Experts at absorbing pain, Sox dish it out - in spades

Baseball

October 21, 2004|By LAURA VECSEY

NEW YORK - It was an epic and unprecedented collapse by the New York Yankees. That's what helped set the Boston Red Sox free.

Not that the Red Sox will complain.

The champagne flowed and the hugs were long and hard - a celebration befitting a franchise that's as much relieved as it is ecstatic. The Red Sox' first World Series since 1986; the chance to win their first one since 1918. You bet this was as much about exorcising the past as embracing the task ahead.

Soon enough. Game 1 of the 2004 World Series will take place Saturday at Fenway. Wow. Talk about a hot ticket.

The historic swoon by the Yankees was completed last night in the strange silence of Yankee Stadium, where Yankees fans suddenly looked and sounded a lot like Red Sox fans. Aghast. Shocked. Angry. Sad. Disappointed. Disgusted. Outraged. Depressed.

Four chances they had to close out this thing. The Yankees were within three outs of clinching a sweep of the Red Sox in Game 4 of this American League Championship Series.

Even after blowing that, they had three more games to get it done.

For their lack of urgency, for manager Joe Torre's unwillingness to push the pedal and close the series out, heads will roll.

"I wanted to close the deal so I brought Mariano Rivera in when we had a three-run lead" in Game 4, Torre said, but there was a lack of firepower off the bench and a rotation that wound up more worn out and unreliable than Boston's.

Heads will roll.

"[Owner George Steinbrenner's] going to be disappointed," Torre said. "I saw him before the game, and he offered all the support he possibly could. None of us wanted this to happen. George knows we did the best we can. Unfortunately the results aren't always what we wanted them to be."

Talk about understatement.

So much for the Game of the Century. Game 7 of the ALCS might have been the most anticipated game in baseball history, but it took less than a New York minute for Boston to fix that.

How much will Steinbrenner pay free agent Derek Lowe, who pitched one-hit ball over six inning in Boston's overwhelming win - a performance that was second only to Curt Schilling's heroic Game 6 effort on one good ankle - the other having been sewn up in sutures.

Maybe they'll boo Kevin Brown out of the Big Apple. Or maybe Steinbrenner will trade him for a million bucks or a bucket of balls, whatever comes first.

The Boss will have to do the dirty work himself because blame will be spread far and wide. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman might have to take the fall for this stunning implosion on the part of the 26-time World Series-champion Yankees, who are now four Octobers removed from their last World Series title.

Someone has to pay, right?

What other punishment can there be for a starting pitcher who lost Game 7 of the ALCS before it was five outs old and the GM who decided the surly Brown was the answer to the Yankees' rotation after stalwarts Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens left for Houston?

And while he's at it, Steinbrenner probably will put former Expos ace Javier Vazquez back on the market this winter, too.

Take him. Please. He's no longer welcome in the bitter land of the Bronx, not after Vazquez allowed slumping Red Sox hitter Johnny Damon to crank a grand slam in the second inning and a two-run homer in the fourth.

Damon, with his soft eyes and sweet demeanor, came back from oblivion to settle the age-old score for all those Red Sox players in the past who toiled and suffered under the burden of the Curse.

With two, crisp blasts over the right-field wall, Damon changed the karma of the Red Sox - forever.

He soothed the wounds and softened the sad, torturous memories of Red Sox Nation. He turned the tables on the Yankees and put the pinstriped players in a position to experience just a smidgeon of the misery so many Red Sox players have known.

In the annals of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, many men have been expelled from the homeland for transgressions both mental and physical.

Mostly, they've been Red Sox.

In fact, they've only been Red Sox personnel who've suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Players such as Bill Buckner and Calvin Schiraldi; managers such as Don Zimmer and Grady Little.

The sickness of being on the downtrodden and losing side of history prompted such great Red Sox warriors as Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens to succumb to pinstripes.

In the past, before Damon and Schilling and David Ortiz and Kevin Millar and Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez, playing in the Bronx was the only way to win a World Series. So Boggs and Clemens broke with their native baseball places and came to the other side.

It was the only way - and the Evil Empire relished being the franchise for the poor, ring-less immigrants from New England.

Remember how Boggs cried and rode that horse around Yankee Stadium? That killed Red Sox Nation as much as Buckner and Little.

Remember how Clemens said he wants to go to the Hall of Fame as a Yankee? What a slap!

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