Bronx, N.Y., October 26, 2003 — Everybody’s talking at me.
I don’t hear a word they’re saying.
Or I guess I don’t want to. I was there for the crushing, stifling Game Six World Series loss last night, as I was for the life-asserting, uplifting ALCS seventh-game win nine days before.
But this is not going to be an endless enumeration of the joyous days I’ve experienced in my Yankee fan life, or even specifically in the last nine or 10 years either. The loss hurt, and profoundly depresses me. Seven days ago, in my deepest hopes and dreams, I would have been OK with a sweep or a five-game Yankee win, but once it became obvious that that would not happen, I’ve been looking forward to an expected Game Seven confrontation Sunday evening. October 26 was a historical beacon to me, a day worthy of a pitched battle for all the marbles, and a day on which the Baseball Gods have smiled on the Yankees and their fans quite a bit as of late.
But October 25, the day before, surprised me by turning beautiful early in New York, a phenomenon I greeted warily, basking in the healthy air on the one hand, but ruing the loss of advantage a bitter cold day would have given the home team over the visitors from the South. We arrived early, carried too much stuff to our Tier Box seats, and once again gloried in the atmosphere of the Home Office for Baseball. Bob Sheppard informed us that this would be the 100th World Series game the Yanks would host in the ballpark, and legendary heroes Whitey Ford and Yogi Berra tossed out twin First Pitches to John Flaherty and David Dellucci, respectively.
The task at hand was clear. The Marlins would be throwing their young, hard-throwing ace, Josh Beckett, on three days rest. The Yanks would counter with 2003 postseason hero Andy Pettitte. Not only have the Yanks faced such battles often before, on this the 32nd birthday of Boston starter Pedro Martinez, the route to victory was outlined in the clear night sky. The idea was to wear out the Marlins’ young gun in the same manner they have worn out the Boston righty so many times. Andy would have to keep it close; the Yanks could expect few hits or baserunners but would have to extract a price for this frustration in pitches thrown during wily, experienced at bats.
And the game could hardly have started better in that respect. Both teams were held scoreless while all nine on offense faced the other’s hurler two times a piece. Andy Pettitte didn’t allow his third hit, or fourth baserunner, until Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez singled with two outs in fifth on the Yankee lefty’s 60th pitch. Only 19 of those throws were off the plate, and Andy’s 12 first-pitch strikes to the first 18 Marlins’ hitters matched the count by Josh Beckett on the other side.
There are many who will tell you that the Yanks lost that game during the run-scoring Marlins rallies in the fifth and the sixth, and perhaps in the Yanks’ failure to capitalize on a leadoff Posada double in the seventh. Others will point to Bernie Williams’ inning-ending double play to Castillo at second to close the home third after hope bloomed once Beckett’s five-pitch walk to Johnson gave the Yanks two on with one out.
For me, those who point to the failed fifth, in which Karim Garcia led off with a single to right center on Beckett’s first pitch (and who knew Aaron Boone could bunt?) come closer to the mark, though they don’t hit the Yankee failure nail on the head either. Of course I understand that had Posada blocked the plate or even kept his swiping tag lower, and if Jeter hadn’t bobbled Conine’s sixth-inning grounder, the Marlins might not have scored at all. And Andy’s throw to second rather than third in the sixth was a knee-buckler as well.
And I have been a fan of the game long enough to know that if you don’t score, you don’t win. I agonized as deeply as the next fan over the wasted opportunites we’ve mentioned in the third, the fifth, or the seventh, not to mention the finality of Castillo’s stellar grab of Johnson’s hard hopper up the middle in the eighth which the gifted defender turned into an inning-ending 4-6-3. But all of those circumstances ignore the gameplan, the way to go about it, the template that both fans and players knew was the way to proceed long before the 7:57 first pitch. Even after Williams followed his booming double into the gap in the first with the extremely disappointing 4-6-3 to close the third, Mr. Beckett had been tested with back-to-back, 18-, then 16-pitch frames, and as he chugged to the third-base dugout, he had thrown 10 more pitches than Andy Pettitte, who was coasting at 36 after three.
Of course Andy’s 35-pitch fifth, and the 50 throws it took him to negotiate that frame and the next, hurt him and the Yankees’ chances almost as badly as the two runs the Marlins scratched out. But it was a small price to pay, really, to get the ball to Mo after seven strong innings. Pettitte faced 31 Marlins this night, fashioning a 21-10 first-pitch strike number, and throwing 71 of 106 pitches for strikes. He allowed six hits and walked two. Beckett’s numbers are astonishingly similar: 22-10 first-pitch strikes to 32 Yankees, 71 strikes of 107 pitches, five hits and two walks.
