October 08, 2003
Umpires Strike Back, Make Up For 1999
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
NEW YORK -- Think Sean McDonough will complain about Tim McClelland anymore?
The son of the late, revered Globe sportswriter, who continues to grace the TV-38 microphone on Friday nights, hates games in which McClelland works the plate. His delayed calls of strikes is the source of unabashed annoyance for Son Of Will, a great example being the interminable 1.35-second delay of the called third strike on Jorge Posada to end the game. Part of the fun of broadcasting is making a definitive "Strike three!" call, but McClelland makes you have to wait that itty-bitty split second before you make your proclamation into the microphone.
After Tuesday, McDonough had better not complain anymore.
Todd Walker hit a towering shot down the right field line leading off the fifth with the Red Sox up 2-0. The ball caromed off the foul pole -- actually, it caromed off the glove of a fan named Ed Hillel (ah, those 15 minutes of fame…), which was pressed up against the foul pole. Right field umpire Angel Hernandez ruled foul ball. Thank goodness Hernandez wasn't working the left field line at Fenway Park on Tuesday, October 21, 1975.
In one of the most noble and magnanimous acts of umpiring seen anywhere, McClelland overruled Hernandez and ruled home run. What looked like the latest umpire rip-off job when the Sox and Yankees meet in the ALCS turned into the turning point in this opening game of the 2003 classic. Walker's home run gave the Sox a 3-0 lead, and given the Yankees' two-run rally in the seventh, it turned out to be the winning run of the game. The Sox held on to defeat the Yankees, 5-2, took a 1-0 lead in the series, and sent notice to the Yankees that a change in mojo may be in order.
Think about it for a second. Here you had another Rick Reed moment. Or a Drew Coble moment. You had to wonder how in the Sam Hill could Hernandez miss that call when the ball clearly hit off the foul pole. But McClelland stepped in and made the right call, which may signal the beginning of a huge change in fortunes in this long rivalry that is the Red Sox and the Yankees. And McClelland wasn't even the first base ump (Terry Craft was). He was behind the plate. You try and explain how a right field ump gets overruled by the home plate guy. That's how bad a call Hernandez made.
David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez added home runs, and Kevin Millar rapped an RBI single in the seventh as the Red Sox ran up a 5-0 lead. Tim Wakefield tossed six strong innings, before losing the strike zone in the seventh and walking the first two batters on nine pitches. Alan Embree came in, allowed both inherited runners to score but no further damage. Mike Timlin pitched a flawless eighth and continued his perfect run in the postseason with every batter he has faced retired. Scott Williamson returned to form in the ninth by retiring the side, striking out both Jason Giambi and Posada in the process.
It was the first road win in the ALCS for the Red Sox since October 12, 1986, the famous Game 5 against the California Angels, where the Sox rallied from down 5-2 in the ninth inning on two-run home runs by Don Baylor and Dave Henderson to take a 6-5 lead, and then win in 11 innings, 7-6 to quash the Angel pennant plans. Boston went on to win the final two games at Fenway to win the pennant.
Seemingly exhausted from their skull-imploding series against the Oakland Athletics, then having to fly cross-country to play this first game, the Sox never looked tired all evening long and played the game with authority and confidence. Facing ace righty Mike Mussina, the Sox worked him for two walks and a Bill Mueller single going into the fourth inning.
Ramirez led off with an infield single off the glove of Mussina, then Ortiz (0-for-20 lifetime against Mussina) came up. Ortiz had a marvelous eight-pitch at bat, fouling off tough pitches and laying off the high and inside pitches Mussina was trying to get him out with. Mussina finally grooved a low fastball, and Ortiz lost it into the upper deck in right field to give the Sox a 2-0 lead. It was a great sign that Ortiz was breaking out of his slump against Oakland, with an authoritative at bat against a pitcher who usually gives him fits.
Ramirez looks like he's getting untracked in his own right. Fresh from his huge three-run homer out at Oakland on Monday night, Ramirez cranked out four hits in five at bats. None of the hits were particularly scorched, but one of the best ways to break out of a slump is to get these kind of hits. His homer in the fourth, which gave the Sox a 4-0 lead, was a towering opposite field job off a low and outside slider which barely cleared the wall in right field.
The booming bats gave Wakefield a nice cushion to work with, and his knuckleball was right on all night long. He induced a lot of popups and fly balls, and gave up very little that was hard hit. He only ran into trouble in the second, allowing singles to Posada and Hideki Matsui before retiring Aaron Boone on a fly to center and Nick Johnson on a grounder to first, and the seventh when he walked Giambi and Bernie Williams. Embree came on and surrendered a double by Posada to right centerfield and a sac fly by Matsui.
Even bigger than Wakefield's terrific outing was the work of Williamson in the ninth. Despite the continued great work of Timlin and the feasibility of keeping him in there for one more inning, Grady Little instead tried to further establish Williamson as the closer for the Red Sox in the postseason. Reminiscent of Derek Lowe, who will start Game 2 for the Sox on Thursday, and his two called strikeouts in the ninth on Monday to Adam Melhuse and Terrence Long, Williamson got both Giambi and Posada on called third strikes, sandwiched around a groundout by Williams. Given time to rest, Williamson had better command of his fastball, though he struck Giambi out on a 3-2 slider.
But the umpire overruling may turn out to be the pivotal play of the series, unless the Yankees come storming back like they did against Minnesota in the ALDS. Given the two blown calls by Reed and Coble in the 1999 ALCS, where both umpires issued apologies afterwards and admitted their mistakes, it was refreshing to see a similarly blown call by Hernandez get overturned by McClelland and a home run awarded to Walker. Had the foul ball call stood, it very well could have had a negative effect on the psyche of the Red Sox, especially to those holdovers from 1999 who might be led to think that the umpires will simply never allow the Red Sox to beat the Yankees under any circumstances.
All that be darned. The Red Sox break on top in this series. The last time the Red Sox won a postseason series opener was the 1998 ALDS against Cleveland, but the Indians stormed back to win the next three. The Yankees also lost the first game at home to the Twins last week, but came back to win three, clinching in the Metrodome over the weekend. To say that the Yankees are in any way deflated would be total folly. But the Red Sox, considering their depleted energy level coming into this game, have to be thrilled beyond belief that they managed to take this opening game, especially with Mussina on the hill.
The Red Sox managed to do what their 1949 counterparts could not, and that is win a key October game at Yankee Stadium. Maybe the mojo really is changing. Maybe the Babe has said, "Enough is enough!" There is a long way to go in this series, and the Yankees are still the Yankees.
But if the Sox hold on and make it to the World Series, it perhaps all began with an umpire, and a call that actually went the way of the Sox.
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