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Uh oh

You don't have to be a bunch of idiots to know the Red Sox are in trouble

Posted: Thursday October 14, 2004 2:12AM; Updated: Thursday October 14, 2004 8:48AM
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Johnny Damon
Johnny Damon has a moment of reflection after striking out against Mariano Rivera to end the eighth inning.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- The Yankees took the two best punches that the Red Sox have to throw, took them flush on the kisser, one after the other, and still they stood there smiling.

To which the stunned and sapped Red Sox can only say: "Uh oh."

Two games into the American League Championship Series, this battle royale has turned into one colossal mismatch. The Red Sox supposedly had the pitching this time around, the hitting, even the defense they needed to beat the Yankees.

But here they are, down 2-0 in the first-to-four ALCS, and their two best pitchers -- their aces, their studs, the very guys that got them this far -- already have thrown.

This is getting to look like Rocky XXIX. Except Rocky never wins any of these fights.

"These two games were huge," Yankees manager Joe Torre said after New York's 3-1 win in Game 2. "Especially tonight. Curt [Schilling] didn't have his best stuff [Tuesday, in a 10-7 Yankees win], but Pedro was Pedro. To beat him when he had his stuff like this, it really gives us confidence."

The Red Sox needed to win Wednesday's game badly. Everyone knew it. No one knew it more than Game 2 starter Pedro Martinez, who was 0-2 with a 9.49 ERA in his last two games against the Yanks.

And, to Martinez's everlasting credit, he came through. Facing a hostile and relentlessly chanting Yankee Stadium crowd ("WHO'S your DAD-ee?"), Martinez pitched well. Probably well enough to win.

But the Yankees did exactly what they had to do against the righty, exactly what they wanted to do. They made him work. They jabbed away. They took advantage of his early mistakes (a walk, a hit batter and a soft single to center in the first inning).

And when Martinez got a fastball up in the sixth inning -- it was his one bad pitch after the first -- ancient first baseman John Olerud turned on it and smacked a two-run homer over the right field wall.

"I wanted it away," said Martinez, who gave up four hits and the three runs over six innings. "The ball cut. I didn't release it well. And he took full advantage of it."

It was a mistake, no doubt about it. But it shouldn't have been a fatal mistake. The big mistakes -- and there were a lot of them -- came from the Boston hitters, who couldn't figure out Yankees starter Jon Lieber.

Except for one at-bat by Johnny Damon, the overly aggressive Sox never made Lieber work. They never came close. The right-hander threw nine pitches in the first inning, 11 in the second, 10 in the third, a sick six in the fourth and nine in the fifth.

It wasn't until Damon worked a 16-pitch at-bat in the sixth -- an at-bat that ended in a line drive to center -- that Lieber had to work at all. And that was way too late.

"I think we just tried to do too much," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "We got ourselves out."

So, just like that, the Red Sox find themselves bloodied and staggered. Again.

"We're at the bottom of the hill," Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin admitted.

Oh, the Red Sox are saying all the right things at this point. And they will say them some more over the next couple of days. The series shifts to Boston for Game 3, scheduled for Friday night in Fenway Park. That's good news for the Sox.

But Schilling's troublesome ankle may not allow him to come back and pitch later in this series. Martinez may be available to return on short rest, but he threw 113 pitches Wednesday. Using the historically fragile Martinez on three or four days of rest is an iffy proposition, at best.

That means the Red Sox are stuck with young Bronson Arroyo in Game 3, and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in Game 4 and, if they make it past there, questions. A lot of questions.

Can the Sox still do it? Can they come back to win this thing?

Sure they can. But it's going to take a miracle knockout to do it.

John Donovan is a senior writer for SI.com.

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