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 the test in the 2004 American League Championship Series.

The circumstances are right for them to beat the New York Yankees, who have won 26 World Series titles since the Sox last won one in 1918.

The Sox won 11 of 19 games from the Yankees during the season and they were the hotter team going into Game 1 of the ALCS last night, with 40 wins in their previous 54 games.

They have more formidable starting pitching than the Yankees, or for that matter, either team playing for the National League pennant.

Their loopy mentality 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 before Game 1 last night.

For years, no team in sports was more chronically grim, tense and defensive than the Sox. But last year's team was comfortable in its skin before losing to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS, and this year's team is even looser with the departure by trade of grumpy shortstop Nomar Garciaparra.

New England itself no longer seems so fatalistically consigned to defeat in the wake of the Super Bowl successes of the New England Patriots.

It might have seemed that the Sox were still of a mind 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."

From their unorthodox hairstyles to their humor to their fine blend of hitting, pitching and defense, these are the right Sox to end the curse.

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 line of reasoning is so popular this fall that Las Vegas oddsmakers favored the Sox over the Yankees going into the ALCS.

Even though the Yankees won 101 games and their seventh straight American League East title this season, their starting staff is shaky after Mike Mussina and they"re generally perceived as inferior to many of the Yankees teams that have won over the past decade.

The problem with that logic, of course, is that it underestimates the Yankees, whose ability to rise to major occasions seems unwavering.

Underestimating the Yankees is a very dangerous proposition.

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 observers believed was lacking without former mainstays Paul O"Neill, Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez, all superior team guys.

But while 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.

"He's the best player I've seen." Millar said. "He's a winner, and he makes the players around him better."

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 countless pitches, refusing to give in and inevitably finding a way to beat you.

And that brings us to the trickiest aspect of the Red Sox's attempt to quell their curse in this series:

The longer the series goes, the harder the Yankees are going to be to beat.

If it comes down to Game 7 at Yankee Stadium, as it did a year ago, Las Vegas would certainly no longer be favoring the Sox.

That would be the right time for New England to close its eyes and start fearing the worst again.

If the Sox are going to win, their best chance is to do it in five or six games. Just knock the Yankees out. Squash all talk of the curse before it has a chance to grow louder. (Can you win a best-of-seven series in three games?)

But of course, it's unlikely the Sox will knock the Yankees out like that. It just doesn't happen.

In other words, the Sox are just going to have to face up to their past, and the Yankees, and try to survive a series that will likely be long and grinding and exhausting.

They have it in them this year to prevail in such circumstances.

But can they?

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