Like Snow On the Beach
This past weekend, there was a hurricane watch in Southern California. Two weeks ago, people fled rather than vacationed in the paradise that is Hawaii. Soon we will be awash in political ads telling you to believe or disbelieve truths and untruths in equal measure. In short, the world is off kilter. Taylor Swift had it partially right: It’s “weird,” but I’m not too sure it’s “fu*^ing beautiful.”
There are many theories for what is happening today – from global warming to massive income inequality to hyper partisanship. But I have a much simpler explanation: In the space of about four minutes on October 17, 2004, the universe tilted off its axis. Nothing has been the same since.
In the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, Mariano Rivera – the only unanimous Hall of Fame selection – walked the leadoff batter. In 19 regular seasons, Rivera walked only 286; in 96 playoff games over 32 series, he only walked 21; in over 1,000 career games, he gave a free pass to the first batter a mere 43 times. In short, it basically never happens, and then it did. That was the first glitch.
The second came just two minutes later when pinch-runner Dave Roberts stole second base by a hair’s breath. After days of flatlining, the Red Sox had a heartbeat.
Bill Mueller then singled Roberts home to tie the game. The rest, as they say, is history. But really, it is not. The Red Sox still needed a David Ortiz dinger in the 12th inning; and then they still needed to win three more games. But, what we didn’t yet know was that the walk + the stolen base + the single were three distinct acts that changed everything … forever.
There was Tony Clark’s ground-rule double that should have been a run-scoring triple. There was Mark Bellhorn’s homer that was first called a double. There was Alex Rodriguez’s “slap heard ‘round the world” that was reversed. There was the Yankees refusing to bunt on the obviously incapacitated Curt Schilling. There was the silence of Yankee Stadium in a Game 7 blowout. All of which was a prelude to the sweep of the Cardinals for the first World Series title in 86 years.
After Bill Buckner, Bucky “Fu*^in’” Dent, and Aaron “Bleeping” Boone, and decades of heartbreak, the Red Sox were on top. And they would be on top three more times over the course of the next 14 seasons. The Yankees tried to square the ledger with a World Series win in 2009. But we are now at 14 years and counting since the Yanks’ last championship, and after this past weekend, they may have hit rock bottom.
To say the Yankees have been listless this year would be an understatement. And yet, prior to their recent nine-game losing streak (which ended with a win on Wednesday over the Nationals), they were four games over .500, on their way – maybe not to the playoffs – but to their 31st consecutive winning season. So, when the Red Sox rolled into the Bronx last Friday night, I had this nagging fear that all of the old tropes would come back; the Yankees would sweep the BoSox to go back over .500 on their way to a late Wild Card push. And, when the Yankees hoisted the World Series trophy later this fall, we would all point back to this weekend as the turning point. Pre-2004, that is exactly what would have happened.
But on Friday night, the first four batters of the game reached base, culminating with a Masataka Yoshida three-run homer. The Red Sox tacked on three more in the second inning. But – true to form – 17 out of the next 19 Boston batters were retired, as the Yankees chipped away, making the score 7-3. The Red Sox scratched out a run in the top of the ninth to give a little more cushion, but I was still not relaxed.
Gleyber Torres led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. That was followed by Jarren Duran misplaying an Isiah Kiner-Falefa single into a double. In pre-off-kilter times, two runners in scoring position with no outs would have led to a six-run rally, netting the Yankees a series-opening victory and a ton of momentum. But the world no longer spins like that. Rather, Harrison Bader and Anthony Volpe struck out looking and Ben Rortvedt (who?) flew out to end it.
Gerrit Cole took the hill on Saturday to square the series. Cole is the current AL Cy Young front-runner. If anyone could right the ship, it was he. Instead, Cole gave up Luis Urías’ second grand slam in three games. Cole went only four innings on his way to his fourth loss, while the Red Sox pushed his ERA over 3.00 for the first time all season.
Sunday offered the faltering Bombers one last chance at redemption, and they did their level best. The Yankees fell behind on three different occasions, and tied the score each time (much to the consternation of Red Sox Nation). Pre-2004, the Yankees would win this game and thwart a Red Sox sweep. Post-2004, the following happened:
- With the score tied in the bottom of the eighth, IKF led off with a single.
- Somehow, Bader’s 107 mph liner landed in Adam Duvall’s glove.
- There was a lazy fly to right for the second out.
- IKF was running when Volpe singled to left. Rob Refsnyder – just into the game for the injured Duran – fell down fielding the ball, which allowed IKF to come all the way around. Trevor Story’s relay throw was low, but Connor Wong picked it and applied the tag. The call on the field was “safe,” giving the Yankees their first lead of the entire weekend.
- The Red Sox challenged the call, and after an interminable wait, with the NESN announcers predicting the run would count, IKF was called out and the game remained tied.
- But now the Yankees wanted to check to see if Wong illegally blocked the plate. In times of yore, the “safe” may have become “out,” but then the call would go against Wong, allowing IKF to be “safe” again. It’s just that we no longer live in those times.
- Alas, we went to the ninth knotted at 5.
The Red Sox took a 6-5 lead in the top half.
Greg Allen led off the bottom half smacking an 0-2 fastball to within two inches of a game-tying home run. In my day, a next generation Jeffrey Maier reaches over the wall, but no one sees it, and the game would be tied. Today, Allen found himself standing on second base. After plunking DJ LeMahieu, Kenley Jansen had the winning run on base with Aaron Judge coming to the plate. Before Dave Roberts, Judge would have done what he had already done twice in the series.
But after DR, he struck out looking on three pitches. Torres (then hitting .367 with a 1.221 OPS vs. the Red Sox this season) followed with his own strikeout. But, Jansen still needed to get past Rortvedt. He lined one hard, but right to Duvall who corralled it to complete the sweep.
As of Tuesday night, the Yankees had lost nine straight – doing so for the first time in 41 seasons; were five games under .500; and in last place in the AL East. I will NEVER claim the Yankees are done, but they are getting ever-so-close. Before Rivera walked Kevin Millar, none of this ever could have happened. The Red Sox may not make the playoffs this year, but if they effectively ended the Yankees’ season, well, that is pretty good consolation.
The BoSox swept the Yankees in the Bronx. Multiple New York threats were squelched before they began, and Boston got both clutch pitching and hitting. The Red Sox are alive, and the Bombers are in disarray.
Maybe Taylor Swift had it right after all: “Weird, but fu*^ing beautiful.”