Yankees versus Red Sox. Three final games. The Yankees up by one. The Red Sox playing at Fenway, where they are tough to beat.
As I’ve said before, isn’t autumn baseball grand?
These are two terrific teams engaged in the best rivalry in sports. And there is nothing like baseball to ratchet up the tension. For the past month, this pennant race has been tightening…and tightening….and tightening. It’s getting hard to take. My brother, also a Yankees fan, insists that he would like nothing more than for the regular season to end in a tie, followed by a one-game playoff between the Yanks and Sox. I couldn’t take it, and I don’t know if most Sox fans could either. If the Yankees lost, we’d be subjected to millions of column inches about how the 1978 Bucky Dent homer has finally been erased. If the Yankees win, we’d lord it over Sox fans so brutally they’d never recover.
No…please. It’s bad for the heart. Let the Yanks win two out of three this weekend.
Herewith, a handy viewers’ guide to the most pertinent questions of the next three days.
1) How big a factor will Fenway be?
2) Whose middle-inning relief pitchers will hurt their team more?
3) Which Mike Mussina will show up on Sundayâthe one who pitched a terrific game in his first start back from a sore elbow, or the one who lasted about an inning in his last start?
4) Will anyone pitch to David Ortiz after the sixth inning? Just walk the friggin’ guy, okay?
5) Can Tim Wakefield continue to pitch as brilliantly as he has the past couple of months? (Won’t that guy ever retire?)
6) Curt Schilling has been mediocre this yearâexcept when pitching against the Yankees. Can he pull it off again, just as he did about three weeks ago, when he was masterful against the Yanks at the Stadium? Or will he bumble and fall?
7) Who’ll rise to the occasion more tonight: Yankee rookie pitcher Chien Ming Wang, who is as cool a customer as I’ve ever seen in a rookie, or the emotional, fiery David Wellsâwho famously fades near the end of a long season, particularly as he gets older and fatter. (Sorry, was the framing of that question biased?)
Who’ll manage better, Joe Torre or Terry Francona? Last year, Francona clearly outmanaged Torre in the championship series, making a series of moves that all paid off while Torre managed like a mime on Prozac.
9) Who wants the MVP more, David Ortiz or Alex Rodriguez? (Who says I never say anything good about the Red Sox? Unless something changes dramatically this weekend, I’d give the award to Ortiz, no matter which team finishes first. Rodriguez has been great for the Yankees…but it seems like every time the Red Sox come from behind and win, Ortiz is the reason. The guy is just great.)
10) Defense, defense, defense. Whose is better? I give a slight nod to the Yankeesâparticularly at third, where A-Rod has been astonishingly good.
11) As Gene Hackman famously said in the classic football film “The Replacements,” in order to win the big games, “you gotta have heart.” Which team wants it more?