The Red Sox actually were in Saturday's game at one point. Really. They were. They had survived a terrible start from Bronson Arroyo -- just two innings plus three batters, giving up six runs and six hits -- and they had come back, twice, from 3-0 and 6-4 holes, to tie the score at 6-6 at the end of three innings.
But when reliever Ramiro Mendoza plunked Miguel Cairo to start the fourth, Boston manager Terry Francona bolted out of the dugout to pull the right-hander and bring in another righty, Curtis Leskanic.
Ooooh, would Francona like to have that one back.
Leskanic immediately gave up a hard-hit line drive to Derek Jeter for the first out of the inning. He walked Alex Rodriguez to put runners at first and second, and then he left a fastball high over the plate that Gary Sheffield pounded into the seats above the Green Monster in left for a three-run homer. The Sox never recovered.
The curious part about Francona's move is that it wasn't as if the Yankees were banging Mendoza around the park. He gave up only one hit, a bloop single to center on a pitch that Bernie Williams was lucky to hit at all, and he had thrown only 20 pitches. That might have been creeping toward his limit -- he had thrown more than 20 pitches only three times in 27 appearances this season -- but this, clearly, was an emergency.
Still, when Francona saw Mendoza hit Cairo with the pitch, the reliever was relieved of his duties in the time it takes to say "MATSUI!" What followed was Leskanic and a host of other Boston relievers providing batting practice fodder for the Yankees.
Not to mention a lot of fodder for Red Sox Nation to chew on for a good, long time.
From the Bench
Red Sox fans will question Francona for pulling Mendoza so soon, but Francona's decision to go with Tim Wakefield after Leskanic was a real head-scratcher. Wakefield was scheduled to start Game 4 on Sunday. Instead, Derek Lowe will go. "We got ourselves into a bind," the manager explained. The Sox also should be able to get innings from Keith Foulke and Mike Timlin on Sunday, if needed. Neither pitched in Game 3. ... Hideki Matsui (5-for-6, with five RBIs and five runs scored in Game 3) clearly is Boston's daddy. He's 9-for-15 with two homers and four doubles in this series. ... Among the other Red Sox sins Saturday: Three baserunners thrown out in the first four innings. Manny Ramirez tested Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield on a hit to right in the first inning, and Sheffield gunned him down at third for the final out of the inning. In the third, Red Sox third base coach Dale Sveum couldn't stop Bill Mueller from trying to score on a double by Orlando Cabrera -- that is, if Sveum tried, or if Mueller saw a possible stop sign -- and Mueller was thrown out at the plate. And maybe the most costly: David Ortiz was caught off first on a slow, broken-bat line drive to John Olerud in the fourth and was doubled up. ... Smartest move by Joe Torre: Using Paul Quantrill, who went 1 2/3 innings, gave up two hits and did not allow a run. ... Almost forgotten in the avalanche of hits and runs for the Yankees is the fact that their starter, Kevin Brown, got his stuff handed to him. He lasted only two innings, giving up five hits (including a home run to Trot Nixon) and four runs. ... Statistical sickness: The Yankees, after Saturday's wipeout, are hitting .377 in the series. And the Red Sox have an 11.52 team ERA.
The only hope that the Red Sox have left is not much hope at all. Curt Schilling and his bad right ankle won't be ready for Sunday's game, or probably for Monday's (if there is one). Beyond that? "To talk about anything beyond Game 4 would put a focus on something we shouldn't be focusing on," he told FOX reporter Chris Myers. And that was before Saturday's rout. Schilling limped out of the clubhouse after the game with his offending limb in a walking boot. ... Seen on the board in the Red Sox clubhouse after the game: "We Can MAKE History! Believe It!" The message had a smiley face drawn underneath it.
The "idiot" Red Sox, that hirsute group of fun-loving pranksters, looked predictably stunned after the game. The question now is if they can pull themselves together enough to avoid being swept.
The guess here is no.
The Yankees have plenty of incentive for Game 4. They can get a nice break before the World Series if they jump out quickly on Lowe, and that means some rest at home (the World Series would start in New York), a rotation that will be set up perfectly and a chance to heal any injuries that they may have (first baseman John Olerud bruised his instep in Game 3). If the Yanks can hit Lowe, Francona will have to go to his bullpen early, and we saw how that worked out for the Sox on Saturday.
The only way the Red Sox can salvage some pride -- and forget about winning this series -- is to get a good outing from Lowe and to, somehow, keep Matsui off the basepaths. Francona should do some serious thinking about walking Matsui. It couldn't do the Sox any more harm than what the Yankees left fielder is doing to them already.