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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Red Sox-Yankees: the view from the edge

Being so far from the United States--8 hours East of Boston--makes following the Red Sox's season strange. I am almost never awake during evening games, though if they run long I might catch the last inning in the morning before going to work. Most of the time it's as if the season were a slowly growing plant: it's motionless whenever I look directly at it, but when I check in dramatic changes have happened: David Ortiz's bad couple of games has grown into a "slump", Kevin Youklis's amazing season start looks like it might be here to stay, a struggling Curt Schilling surprises me by reaching 9 wins first in the American League.

I can occasionally catch the full audio of a daytime weekend game, but watching it on the US Army cable station they have in a local bar is out of the question. I tried to watch game 7 of the Pistons-Le Bron James series, and the bar closed at 4am, in the middle of the fourth quarter.

This past Tuesday morning, I woke early and realized that a Monday night Sox-Yankees game was just beginning. I took a deep breath and checked the score, knowing that any number of horror scenarios--John Papelbon hurt, Shawn Chacon first in ERA, etc.--could be old news already. I hadn't looked at the standings in a few days, which any Boston fan has learned (Len Bias, Reggie Lewis, Bill Buckner) is plenty of time for the plant to whither and die. In fact, I think Boston fans have a chance to cash in right now by betting big on the Mavericks, because we know that Antoine Walker will find a way to self-destruct and take the Heat with him. (Ask me some time about the money I made by betting against the Drew Bledsoe Cowboys last year.)

Add to this the ability of the Yankees to rise from the grave (or from a .500 winning percentage in the middle of last season, with their highest paid batter hitting something like .200) and checking the score from the other side of the world requires guts. These guys are so apt to ressurrect themselves they even took our baseball Jesus, shaved his head, and made him walk upright. Now he's like Keanu Reeves at the end of My Own Private Idaho, where he says the Henry IV line "I know thou dost".

You can imagine my shock of terror, then, when I loaded espn.com and saw this:
Somehow, we were losing even though we'd scored two hits and they'd scored none.

Clearly that one error was to blame, but it didn't explain scoring with zero hits, since you can't draw an error on a home run. Here's what had happened. Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett--famed Yankee-killer and (therefore) big off-season pickup--started off the Yankees' first inning by walking leadoff hitter and former Red Sock Johnny Damon. No hits so far. Yankee alternate Melky Cabrera hit second, grounding into a fielder's choice--the fielder in this case, Beckett, chose to throw Damon out at second. The Yankees still had no hits because Cabrera doesn't deserve credit for his hit (since the fielder could have decided to get him out instead). Beckett threw a wild pitch, and Cabrera ran to second before it was recovered. Then catcher Jason Varitek erred, and Cabrera scored.

Or at least, that's my reconstruction from the minimal live play-by-play text descriptions mlb.com's Gameday feature provided. When Gameday is all you have to go by, something like "Varitek error" takes on a dozen permutations. I see Varitek clumsily dropping the ball, or letting it bounce off his glove. I see Varitek reaching heroically for another wild pitch by Beckett and being punished in the statistics for his brush with the ball. I see Beckett fusing with fellow Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and throwing a knuckleball, Varitek's Achilles' heel. And I'm feeling an echo of the sinking sensation all New England felt when Varitek, a Gold Glove, loaded up the bases with Yankees on Wakefield's confounding knucklers during the 13th inning of game 5 of the 2004 Sox-Yankees series. (Inhaler break.)

(I did take pleasure in seeing that the Yankees are learning that the cost of having the best leadoff hitter in baseball is that any hit into center field will be returned to the infield with the same aim and care as Falstaff on a bender urinating in the general direction of a trash can. See this Gameday play-by-play:So there is some solace in all this.)

Thank God I went to work at this point. If I had kept watching I would have seen Beckett give up 7 runs in the second inning and get pulled after just 4 outs of play. Watching that sort of thing on television is heartbreaking. Watching it through a sequence of descriptions like "Giambi fly, runs recorded" spooned out in 90-second intervals is torture.

Postscript: I did stay long enough to note a hilarious advertisement. Between the scenery-chewing Red Sox and Yankees, there are so many popular players that it's hard sometimes to remember that the rest of the American League exists, let alone that it includes a White Sox team that's becoming a legend of defensive baseball, or a Tigers team that, losing streak or no, looks amazing and has been beating up on everybody. When I loaded Espn.com, I was shown the following advertisement for All-Star voting:FYI, guys, Ichiro Suzuki is batting .367 right now and is on track for 250 hits.

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Blogger Alice on Mon Jun 12, 12:05:00 PM:
Last Monday's game was indeed a travesty. We watched hockey instead, and it took me until the end of the first period to mumble, "I know how you score a goal in hockey, but how do you strategize? Are there plays?" I'm not saying I understand it any better this week.

I went to last Tuesday's Sox-Yankees game in the Bronx with Jaime's law firm. I had been to A and AAA games before, but I hadn't ever been to a major league game. We sat within shouting distance of Trot Nixon. I can report that Alex Rodriguez is even worse than I'd imagined: his at-bat music is Evanescence. I can also report that Melky Cabrera's catch was all the more devastating to see live.

At least you don't have to deal with the YES network, Ben.