2005-09-30 / Sports

Yankees-Red Sox Clash For All The Marbles

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez gets hit in the face by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek which set off last year’s brawl.Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez gets hit in the face by Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek which set off last year’s brawl. If there’s anything we’ll remember about the Yankees season that has taken them from an 11-19 mess to the top of the AL East, it’s going to happen over the final weekend in Boston.

The Bombers were at Fenway for Boston’s home opener on a chilly April afternoon, and they’ll be staring at the Green Monster beginning Friday for a three-game set that very well could be a playoff-defining series.

One way or another, it had to come down to Yankees-Red Sox, it’s only logical. The Yankees have won 17-of-25 games in September, engineering their most incredible and exciting comeback since 1978. They’ve done it with injuries to the starting rotation, without any middle relief and without a legitimate fide center-fielder. And yet, they somehow have a chance to finish with the American League’s best record - which tells you something about the fall the other Sox – those in Chicago – have fallen.

If they head into Fenway tied or a game behind, things might be problematic. The Sox win more than two-thirds of their home games, which is to say, good luck to anyone who thinks David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon can be subdued for 27 innings when their season could be on the line.

Boston has gone a respectable 15-11 so far this month, but warning signs abound. Curt Schilling has been largely ineffective. The bullpen is among the worst in the majors and with 39-year-old Mike Timlin as their closer, the same feeling of invincibility the Yankees have with Mariano Rivera clearly doesn’t exist. Still, the Boston isn’t about to let the Yankees waltz into the playoffs.

If the Bombers are going to get in, they’ll have to do it the way the 1978 did. In other words, crushing the Sox in New England to erase what was a sizable lead at one point during the summer.

The Yankees left their imprint on history that year, not because they beat the Dodgers for their second straight World Series title, but because of what they did in getting there. This year’s squad isn’t as feared, but they have a chance to be remembered in almost the same way.

That’s why sneaking into the playoffs as the wild-card, which would be just fine with general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Torre. It would have a less-than-satisfying flavor, especially now that the Bombers have battled back from potential oblivion early on to share a piece of first place. If the Yankees are going to erase the season’s most awful moments - getting swept by the Royals, losing a series to the Brewers and embarrassing Torre by getting shelled in St. Louis during a 3-9 road trip in late June - it’ll have to be done with a weekend of perfect baseball at Fenway.

They’ll have Chien-Ming Wang on Friday, Randy Johnson on Saturday and, if the season comes down to a final nine innings, Mike Mussina will pitch on Sunday. If it takes a one-game playoff to determine the Yankees’ fate, the ball goes to Shawn Chacon.

Of course, there’s a downside to being so heavily armed next weekend. If they use up Johnson and Mussina back-to-back, it’ll force Torre to start Jaret Wright and Wang (or Aaron Small) in Games 1 and 2 of the AL Division Series. Given the state of the Yankees’ bullpen, there’s no guarantee there’ll even be a second round in the Bronx this year.

But that’s a decision Torre cannot worry about yet. There’s far too much to be done yet. For now the Yankees are doing their part, storming through the dregs of their schedule, daring the Sox to keep pace.

So far they have, now it comes down to three games. One weekend that will be as nail-biting a finale as baseball has seen in years. It’s only fitting that Yankees-Sox is the marquee.

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