Drama class in session now
Pair of Game 2s in LCS round show there's lots of fireworks left
BOSTON -- Here in the middle of the month, it's time to finally welcome an old friend to the 2007 Major League postseason.
"That's what Dane Cook's been screaming at us for the last three weeks -- 'There's only one October,'" Joe Buck said as he walked out of the FOX broadcast booth at Fenway Park in the wee hours on Sunday morning, following Cleveland's incredible seven-run 11th inning and 13-6 victory over Boston to even up the American League Championship Series at a game apiece.
"Well, it looks like we've finally got some drama. You knew this month couldn't keep going the way it has. This felt just like the Yankee games we were used to here [in the 2003-04 ALCS]. Five hours and 14 minutes? That's fine. I love sitting here watching this. This is what we're used to in the postseason."
In a little more than a 24-hour span, there was an 11-inning thriller in Arizona to start the drama and an 11-inning thriller here in Boston as a bookend. The only difference was that the former was won by the Rockies, meaning they are taking a 2-0 lead back to Colorado for Sunday's 7 p.m. ET Game 3 on TBS. Trot Nixon's improbable pinch-hit single started the 11th-inning scoring at Fenway to ruin his former team's hopes of the same 2-0 lead.
There had been three 3-0 sweeps in the Division Series round, the first time that happened. The other first-round series was Cleveland's moderately easy elimination of the Yankees in four, not necessitating a return to Jacobs Field. That's where the Tribe is headed now, for Game 3 at 7 p.m. ET Monday. It's all starting to get more interesting -- more like the kind of closeness one has come to expect from October.
"I feel so happy and excited to be going home now with a chance to win three there," said Indians shortstop Jhonny Peralta, whose 3-for-5 night included a three-run homer off Curt Schilling and an RBI double in the playoff-record seven-run 11th. "It's important that we got one here. It's hard to win in front of these fans. The most exciting part was when Trot came into the game. It was a great night for us."
In seven of the last eight ALCS matchups, the team to win Game 2 has advanced to the World Series, the exception being 2004. That's when the Yankees won the first three and the Sox swept the next four -- and the following four against St. Louis in the World Series. The winner of Game 2 in the LCS has advanced to the World Series in 28 of 42 series (67 percent) since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1985.
Since 2002, the home team in an LCS has won Game 1 five times, but it has advanced to the World Series just once. That was the 2004 Cardinals, who opened that NLCS with a 10-7 victory over Houston and ultimately were swept by Boston.
"Party Like A Rock Star" by Shop Boyz was blasting in a corner of the tiny visitors' clubhouse at Fenway as the Staples clock on a wall in the center of the room ticked toward 2 a.m.
"Now we go home happy," Peralta said.
Indians players were smiling. Players' wives were smiling. Everyone was heading for Logan Airport and a much more relaxed flight back then it would have been had this heretofore lopsided October resulted in a 2-0 lead by the AL East champions.
"That was a beauty," Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Joe Morgan said after the game. "A beauty."
He should know. He was Cincinnati's second baseman the night that maybe the beauty of them all at Fenway was played, Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, which was decided by Carlton Fisk's homer just fair.
Game 2 of this ALCS also had its share of classic moments. There was Kevin Youkilis' 11-pitch at-bat against Indians reliever Rafael Betancourt in the bottom of the ninth, resulting in a snared liner to center that sent it to extras. There was Tom Mastny getting David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell in order in the 10th, which resulted in a sense of disbelief in the crowd. Then there was the seven-run blowup, more runs than any team had scored in an extra-inning Major League postseason game.
FOX is broadcasting this ALCS and the World Series as usual, with TBS making its postseason broadcasting debut as the home of all four of those Division Series and then the NLCS. For at least the next six years, the two will alternate LCS coverage. So now that FOX has its drama, is it TBS' turn? Winning DS teams were a combined 12-1, and throw in a 2-0 Rockies lead and ...
"That's their problem," Buck said, meaning that in the nicest way.
The D-backs have a harder road to travel, largely because they now have a road to travel. The NL West champs have to win at least two at Coors Field to ensure that the NLCS goes back to Phoenix. In postseason history, 66 teams have faced an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-seven series, with 13 of those rallying to win the series.
"I don't think the Rockies have outplayed us, because they haven't," Eric Byrnes said Saturday afternoon before the D-backs' workout at Coors Field, raising some eyebrows in the NLCS. "They've had a little luck go their way. ... We are not really fazed by what's going on right now."
Well, if you look at those 13 examples, there is certainly some hope. The last time was that historic 2004 ALCS comeback by Boston. The time before that? Just ask MLB.com analyst Jim Leyritz.
"I remember Joe [Torre] on the plane down to Atlanta," Leyritz said during Game 2 of this ALCS. "He told us to take it one game at a time. 'Guys, don't change anything. Momentum can change one minute to the next.' Joe always had a saying: 'You're only as good as your next day's starter.'
"We had [David] Cone going Game 3. We won that game, but we were worried in Game 4, because Kenny Rogers didn't have a very good postseason for us, or even a good year for us. Then when we got down, 6-0, we thought, 'This could be over.' Especially with the next three games being [John] Smoltz, [Greg] Maddux and [Tom] Glavine."
The Yankees scored three in the top of the sixth that night in Atlanta, chasing starter Denny Neagle. In the bottom of that inning, Leyritz replaced Paul O'Neill as the No. 8 hitter in a double-switch (NL park). In the top of the eighth, with closer Mark Wohlers in for Atlanta, runners were at the corners with one out. Leyritz hit what would become the last homer ever struck at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium ("And Joe hit the first," he said of his former skipper), tying the score and leading to Wade Boggs' decisive bases-loaded walk in the 10th. Andy Pettitte would combine with John Wetteland for a 1-0 shutout the next night, and the Yankees would go on to win in six, starting one of the most successful title runs in franchise history.
"I was also there when we went up 2-0 the year before against Seattle," Leyritz said, referring to that AL Division Series won in five by the Mariners. "Seattle had the same mind-set we had in '96. They had Randy Johnson going Game 3 and he can change momentum. A seven-game series is different, though."
There is a lesson in that for a D-backs fan, if you want to see a close NLCS. For those watching the ALCS, the drama is already here. There's only one October, and you just knew that this one would change its pattern after a while.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.