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What do you do when you start believing in ghosts?

As I write this, the game has
been over for nearly 12 hours, and I still haven’t found a way to put it into
words. Last night’s contest between the Yankees and Red Sox was about as great as regular-season baseball
can be, with an ending that would get you laughed out of any fiction contest.

Ruben Sierra?

The greatness of our game was on display last night. There were exhibitions of
raw power by a Hall of Fame hitter like Manny Ramirez. There
was a mano-a-mano confrontation, replete with head games and consequences,
between Gary Sheffield and Pedro Martinez.
There was jaw-dropping defense, including plays in consecutive innings that
will probably be the two best plays anyone makes on a baseball field this
year. There was drama and decision-making, as each manager had to maneuver his
way out of difficult situations. There were 55,000 people hanging on every
pitch for nearly four-and-a-half hours.

Miguel Cairo?

It wasn’t the kind of matchup that you would expect to produce this kind of
outcome. The Yankees, beset by injuries to pitchers, started Brad
Halsey
, who’s two years removed from college and two weeks removed
from the minors. The Sox? They were only going with Martinez, still one of the
five best pitchers in baseball. Halsey outpitched the superstar, though,
leaving the game in the sixth with a 3-2 lead and getting the kind of ovation
that New Yorkers don’t give out to just anyone.

John Flaherty?

The first eight-and-a-half innings won’t be remembered nearly as well as the
last four-and-a-half. The Yankees loaded the bases in the ninth, but
Keith Foulke shut them down. Mike Timlin and
Alan Embree pitched out of trouble in the tenth. The Sox,
being lambasted from Charlestown to Quincy for not being able to do the
little things, watched David Ortiz (!!) go first-to-third on
a single in the 11th to set up a bases-loaded, none-out situation.

I sent out an e-mail after that half-inning ended:


The Red Sox just added 15 years to the lifespan of the clutch myth over the
past two nights.


Oh, and A-Rod just took the Gold Glove award from Chavez. That play, even just
as a DP, will be on end-of-year highlight reels.

All of the attention after the game was focused on Derek
Jeter
, who tore up his face diving into the third-base box seats
after making a running catch to end the top of the 12th. Without taking
anything away from Jeter, though, the play of the game was Alex
Rodriguez
‘s double-play turn in the 11th. On a ball that took a
strange bounce just to stay fair, Rodriguez made a stab, a tag of the base,
and a perfect, only-line-he-had throw to the plate to prevent the tying run
from scoring.

Nothing against Jeter, whose catch–of a ball that I think was going to land
fair and score two runs–required a great jump and excellent raw speed, but
Rodriguez had to do about four things correctly in less than two seconds to
get the optimum result, and he did. Jeter’s play was simpler, although the
requirements of making it–a sprint into short left field–led him to injure
himself after completing the catch.

We’re dealing in gradations of excellence here, which is really what last
night was all about. Keith Foulke wiggles out of a jam? OK, here’s
Mariano Rivera escaping a tougher one. Pokey
Reese
makes a highlight-reel catch? Here comes Rodriguez, and then
Jeter, pushing him to the cutting-room floor. Manny Ramirez comes up with
another huge hit with his team up against the wall? Nice, but the Yankees get
down to their last strike, more stars on the bench than in the lineup, and get
back-to-back hits from the waiver-bait segment of the roster.

On ESPN the other night, Peter Gammons mentioned that the Yankees have never
blown a 6.5-game lead. That lead is now 8.5 games, nine in the loss column,
and although I’ve insisted all along that the Red Sox would overtake the
Bombers once they got healthy, I’m now convinced I was wrong.

There’s a theme that’s starting to gain ground. Sox fans are
backing away from this team
, as if they knew all along that it wasn’t
really that good. Given that this is virtually the same team that
Massachusetts wanted to marry a year ago, but with Curt
Schilling
and Keith Foulke added, I don’t buy it.
They didn’t bunt or run all that much last year either, and the lack of double plays
now being cited as a key to their demise has more to do with the fact that
they don’t 1) put runners on first base or 2) get ground balls than any fatal
flaw.

The other idea making the rounds–and I expect we’ll hear more about this if
the Sox don’t make the postseason–is that the Yankees’ payroll advantage is
just too much to overcome, as if $120 million and the biggest stake in YES,
Jr. makes the Sox a poor cousin to the Expos.

It sounds convincing until you realize that the Red Sox had a lead, one out to
get, and were facing Ruben Sierra, Miguel Cairo and the pitcher’s spot, with
the Yankees having just John Flaherty left on the bench. If there’s a way in
which the Yankees’ revenue advantage manifested itself at that point, I failed
to discern it.

I think it’s just the ghosts.

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