For the 14th time this season, AJ Burnett loaded up his pie throwing arm and celebrated a walk-off win in the Bronx. The recipient of yesterday's creamed glory?* Our third string catcher, Francisco Cervelli.
With Brett "Speed Kills" Gardner on third, Cervelli ripped a 1-out single to left, giving the Yanks some momentum heading into their last west coast trip of the year. Matsui set Kid Franco up in the 8th with a game-tying 2-run homer off a hanging curve, adding to his rich history of clutch hits. But the youthful, buoyant Cervelli provided the icing,* and watching him high-step to right field as the Yankee bench overtook him in a giddy swarm was the kind of thing that might almost give someone goosebumps if they cared about sports too much.
*I don't understand why you're laughing.
What these last two games against Toronto prove:
1) Team unity is at an all-time high. In game 1, the bench emptied without hesitation to support Jorge in his important crusade against another team ever retaliating.
What these last two games against Toronto do not prove:
1) That we are poised to make a run to the World Series.
Let me put all my expectation chips on the poker table of greedy fan standards: this team has to make the World Series. If we lose in the Fall Classic, that will be a blow, but any year you win a pennant can't be seen as a failure. If we fall before then, though, I'll be disappointed. It's been a fun season, and the team has manufactured a lot of exciting moments that I wouldn't trade, but if it doesn't culminate in an AL Championship, I'll see 2009 in the dim light of failure.
However, I am by no means confident that we'll attain that goal. I've tried to ignore this for the past few days, but the Boston Red Sox are red-hot. With last night's walk-off win against the Angels, they've now won 7 straight. Dice-K came back two days ago and pitched a dandy, their bullpen is one of the best, and the bats are out in force. They won't have enough juice to swamp* the Yanks in the East (5 back in the loss column with 15 to play is too tall a task against any team not called the Mets), but is there any doubt they'll win their ALDS series against the Angels?
*Seriously, what's so funny?
Last night, after trailing several times, they completed their final comeback in the bottom of the 9th on a bloop single by the light-hitting Alex Gonzalez. Before that, lighter-hitting Nick Green walked after two pitches that looked, to closer Brian Fuented, like third strikes. He had a beef with the umps after the game:
"Especially here and some other places, they seem timid to make calls. I've heard it from other guys that come in here and say that. That's either because it's a mistake, or they're scared."
Is all that true? Maybe. I didn't see the pitches, but it's not unreasonable to expect that some umpires have a home-team bias, particularly in the more raucous stadiums. You certainly see it in basketball, college and pro, all the time. But the real point here is that when a team has your number, this is the kind of shit that happens. Questionable walks, bloop singles, improbable comebacks; Boston just knows how to beat LA. It's inexplicable, but undeniable. They've won 12 of 13 playoff games against the Angels since '86. Since 2002, the Angels have won the season series exactly once, in 2008, and that year the Sox beat them in the playoffs.
There's no logical reason why this happens. Both teams are strong, both teams are successful. Both are World Series champions in this decade. Throw the Yanks into the mix, and it gets even stranger; the Angels always beat us, and before 2004, we always beat the Sox. Things happen in streaks, and momentum or confidence or whatever tends to ensure that a streak in motion stays in motion. The point is that the Sox will probably win against LA, and the Yankees will probably win against Detroit. The stars are aligned. Maybe I'm counting little chickies still in their eggs, but my gut tells me the success of this season depends on a 7-game series against Boston that starts in about a month.
Fair? Probably not. But that's how it's designed.
I'm upstate at a cousin's wedding starting tomorrow, so no post until Monday. Have a good weekend.