(AP Photo/Charles Krupa / ESPN.com)
Is there anything worse than having your best pitcher on the hook for a one-run loss?
Once again the Sox and Yankees were the immovable object against the irresistible force, tectonic plates shifting past one another--these teams are more evenly matched than their earlier records would make it seem, and the Yankees are boasting one key element we don't have - a solid bullpen. Joba Chamberlain was dominant, but it was really that bullpen that had its way with us in the form of Mariano Rivera, who has been our victim in the past but appeared last night in immortal form.
Even Kyle Farnsworth managed to hold the Sox scoreless. A Yankees fan I know told me yesterday before the game, "Don't worry, Kyle Farnsworth will come in in the eighth and screw everything up for the Yankees, no problem." For a minute, with Lowrie and Crisp on base, it looked like his prediction would come true. But that was not to be--Rivera was summoned to get five outs, and get them he did. Even Papi, at the plate with a chance to REALLY make a splash in his comeback, was no match.
Saddest of all about this, which brings me back to the one-run loss thing, is that the Sox bullpen did just as well, with Lopez, Delcarmen and Okajima holding the Yankees down to the single run they'd manufactured against Beckett.
And! That run! Not a Monster blast by one of the pinstriped sluggers, but Jason Giambi of all people reaching base on an infield single, scoring Bobby Abreu.
Yesterday I heard and read a few people talk about how the rivalry just doesn't feel the same. And they're right--the kind of intensity we saw between 2003 and 2004 just can't be sustained.
But yesterday I experienced a different kind of intensity leading up to the big game - this time, rather than bitter online flame wars and encounters on the street that liven up the police blotter, what I saw was mutual enjoyment of the momentous matchup, fans on both sides just sitting back to enjoy the spectacle. As Sammy commented on this blog, "If they don't have this shit in heaven, I don't want to go there."
It reminds me of the famous quote Carlton Fisk has attributed to Pete Rose in the midst of 1975's Game 6: "This is some kind of game, isn't it?" I would argue that this isn't the death of the rivalry, but a new manifestation, one with its own kind of charm.
And I also remember saying yesterday, yeah, well, let the Sox lose a one-run heartbreaker and we'll see how everybody feels about this rivalry in the morning.
Update - More from the morning after
It might not have been a one-run loss if Mike Lowell hadn't been rung up on an inside pitch from Rivera with one on and one out in the bottom of the ninth (see picture at the top of this post). After that, Lowell was literally hopping mad, screaming in the face of home plate umpire Marty Foster until he was reached, and calmly ferried toward the dugout, by Tito.
I can only imagine what Tito's life is like day-to-day--the total serenity with which he guided Lowell away from Foster spoke volumes.
Meanwhile, Angel Hernandez, normally on the receiving end of such tirades from Red Sox and Yankees, was present once again, though at second base, for this game. Even though he obviously wasn't calling the balls and strikes, I wonder why it always seems he's present for these Sox-Yanks matchups and why just his presence seems to almost inevitably lead to a player meltdown.
I've never seen Lowell react to anything like that. His most severe reactions in the past have been an expression of consternation, maybe a muttered sentence or two, or a sigh. This was a Papi-vs.-Anaheim-Angels-level freakout. As Alex commented below, that's how you know the umpire probably blew the call.
As Alex also pointed out, this incident, the Papelbon drama at the ASG, and most importantly the strange Joba-Youkilis enmity, may bring angst back to this rivalry yet. Even some Yankees bloggers are wondering what Joba's obsession is with the large and sweaty melon of Kevin Youkilis. (Is it just too tempting a target?)
I personally hope the Joba-Youk crap just stops. Nobody wants to see anyone, I don't care who they are, get hit in the head at 98 mph, and there's never, ever a reason for it. But it's funny how fans are often bewildered by the conflicts between players they personally don't share in, when often those conflicts are more real than the ones we like to revel in.
Manny being gone?
Despite all this, the most serious issue for the Sox was not on the field. Instead, it lies somewhere inside Manny's knees, which he blamed for his late scratch from the lineup last night, but which reportedly came up clean on an MRI last night.
In some places, people are suggesting that Francona put Manny's name in the lineup and let him remove himself from the game as a gesture that he will no longer protect the slugger. The sense that the Sox are hanging Manny out to dry is one I've also had this season, especially with the shoving-the-traveling-secretary story. Unlike the confrontation with Youkilis, this one happened inside the clubhouse and never needed to be aired to the public. But it was.
Whether it's front-office sabotage or simply the truth coming out, we're seeing a different, more distasteful side of Manny being exposed more sharply than ever before. It seems people are coming out of the woodwork to volunteer their strange and / or terrible stories about Manny's antics, not all of which are so cute.
Barring being granted a press pass to the Red Sox clubhouse, as a fan, I will never have a truly unbiased, informed opinion on this matter. The Boston press has cried wolf so many times on fan favorites that we've dismissed their insistent reports on Manny's behavior as further sabotage, prompted by moles in the front office working their agenda to see Manny gone.
What's sad about this is that in Boston, we'll probably never really know for sure if that's the case - there are too many vested interests and biases going on, and in a town that saw the FBI aid and abet its most notorious gangster, that gangster's brother run the state's Senate and its university for years, the largest public works project in its history rotted from the inside out by graft and insider politics, and has felt (and undoubtedly has been) betrayed by its sportswriters, we're perhaps more prone than some other fan bases to believing in conspiracy theories. The sad fact of the matter is that we have grown used to people not telling us the truth--in fact, we have come to expect it.
But is it possible that the insistence of the press in this case has to do with the things they know, but can't report (and, yes, it happens all the time in journalism)? Every beat writer keeps secrets for the players they follow, most of the time when they're personal matters and don't apply to his performance on the field. The washcloth story referenced by Texas Gal (linked above) is a good example of the kind of story beat writers in the clubhouse may have witnessed, but wouldn't report on. Might it just be that, for once, they've been trying to tell us something true, thwarted as they have been by their own track record and lack of a 'smoking gun'?
Normally, I dismiss the annual Manny Being Manny flak. But this year feels a little different. This year has really got me wondering.