Yanks hold off Sox, 10-7

Sox look loose enough to finally shake curse

October 13, 2004|By John Eisenberg

NEW YORK - The curse that supposedly grips the Boston Red Sox is being put to a special test in the 2004 American League Championship Series.

Last night's Game 1 loss notwithstanding, the circumstances seem right for the Sox to beat the New York Yankees, who have won 26 World Series titles since the Sox last won one in 1918.

Put it this way: The Sox aren't dreaming this year. They have it in them to win.

They had won 40 of 54 games before last night's 10-7 loss. So they're hot.

They also have better starting pitching than the Yankees, although Mike Mussina was superior to Curt Schilling last night in (yawn) another matchup of No. 1 starters the Orioles let get away.

New England itself is no longer so fatalistically consigned to defeat after the New England Patriots' Super Bowl successes, so the curse's edge is a tad duller.

And in any case, these Sox's loopy personality is perfect for taking on the potentially weighty psychological baggage of being so famous for failing.

"We're idiots. But we're experienced idiots," first baseman Kevin Millar said last night.

For years, no team in sports was more chronically grim, tense and defensive. But changes in ownership, management and approach to life have changed the atmosphere, and the 2003 Sox were comfortable in their skin before losing to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS.

This year's team is even looser with the departure of grumpy shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, traded to the Cubs at midseason.

It might have seemed that the Sox were still ready to capitulate when star pitcher Pedro Martinez said the Yankees were his "daddy" after a September defeat, but too much was made of the quote.

"I thought it was funny," Millar said. "I thought I was his daddy. I guess he left me."

With their eccentric blend of beards, goatees and flying hair matching their effective blend of hitting, pitching and defense, they're the right Sox to end the curse.

Put it this way: If they can't do it, the darn thing might last another 86 years.

"We were five outs away last year," Millar said, referring to Game 7 of the ALCS, in which the Red Sox blew a late lead, "and we have improved a lot since then. The Yankees are as tough and balanced as ever, but this is the first year when I really feel we're about on the same playing field as them."

That notion was based mostly on the addition of Schilling, who dominated the Yankees in the 2001 World Series as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and led the majors with 21 wins this season.

Surprisingly, he had absolutely nothing last night, allowing six runs in three innings to put the Sox in a deep hole. Mussina took a perfect game into the seventh as a sellout crowd derisively chanted "Who's Your Daddy?"

The Sox rallied spectacularly when they awoke, cutting an 8-0 deficit to 8-7 in the eighth with the tying run perched on third. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera let them get no closer, but the rally emphasized why these Sox could be curse-busters and many Las Vegas oddsmakers were favoring them to win the ALCS.

"We gave it a pretty good run," Sox manager Terry Francona said, "but the object is to win."

The problem with favoring the Sox, of course, is it underestimates the Yankees, who won their seventh straight American League East title this season with an ability to rise to occasions that seems unwavering.

They came from behind to beat Minnesota in all three of their victories in the divisional playoffs, offering evidence of a collective heart that some believed was lacking without former mainstays Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez, all superior team guys.

But even though those players have been replaced by a cold assemblage of free agents with little in common, the presence of shortstop Derek Jeter seemingly inspires the Yankees to continue to play with that defining resourcefulness.

The Yankees remain anything but an easy out, both figuratively and literally. They hang around in games as well as in individual at-bats, fouling off pitches, refusing to give in and inevitably beating you.

Along those lines, the longer this series goes, the harder the Yankees are going to be to beat.

The Sox's best chance is to win in five or six games, before curse speculation overwhelms. But such an early knockout is unlikely, especially after losing Game 1 with Schilling on the mound.

The Sox are just going to have to face up to their nightmarish past, as well as the Yankees, and try to survive a series that will likely be as long, grinding and exhausting as Game 1 was.

"This series, every game, is going to be an emotional roller coaster," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

The Red Sox have it in them to prevail in such circumstances, as they showed last night.

But can they?

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