Friday, September 30, 2005

Boys Are Back In Town

The Ninth Editorial Office is in a tizzy. All writers have been pulled off other topics, meaning another delay on our long-awaited romance novel, and put front and center on the Sox. We have an open tab at Dominoe's (now they put steak on pizza!), we're using Zima bottles for ashtrays (I employ a lot of 14 year-old girls from the 90's), and the Official Ninth Dog hasn't been fed for weeks. Production like this hasn't been seen since Kevin Millar's one good week in July. You have my word loyal (ahem) reader, every good writer we have is on this series. Every single one.

Has a team's fate ever changed more in one hour than Boston's did last night? They went from startling disappointment to finding Andy Roddick's mojo in just four innings, and made this weekend worth living again. The Ninth still believes in Mariano as the MVP, but David Ortiz sure made his case last night. A tying homerun that was eerily reminiscent of his walk-off blast in last year's ALDS, then the game-winning single against the shift in the 9th. For a little while there, the 2005 Sox looked a lot like their buddies from 2004. You could feel them insist, just as they did so many times last year, that they would simply not lose that game. It's a flavor they've been missing this season, and it's about time they found it. Not only did the win help in the standings, but it gave the Sox something to enter this series with. A little swagger, a little brashness, a jolt of confidence and invincibility that can turn a tight game your way. Ortiz and Manny are hot again, Damon has found his stroke, and Renteria is hitting better than he has all year. When those four click, if they've clicked, the Red Sox are the best team in baseball. There, I said it. Don't tell Mom.

The pitching matchups for the series are fascinating. Each day features a starter who was brought to their team specifically to win this sort of game: David Wells tonight, Johnson tomorrow, and Curt Schilling on Sunday. There is a lot of pride riding on these performances, and a lot of reputation that can swing either way. Big game guys with big game egos. Each expects to win, and none wants to be the guy that doesn't. Chien-Ming Wang is precisely the sort of pitcher that gives Boston fits: young, rarely seen, hard fastball, good control. It's not a matchup to savor, but luckily, the Sox have hit him a bit before. History goes a long way with this bunch. David Wells is a mystery. His knee is a problem, he's been mediocre recently, but he's 14-1 in Fenway Park the last several years. There were many times when David was a Yankee and he was facing Boston off a rough stretch. The Ninth would look at his recent numbers and smile broadly with confidence of the victory to come. Then bang, 7 innings, 4 hits, no walks, 1 run. He's a tough old bastard, he now hates the Yankees, and I expect he'll bring his game. As Remy always, look for his curveball. If it's snapping hard and down, it'll be a tough night for New York. Oh please let it be a tough night for New York.

Saturday should be a tough one. We're looking at 2-1, 3-2, 1-0 territory here. Wakefield and Johnson have been both had incredible months and neither has any problem with their respective foe. RJ clearly gets up for Boston games, and Torre has long said the last pitcher he ever wants to see is Tim Wakefield. Two guys pitching in the baseball version of their 100's, still winning after all these years, one with a 75 mph fluttering trick pitch and the other with hard heat and a nasty slider. What a combination. Runs will be rare, but the Unit has to be given the advantage. Because of the left-handed delivery, Johnson will be murder on a sunny fall afternoon. Batters will stare out at the mound, see nothing but sun, then have to find a 95 mph fastball coming out of the t-shirts in the bleachers. That's asking a lot. And, as a southpaw, Johnson can neutralize Damon and Ortiz, who both hit under .150 against him. This will be a tough win to win.

Then Sunday, game 162. How delicious that it's probably going to matter. This one swings in favor of Boston. Mussina was shelled his last time out, and it's clear that his shoulder is still hurt. Honestly, the Ninth is a little surprised that Torre isn't pitching Chacon. Now Schilling has been inconsistent himself, but this day was made for Curt. Last game of the season, against the Yankees, pitching for the division in Fenway Park? For better or worse, Schilling needs to pitch these games. It's what he believes himself to be, the great savior for his city and his team. It's his whole thing, and I can't see himself allowing a let down. Especially after the hit his pride took after losing the lead to Toronto. This is bloody sock all over again, and I expect him to pitch the same. He expects him to pitch the same. Honestly, he's probably got his cleats on already.

So there you have it. A crazy weekend ahead. Tonight is easily the biggest game, as a loss would force Boston to win three (counting the playoff) in a row to take the division. Not bloody (pun intended!) likely. Just as important in all of this is Cleveland, who if Chicago plays them tough, could let Boston in the backdoor. Say one thing about Ozzie Guillen, he's not the sort to let his team take three games off. As sure as the Ninth is about everything we've just said, we're more sure of this: most of what happens this weekend will be totally unexpected. It always is. So kids, as Tom Snyder used to say, fire up those martinis and watch the pictures as they fly through the air.