style cheer now), then passes a ball. Lofton gets to second.
Ben Affleck is now chomping on gum a la Schilling. He knows. He knows.
John Kerry and Tom Werner are standing, hands folded decorously, mouths closed. Pricks.
The strike zone has become the twilight zone. A-Rod draws a walk.
Lowe gets a pat on the butt.
"This is great, what Francona is doing here. This kind of thing has been the key to the Yankees' success, and Francona is recognizing it and doing something about it," Sutcliffe says.
Pulling the pitcher at the right time. That was Francona's chief qualification in the post-traumatic stress of the off-season. I only hope Sutcliffe is right.
I can't get comfortable. I am not relaxed. I am not happy. I feel compelled to write all this down, record every moment I can, for re-hashing later if need be. If anything, it's a nice little psychological profile on what a Red Sox fan goes through in every game. No moment is unimportant. Everything is critical. Once upon a time we lost a game--and the World Series--by one strike three times. Nothing can be overlooked.
Timlin comes in. Not "in the eighth" as they say, but close enough. Ball one is in the dirt. Posada fouls one off. Another pop-foul, both Belli and Mueller chasing.
"Get it, Belli, get it." I want out of this inning. Out, out, out.
Ball two is in the dirt.
Ball three is up and away. Matsui is on deck. No. No. No. No. No. No. No...
Ball four, and the gods have frowned.
I'm doing the math. Four on, if...then...9-6...worst case...
And then it happens. Jesus. Jesus.
NYY 6 8 1
BOS 9 11 0
"Suddenly there's an almost deathly still that descends on this old ballpark." Right you are, Jon.
Strike three, and out three, follow mercifully, but the horse has officially left the barn.
sox half. Kapler pops up to Tony Clark. Our knuckles are nearing the table.
Johnny Damon flies out.
Ben Affleck tells a reporter bimbo that he has been forced by Kerry's appearance to sit next to the Yankees dugout. Poor guy. He says he's exchanged words with A-Rod. All of which is dumb PR bullshit, but when Johnny Damon's fly-out sails away, when Bellhorn strikes out, Affleck blows off the reporter bimbo completely. That's how you can tell he's really a fan. Sitting, with his green and white "B" cap, in Steinbrenner's traditional seat.
What does that mean?
Terry Adams, number 53 on your program, a recent acquisition from the Blue Jays, is welcomed to Boston by being dunked summarily in the boiling lobster pot of a Sox-Yankees battle.
He's a veteran, he's been decent even on a bad team, but Fenway sits back with a palpable "hmmph." We'll believe it when he strikes out the side.
Tony Clark K's for the fourth consecutive time. He's getting called out on Steinbrenner's carpet when he gets back, and it ain't gonna be no damn Visa commercial.
Foulke is warming in the bullpen. I should shut the TV off now. That's what I keep thinking. I should just not watch the Sox until late July, and I should shut off every game where they're in the lead by the seventh inning. Note to self. Will remember this next year.
Somehow my butt will not leave the chair, though.
If whatsisass there gets the side, and Francona still puts in Foulke, I will commence fashioning my voodoo doll tomorrow.
Enrique Wilson walks. Maybe I won't have to worry about the voodoo doll thing just yet.
Whatever His Name Is keeps trying to get a curve over, and it ends up as more of a...bent-open coathanger. I don't know. I'm starting to get punchy.
You could hear a pin drop at Fenway Park. John Kerry is still yakking, but there are several hard-faced young men, looking very much products of Southie, shooting daggers at him from behind.
Kapler lets the goddamn ball drop, and his throw is profoundly retarded. I want to scream. Jeter represents the tying goddamn run. Francona taps Foulke.
I should shut the TV off now. I should shut the TV off now.
Five outs. Foulke must get five outs. Knock knock. Groundhog Day!
NYY 6 9 1
BOS 9 12 1
First pitch is right back at Foulke, caroming off his right shin. He scoops it up and tosses to Belli. Belli guns it to first, hitting Jeter in the back. I'm assuming the position, but the umpires suddenly come through like the Divine Wind and call Jeter out for being inside the base line.
A cast of thousands, meanwhile, is watching Foulke throw, assessing whether he has a boo-boo.
"He's your final card. It's all in the hands of Keith Foulke," Sutcliffe says.
Sheffield's up. He's four for six lifetime against Foulke. And Foulke may or may not have a boo-boo. I'm going to throw up.
The ball's a base hit as soon as it comes off the bat. I cover my eyes. It's headed for the left field corner. At least a double, two more runs, 9-8 Sox with four interminable outs left to go in the game. In other words, Foulked again.
Except, wait: it runs directly into Manny's glove.
Thank you, God. Thank you, Manny Ramirez.
NYY 6 9 1
BOS 9 12 1
The "massive artillerymen," Ortiz and Manny, as well as their Transformer-style dual alter ego, "Manny Ortez," for the John Kerrys of the audience, are up. This is the last great shining hope. We must score runs. We must score runs.
Ortiz bloops to right. So far, so good.
"Allowing unearned runs, that's the biggest problem with the Sox," Miller pronounces. Thank you, Doctor.
Manny falls behind Prinz 1-2, then it evens up at 2-2. Manny hits with two strikes. Come on. Come on. In the name of all that is good, holy, and free of pinstripes, we must. score. runs.
Prinz gets him looking. Manny editorializes to the umpire. Here comes Nomar.
Sox fans in the stands are silent. Clutching beer cups and biting nails.
Nomar pops out to Jeter. Out 2.
Millar's back. Millar is it. I'm drowning in the irony.
Torre makes a pitching change, bringing in the young, flame-throwing Scott Proctor against Millar. In the interim, I'm forced to endure a commercial break.
Back from commercial, Millar pops up foul, and Derek Jeter risks losing an arm reaching in among Red Sox fans on the third-base side trying to make the catch.
Back at the plate. Wild pitch. Ortiz now in scoring position. Dear. God. Help. Us.
Sutcliffe and Miller are talking about what hit would work from Millar. "You can't hit it right at one of the Yankees fielders," Sutcliffe says. "You have to go down the sides."
"A fly to left that scrapes the wall. That'll get Ortiz in," Miller agrees.
Ground out, 6-3.
NYY 6 9 1
BOS 9 13 1
Mah-Cahty catches the A-Rod popup. Francona earns marginal clemency points from me for putting him in.
Fly ball, there's Damon. Out 2.
We've been here before. Oh, yes, we have.
I'm going to throw up.
Matsui to Damon. As soon as it comes off the bat, Belli pumps his fist.
I don't know what to do. It's incomprehensible that they won. I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop for so long that I forgot to enjoy the game.
But here's the story now:
The season series stands at 8 to 5, Sox. The Sox are 7.5 back in the division. They are tied with Oakland for the wild card. It is July 25th, nearly the 26th, and the season is now a gigantic question mark. Had we lost today, I'd have been able to pack it in, consider it the coup de grace, and get on with my life. But now...it could be the start of a beautiful thing, or it could all crash down by next weekend. The fact is we don't know, and so we're suckered in for another little while.
"I love the Red Sox," a guy told ESPN interviewers pre-game. "They apparently hate me, though." Yep, pretty much. They won't let us in and they won't let us go this season. Those fuckers.
Worst of all, though, now I have to wait to the end of the season to wash these clothes.