Hundreds of naturalized citizens of Red Sox Nation stood seven and eight deep behind metal police barricades on Van Ness Street on Sunday, their faces flushed from joy and drink (not necessarily in that order), as the setting sun cast a golden finish to its day's work. The loopiness and absurdity that passed for postseason baseball over the previous two days at Fenway Park spilled out into the street. Grown men stood on parked vehicles or dumpsters just to get a look at the three buses loaded with their beloved Sawx. Women blew kisses. The fans chanted their own versions of drinking songs, including "Let's go, Red Sox!" and "Pay-dro! Pay-dro!"
Suddenly the rooftop emergency escape hatch of the middle bus flew open. Out popped the grinning face of Boston DH David Ortiz, like a supersized jack-in-the-box accessorized in a black leather cap and sunglasses. He waved madly at the squealing masses, as if on a parade float. Meanwhile the guy behind the wheel, dressed in a bright blue suit the color of the Caribbean Sea, kept pounding on the horn, each blast prompting a yelp from the crowd. It was Manny Ramirez—the leftfielder who had played much of the Division Series against the Oakland A's as if just awakened from a nap—in the driver's seat.
Just before the buses rolled off toward the airport, the fans—those under the age of 85 suffering the psychosis caused by a lifetime of postseason failure—began to chant their anthem: " Yankees suck!" It may have looked and sounded like a clinching party, especially with New York at that moment dismissing the Minnesota Twins from the playoffs with clinical precision. Never mind that the Red Sox' Division Series against Oakland was not yet over, with the teams flying west to a deciding fifth game. What the masses on Van Ness Street knew was that tomorrow the ball would be in the hands of Pedro Martinez. That very prospect—one game to win in October, the ball in Martinez's hands—may be as secure a feeling as there is in the game. The Boston ace burnished his reputation as a premier big-game pitcher by outdueling Barry Zito, 4-3, in the 13th postseason matchup of Cy Young Award winners. Martinez, who lasted seven-plus innings, is unbeaten in six postseason games: 4-0 with a 2.13 ERA.
Having to use Martinez twice meant that Boston had the services of its ace only once in the first six games of the American League Championship Series, which was scheduled to start on Wednesday. The same scenario had occurred when the Red Sox and Yankees played in the 1999 ALCS, with Martinez winning his start in Game 3 and Boston losing the other four games.
New York, meanwhile, needed starters Mike Mussina, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells only once each against Minnesota, and all of them pitched well. After losing a sloppy Game 1, the Yankees allowed the Twins only one run in each of the next three games. Including short relief help from Mariano Rivera and Gabe White, New York pitchers threw only 110 balls to 104 batters in those wins, as 70% of their pitches were strikes.
Pettitte and Wells, who are potential free agents, and Clemens, who's retiring, all face the possibility that each start will be their last in a New York uniform. "Eventually there will be [a last game as a Yankee], but I don't want it to be on my dime," said Clemens after throwing 28 balls to 28 batters in Game 3. "I don't think he really had his A game, but it's Roger Clemens," Minnesota first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz said afterward. "His W game can beat a lot of teams."
Nothing came so neat and clean last week for the Athletics and the Red Sox, who beat up on each other like feuding cousins. Both organizations believe such finer points of the game as baserunning, defense and bunting traditionally have been overvalued in baseball. Watching them face off in postseason games, in which playing for one run often becomes more important than waiting for a big inning, was like watching two elephants trying to tango. No lead or ego was safe.
The Red Sox lost Game 1, for instance, when closer Byung-Hyun Kim blew his third postseason game in which his team had given him the lead after eight innings, all in the past three years. Ramirez, though, also made defeat possible when he failed to run hard from second on a grounder to third in the 12th inning. Boston gave away Game 2 as well, thanks to fielding blunders by Ramirez and second baseman Todd Walker.
In Game 3 the Athletics played 11 innings of the sorriest baseball ever to be found in October, and it wasn't just that they committed four errors in the 3-1 loss. They also quit on the base paths twice when an honest effort would have won the series for them. The trouble with the Athletics is that such play is all too common for them in October, when walks and homers, their weapons of choice, are harder to come by. As one team member said after the Game 3 debacle, "The immaturity of this team continues to pop up and kill us."
Four outs from a 4-3 win in Game 4, Oakland lost again when Ortiz slammed a two-run double off closer Keith Foulke. Monday's defeat left the A's 0-9 in games that could have clinched a postseason series for them, the longest such losing streak in the history of the game. In those games they committed 12 errors, allowed 12 unearned runs and were outscored 50-24 while hitting only four home runs.