By: Bob George/BosSports.net
October 09, 2003

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NEW YORK -- What did you expect with Andy Pettitte pitching for the bad guys?

Red Sox Nation will do a lot of teeth-gnashing tonight, thinking about what might have been. The Sox had Pettitte on the ropes early on, but could not put the guy away. A 2-0 series lead was there for the taking, as close at hand as the thousands of brown leaves on your lawn this time of year.

The Sox allowed Pettitte to get off the hook, and you could literally predict the outcome. He allowed only an RBI single by Damian Jackson in the second and a solo homer by Jason Varitek in the sixth. The Yankees had plenty of offense to counter the Sox high-hit, low-run attack, and the Bombers evened the ALCS with a 6-2 win at Yankee Stadium Thursday night.

Nick Johnson gave the Yankees a lead it would not relinquish by slamming a cut fastball from Derek Lowe into the upper deck in right field with Jorge Posada on base after a lead off walk. Lowe, whose sinker bedeviled the Oakland Athletics in his last start on Saturday night and in his relief stint on Monday to nail down the ALDS, got his cutter up too high and not far enough in on Johnson's hands. It was a mistake pitch, but one from which the Sox would not recover.

Three straight singles produced another run in third for the Yankees, and they made it 4-1 in the fifth on a double by Bernie Williams and an RBI single by Hideki Matsui. Posada put the game away with a double to left center off Scott Sauerbeck in the seventh after Jason Giambi singled and Williams walked with two out. The curveballing Sauerbeck, who hadn't pitched since September 27th, made another mistake pitch by leaving a fastball out over the plate which Posada was able to drive up the gap in left center.

One can only wonder what would have happened if the first two innings had gone better. The principal culprit in both innings was Gabe Kapler, in his second night of relief for the ailing Johnny Damon. Hitting leadoff tonight, he led off the game with a single, but was erased on a caught stealing after Bill Mueller followed with a strikeout. Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez then singled, and David Ortiz walked, which by now would have scored Kapler with only one out if Kapler doesn't steal. Kevin Millar popped out to end the inning.

Then in the second, the Sox strung together three hits to produce a run. Varitek led with a double, Trot Nixon singled him to third, and Jackson drove him in with a base hit to center. But then Kapler killed the inning with a double play ball to Derek Jeter at short, and Mueller grounded out to end the threat, and pretty much the game for the Sox despite being up 1-0.

So, the teams come home to Fenway tied at 1-1. What do you all make of it?

The Sox have to be thrilled to death that they at least got a split, though they would have craved a 2-0 lead at this time. But they come home with at least the chance to sweep the three games and end the series without going back to Yankee Stadium. Odds on that happening are a wee bit long, but being 1-1 at this time is not the worst thing in the world.

In 1999, the Sox came home down 0-2, won Game 3 with Pedro Martinez beating Roger Clemens 13-1, but lost the next two to end their season. In 1986, the Sox came home to Fenway after two wins in New York City, but you all know how the Mets came back that year. People love to gag all over Bill Buckner, but what if the Sox had won at least two of three at Fenway instead of losing two of three?

The rematch of 1999's Game 3 is set for this Saturday. Clemens will bring his traitor act to Fenway for what really should be his last rodeo in his old horse barn. The Sox will have no problem cowboying up for the game, Clemens will likely be nervous and pumped sky high. But if he has his split finger fastball going, and if Martinez is not as invincible as he needs to be, the Nation will go home disappointed.

Game 4 remains the most tenuous of the three Fenway games. The Sox will be forced to start either John Burkett or perhaps Jeff Suppan against drunken bum and Fenway hater David Wells. In his book Ball Four, Jim Bouton chronicles Mickey Mantle and how he often played games while hung over. Wells usually does much of the same, but there are some guys who perform great when they cut the edge. If the Sox are to win this game, they have to hope that Wells brings some of his July self to Fenway and not his past October self, and that whoever starts for Boston pitches the game of his season.

Then for Game 5, you have a rematch of the opener in Tim Wakefield versus Mike Mussina. You aren't likely to see a repeat of Wednesday night, but don't bet against Mussina being a wee bit on the weary side. Mussina figures to pitch the Sox a bit tougher, and he did once almost pitch a perfect game here at Fenway two years prior.

The smart thinking is that this series will somehow find its way back to the stadium. The Sox are too good this year to lose three straight to the Yankees at home. The Yankees are too good to get swept themselves. If the series does get back to Yankee Stadium, the Sox will likely be thinking of only one thing: Pedro in Game 7.

By winning Game 1, the Sox set themselves up for at least a decent run at a series win. By not winning Game 2, things aren't as bad as they seem, but the Sox will spend the winter wondering what might have been if they lose the series and the source of the series loss traces its way back to Game 2 and the missed opportunities versus Pettitte. The two most painful words in the English language are "if only", and the Red Sox might be beginning a lot of sentences that way if they don't put Game 2 behind them and jump on Martinez's piggy back on Saturday.

There was no way that this series would be easy for Boston. The Yankees came out and did what they literally had to do, and they did what they had the talent and the ability to do. They won a postseason game they literally had to win.

But fret not, ye of faint heart in Red Sox Nation. Now the Sox come home.


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