Gods of baseball hit it out of park with 48-hour epic

October 16, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

NEW YORK - What we have just seen and what we are about to witness has to constitute the most riveting 48 hours in baseball history.

It is an epic that spans two championship series in three cities and one south Florida region. It accounts for two cursed franchises that are among the oldest in baseball, one $167 million juggernaut with 26 World Series titles and one aberrant, expansion organization that bought a World Series five years after its first game, only to be torn down and rebuilt again for another wild and stirring October run.

It involves billy goats, curses, Babe, Pudge, In Dusty We Trusty, 1918, comebacks, collapses and a poor, bespectacled fan in a Cubs cap who stuck his hand in the wrong place at the worst moment.

It raged into urgency and desperation with accusations, redemption, Game 7s, do or die and ratings that finally beat Monday Night Football and promises to make a dent in ratings the next week, too.

And, finally, this:

Senor Plunk vs. The Rocket.

You can't make this stuff up. That must be why they call it baseball.

Yesterday, the Yankees and Red Sox picked up where the Cubs and Marlins left off in that unforgettable eight-run eighth inning that sent all of Chicago into a panic the likes of which have not been felt since Mrs. O'Leary and that cow.

Holy cow, indeed, be it the ghost of Harry Caray or the echo of that old Yankee shortstop/broadcaster Phil Rizzuto. These are crazy, cross-pollinated League Championship Series, where even the origin of that time-honored baseball expression is a sore subject between the Yankees and Cubs.

At Yankee Stadium yesterday, storm winds blew in and out and all around. Winds of change were gusting in the Red Sox dugout.

Out on the mound, a strapping Cuban pitcher named Jose Contreras was pitching the seventh inning with a two-run lead for the Evil Empire and, at the plate, two of the Red Sox' biggest guns were ready to blow the House That Ruth Built right down.

Goodness gracious, you can't make this kind of stuff up.

Bitter rivals had grown far more venomous over this Contreras deal, and there was Contreras, the coveted right-hander whom the Yankees had won in that back-page bidding war, and now the Red Sox were using Contreras as their whipping post.

Nomar Garciaparra lashed a triple to the wall in the name of Billy Buckner. Be gone, you wretched, paralyzing curse.

Manny Ramirez laced a double to the wall in the name of Calvin Schiraldi. Rest assured, ye Red Sox Nation citizens with a weak heart.

What better way for the Red Sox to continue their quest to expunge 85 years of baseball history as rocky and unforgiving as the New England coast than aiming squarely at the latest example of Yankee domination?

None. So the 6-4 Yankees lead became a 6-6 tie, with Garciaparra and Ramirez crossing the plate. An intentional walk to Jason Varitek loaded the bases and an unintentional walk to Johnny Damon on four pitches allowed David Ortiz to score the go-ahead run.

Was this the Red Sox doing that to the Yankees?

Has a new day dawned in a baseball world so ordered on 85 years of Red Sox lucklessness? Soon we shall see. Who will not want to take a look at what comes next?

Honestly, it is impossible to conjure up memories or footnotes of a more stirring 48 hours in baseball history. These 48 hours will have had so much history, so much drama spanning so many decades. The Cubs/Marlins and Red Sox/Yankees have played out in Technicolor, right down to that Pedro Martinez takedown of Don Zimmer and that poor guy at Wrigley whom Cub fans must find it in their tortured hearts to forgive.

The Cubs started this 48 hours of torture and splendor. They did it all after 9:50 p.m. Central Standard Time, when the National League pennant was five outs from their possession. But in wrongly blaming that fan with the radio and earphones, one overlooks a gritty and talented Florida Marlins team that absolutely whacked away at the Cubs.

It wasn't hijinks in the stands that caused that collapse. The real reasons for the shocking loss were Alex Gonzalez's error on a potential double-play ball and the decision by Dusty Baker to allow starter Mark Prior to stay in the game after Ivan Rodriguez roped a single off him in that fateful eighth. And what about that string of bad relievers?

Yesterday, it was the Yankees' bullpen that yielded the game-winning runs to their bitter rivals from the north. That is irony, baseball fans, since that is the very place the Yankees assumed a tremendous advantage. Contreras as a bridge to Mariano Rivera? It never happened.

Instead, Nomar and Manny blasted a few hits into the wind, leading the comeback, setting up this Game 7 showdown.

"It's what the baseball gods wanted," Red Sox reliever Scott Williamson said.

"We've been waiting ever since the postseason started to get the line moving, get some base runners, get some hits. When Manny and Nomar got extra-base hits back-to-back, that hasn't happened so far in the postseason," manager Grady Little said.

So strap in, folks. The baseball gods are crazy. They are unforgiving and forgiving, depending on the weather and the mood. But those gods have led us here, to another Game 7, the fitting end of an epic 48 hours.

"I will tell you this: I will leave my arm at home plate," Pedro Martinez said.

This is big news, except to everyone who has already left their hearts there.

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