Red Sox wish Yankee Stadium fences were a little shorter
Posted: Friday October 15, 1999 10:21 AM
Jason Varitek's blast was inches away from being a home run, causing Paul O'Neill to crash into the wall. Jamie Squire/Allsport
By Stephen Cannella, Sports Illustrated
NEW YORK -- Fans who didn't feel like staying up until 12:15 a.m. for the end of Game 2 of the ALCS will wake up on Friday morning, glance at their newspapers, and think the Yankees have blown the doors off the Red Sox's bandwagon and punched tickets for a second straight World Series visit.
New York's lead is commanding, but this series has been much closer than the Yankees' 2-0 lead might indicate.
"If ever you needed proof that this is a game of inches," said Boston catcher Jason Varitek after the Yankees' 3-2 win in Game 2, "this game was it."
Varitek should know.
That triple that shows up next to his name in the box score? That was a second-inning drive that caromed off the rightfield wall, a shot that was roughly four inches from being a home run and would have given Boston a 1-0 lead.
Even Yankees' rightfielder Paul O'Neill, who crashed into the fence trying to make a spectacular catch, thought it was gone. Not realizing the ball was still in play, O'Neill took his time retrieving it as it rolled toward the infield, allowing the slow-footed Varitek to lumber all the way to third base.
Two batters later, when Trot Nixon flied to right to end the inning, Varitek was stranded there.
The Yankees scored the winning run in their half of the seventh by a hair's breath. With runners on first and third and two out, Red Sox manager Jimy Williams brought in the lefthanded Rheal Cormier to face lefthanded-hitting O'Neill.
In Game 1, Williams made the same move in a similar situation and Cormier, busting O'Neill inside with fastballs, got the Yankees rightfielder to hit a weak comebacker to end the eight inning.
Cormier took the same approach in Game 2, crowding O'Neill up and in.
This time, O'Neill fought off a tough pitch and popped up to the left side -- and the ball fell into the no-man's-land behind shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and left fielder Troy O'Leary for a base hit and the go-ahead RBI.
"That was a good pitch," Varitek said. "Paul didn't hit it hard, just in spot where it could fall in."
The next inning, the Red Sox again barely missed scoring a key run.
Leading off against reliever Mike Stanton, O'Leary hammered a fastball to straightaway centerfield. The ball appeared to be gone as soon as it left the bat -- even Bernie Williams gave up on chasing it to the warning track -- but it thudded into the padded wall, even closer to the top of the fence than Varitek's had been six innings earlier.
O'Leary settled for a double, and the Red Sox, in a chess-match inning in which Joe Torre used four pitchers and Jimy Williams pinch-hit and pinch-ran his way to an empty bench, again failed to score.
The end result: Two extra-base hits that missed being game-deciding homers by a total of ten inches, and a one-run loss for Boston. Plus, a sense of confidence -- despite being in an 0-2 hole -- for the Red Sox as they fly back to Fenway.
With a tired pitching staff and an outmanned lineup they hung with the Yankees until the late innings in Games 1 and 2. Were it not for a few inches, they could easily be heading home tied 1-1 with the defending world champs.
"I'm in no way ashamed of the way we're playing," said Varitek. "In our home park, maybe we get those extra inches."
We'll find out on Saturday.