To me, the key difference is not so much the two runs (one earned) Andy allowed, but the fact that he accumulated all those numbers in seven innings, while Beckett did it through nine. Something went wrong in the Bronx Saturday night, and I think it began in the home fourth. As mentioned, Beckett was tested to the tune of 46 tosses in the first three fames, but the guy who allowed Posada’s leadoff double four innings later was up to the task because he had only tossed 26 more by then. Matsui and Giambi sandwiched Posada’s five-pitch strike out in the fourth with one-pitch flies. Soriano popped to third for the second out of the fifth on the first ball he saw and Johnson flied to right on the second pitch of the sixth. Even Garcia’s single to start the fifth came on a first pitch. It’s small wonder that Beckett could afford to throw the 12 pitches he needed to put Jeter, Williams, and Matsui into the same strike-out column Jorge had joined to start that fateful stretch.
Admittedly, Beckett was extended to 17 tosses to survive the seventh after Jorge’s two-bagger down the left-field line, but that is the kind of circumstance the expression, “too little too late” was coined in response to. Castillo’s double-play gem to finish the eighth got his starter out of that frame despite Soriano’s leadoff hit and the Yankees barely put up a fight in the ninth, with Beckett starting the frame one pitch below the 100 mark.
And yes, I know I’ve been remiss in not giving Beckett and the Marlins team the superlatives they earned. It’s just that Sunday was the 122nd anniversary of the Shootout at the OK Corral, and I so looked forward to a Game Seven match that could live up to that billing. And it’s true, I was heartened that the day is the one in 1996 in which the Yanks closed out the Braves in six, and then again the Mets in five four years later. In 1999, they came from 5-1 down to the Braves in the Bronx to win, 6-5 in 10, so it was a highlight-filled day hard not to become excited about.
But the Marlins beat the Yanks simply by outplaying them on the field. They answered every threat with stellar plays afield rather than just coming close as Garcia and Posada had in the fifth, and Andy did when he tossed to the wrong base in the sixth. And Encarnacion delivered a sac fly when that was what his team needed, and how big was it that the visitors’ first run was driven in by their struggling second baseman, who had already given them such a boost with his glove. Andy Pettitte pitched a superb game, but Josh Beckett was even better, and aside from the no runs and five hits allowed, he surely had a lot to do with the low count that kept him in the game for nine.
So I congratulate the Florida 25, their aged, cigar-toting skipper, and his hard working staff. Their front office did a great job of drafting and assembling a team that outplayed the world for three months, and the fact that my Yankees were the last to fall to them only elevates them in my eyes. I spent the first game seated with three Marlins fans and they were polite and well-schooled in the game and their team, impressive enough without their badge of courage of having driven all the way to New York for the game.
But I am not convinced that their fan base is for real, or their ownership. The convoluted nature of the backroom deals that extricated Jeffrey Loria from the situation in Montreal and awarded him with both the Florida franchise and the financing to swing it is obviously open to question. And although I suppose I believe his insistence that he won’t be selling off his team in pieces right away, I hope he realizes too the lesson the Yanks have learned, that winning is expensive, and that it costs more to keep a World Championship 25 than it is to assemble it. I also ask the citizens of South Florida to continue their support of a team that has given them such a rush.
What I can’t countenance with the smile of a good loser is the fact that the faithless and deceitful Mr. Huizenga — the man who made the words “Marlins” and “sham” synonymous a mere six years ago — pocketed a fortune in Stadium revenue from this Series. Please Marlins franchise, major league baseball and Mr Loria, get your house in order. Your fans, and those throughout the sport’s community, deserve better.
But I also need to insulate myself from the plethora of Yankee general managers and doomsayers who have been popping up for years, and who have been swarming uncontrollably since Beckett tagged Posada with the 27th out. I have my opinions too, of course, and like anyone who attended the Stadium games on the second, the ninth, and the 15th, not to mention Saturday night, I exhort the Yanks to make Andy Pettitte a Yankee for life. And I will never have any ill will toward Aaron Boone after the blow off Tim Wakefield only minutes into the morning of October 17. But were I asked my opinion about the “hot corner” in Yankee land, I would opt for backing Drew Henson with a sure-handed vet (should the team not be able to land a front-line player for the position) rather than bringing Boone back for 2004.
That’s it. I blissfully and blindly (if you insist) hope Joe and all of his coaches (including the most threatened Mr. Down) return in the spring. I’m OK with a starting staff that attempts to win with Lieber, Contreras, and Weaver at the bottom of a rotation with Moose and Andy on the top, and look forward to the day I next see Derek and Alfonso, Mariano and Jason, Nick and Bernie, and Hideki and Jorge cavorting in the sun once again. It’s been just a few days since we’ve seen this team play in a place where the “sun” meets the “pouring rain,” and it’s just about four months or so until we can expect to witness it again. So I leave you with the words of Mr. Nilsson:
- Everybody’s talking at me.
I don’t hear a word they’re saying,
Only the echoes of my mind.
People stopping staring,
I can’t see their faces,
Only the shadows of their eyes.
I’m going where the sun keeps shining
Thru’ the pouring rain,
Going where the weather suits my clothes,
Backing off of the North East wind,
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone.