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Game 1 to be culture clash10/11/2004 7:30 PM ET
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Turns out there is a higher league.
There are only two members of this league, blood nemeses of each other. The season is short, whenever the schedule or excellence throws them together. The tenor is hysterical, the soundtrack the loud beating of the heart.
And the latest staging of this privileged drama begins Tuesday night with Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees and their entourages of gore and glory.
Call the attraction at Yankee Stadium Game 46 of a two-year epic. The teams that will vie for the 2004 AL pennant have met 45 times since the start of the 2003 season. Boston leads, 23-22.
"Any time we play during the regular season, there's a postseason atmosphere," said pitcher Mike Mussina, who will open the next stage of the Yankees' quest for a 40th pennant. "In the postseason, it's a level above."
Ten months ago, when Curt Schilling worked out his trade to the Red Sox, he openly fantasized about beating the Yankees when victory routed 86 years' despair.
Schilling no longer needs to imagine. Red Sox Nation's favorite adopted son will oppose Mussina in the game he feels he was born to pitch.
"This is part of what I envisioned when I agreed to be here, a game like this," Schilling said. "I wanted to be somewhere where I could be a part of something that hadn't been done in almost a century.
"I don't think I've pitched a game that will have the atmophere that (Tuesday's) will have. The Yankees, Red Sox -- this is a step above anything else."
This higher step is what everyone expected, wanted, demanded. No one is disillusioned, as the teams with the two best records in the AL -- to say nothing of the two best storylines -- meet to continue last fall's ALCS.
Hopefully, all will be on hand Tuesday, including Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who toiled three innings in last year's monumental Game 7 to earn the victory on Aaron Boone's 11th-inning homer.
Family tragedy has called away Rivera, who is in Panama for Tuesday's funeral of two relatives electrocuted Saturday on his property.
Yankees manager Joe Torre has guarded hopes that Rivera, with the aid of a private jet the team will have at his disposal, will be back in the New York bullpen by the time he is needed.
But Torre has a fallback in Tom Gordon.
"If Mariano is not here and we're in position to save the game, it'll be Gordon," Torre said.
Either way, and whatever happens, Torre took painstaking care to make sure it would not grow into a Yankees crutch.
"I don't want anyone to think that if things don't go well, this is the reason," he said.
For comparable reasons, the Red Sox, who completed their ALDS sweep of Anaheim on Friday, are thrilled that the Yankees followed them on Saturday.
They wouldn't want to go to the World Series without the Yankees trying to stop them, and have people think that was the reason they made it.
"It seems proper that we have to go through the Yankees to get to where we want to go," said Boston manager Terry Francona.
It wouldn't have been as intense, as much fun or as worthwhile any other way. The postseason trail had to lead to this test of wills, cultures and obstinate personalities.
"Other teams feel they can't beat the Yankees," Schilling said. "I don't think we are one of them."
"When you compete with each other as much as we have the last two years," Mussina said, "you have a tremendous appreciation for what they can do."
And a familiarity with it.
"There are no secrets," the Yanks' Alex Rodriguez said. "We know each other as well as any two teams can know each other."
Added Derek Jeter, "Whoever makes the best adjustments will win the series."
With Rodriguez having kicked his game to an even higher gear in the first round of the playoffs, the Yankees are ready to take Boston's best shot.
And, most agree, the shot the Red Sox will level is their best at getting out from under the wheels of the New York juggernaut.
Schilling and Mussina, two right-handers with 395 wins and not an inch of give between them, understand the burden of leading off such a grave series.
"Game 1 is a tone-setter," said Schilling, who has had six days' rest since his Game 1 ALDS victory, conditions under which he is 14-2 this year. "Going into it, I understand what this is."
They will try to muzzle lineups that have familiar looks. The only wrinkle in either will be Kenny Lofton, as the DH, batting ninth for the Yankees.
In explaining the choice of Lofton over Ruben Sierra, Torre alluded to flexibility for offensive creativity.
Translation: With Miguel Cairo, Lofton and Jeter batting consecutively, look for some Little Ball as the Yankees seek an edge in what is expected to be a tight, low-scoring game.
"Curt's been looking forward to this situation for a long time," Francona said. "That doesn't mean he's gonna win. But you'll see the best of Schill."
Over the course of the next nine days, we'll see the best of both. We will also see another showdown between teams which, as befits sworn adversaries, clash down the line.
They used to be separated only by wins and losses.
The Yankees have a track record of closing deals. They have not lost in their last seven ALCS appearances, since a 1980 sweep to Kansas City, four of them becoming part of the path to 26 World Series championships.
The Red Sox have the litany of denial. They have lost in their last four ALCS appearances, the last two to the Yankees.
Now they are also separated by demeanor, style and culture. It's Wall Street against Off-the-Wall, George Will against Hunter S. Thompson, Pinstripes Ltd. against Idiots Inc.
Torre minimized that aspect of the rivalry.
"It's a personality thing. But they've always been free-wheeling," he said of the Red Sox. "All my nine years here. And even as a player, when I'd go to Winter Haven, they were the same.
"I don't think that ever changed."
Boston-New York has also been a constant. And it will remain so, long after this ALCS is finished and the anticipation starts for the next round.
The rivalry, like baseball itself, is a neverending fable.
"The love of the game needs to go on," said Torre. "Twelve months a year, the argument between fans goes on. It's baseball."
"This year," Mussina said, "this is the way it should be. A rematch of last year, between the league's two best teams. I hope it will be as exciting as everyone expects it to be."
Only a little bit quieter, hoped Schilling:
"I can't think of anything more enjoyable than making 55,000 people from New York shut up."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.