Tuesday, November 03, 2009


There was a period of time during the 1980s and 1990s where the drama of the NFC title game over shadowed the drama of the Super Bowl.

The same could be said to a degree about the ALCS this decade. While many years the World Series was a bit of an anti climax, the ALCS was reliable for some of the most thrilling and down to the wire games of the decade.

And yes, a lot of attention was put on the Yankee/Red Sox series. Well I am sorry, rest-of-the-country... but the Red Sox and Yankees played in back to back ALCS and they were two of the best ALCS in history! And not just because of an East Coast Bias. They were thrillers and each had a spectacular "I can't believe the rivalry is getting bigger!" conclusion.

This decade featured walk off homers, including two ALCS ending walk off shots. It featured coaches being thrown to the ground, balls being slapped out of gloves by superstars, a team blowing a late 7-0 lead, a remarkable come back started by a stolen base... and of course a bloody sock.

As started in the Best of 2000s Post Season Home Page, I am picking the best game for each game of the series... Best Game 1, Best Game 2... etc.

And when need be, I'll have some honorable mentions.

Best Game 1 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

A year after the Twins were threatened with contraction, they found themselves with home field advantage in the ALCS.

Joe Mays took the mound for the Twins and was brilliant against a hard hitting Anaheim Angels squad.

He pitched 8 strong innings, letting up only a single unearned run. The Twins took the lead on Corey Koskie's 5th inning double and Eddie Guardado made it count with a shut out 9th inning.

The Twins wouldn't win another game in the series, but for one day it looked like Minnesota could give the ultimate middle finger to the powers that wanted to contract the team.

Honorable Mentions for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

After squeaking past Oakland, the Yankees faced the 116 win Mariners. Paul O'Neill's homer in the 4th gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead, putting Seattle on the defensive. The Mariners offense could not get going but still brought Edgar Martinez to the plate as the tying run in the bottom of the 9th. Mariano Rivera got him to ground out to end the game.

Daisuke Matsuzaka no hit the Rays for the first 6 innings but James Shields was also tough, holding the Red Sox to 1 run over 7 innings.

Dice-K wiggled out of trouble in the 7th but needed help from the bullpen in the 8th. With 2 on and 1 out, Justin Masterson got Evan Longoria to ground into a double play and end the threat.

Best Game 2 American League Championship Series for the 2000s

The White Sox did NOT want to go down 2-0 back to Anaheim and they would do anything to get a win in Chicago... even something sneaky.

The game was tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th thanks to a great 9 inning performance by Mark Buehrle and Angels reliever Kelvim Escobar. With 2 outs and nobody on, Escobar got White Sox catcher A. J. Pierzynski to strike out to end the inning.

Angels catcher Josh Paul casually went back to the dugout but Pierzynski saw he wasn't called out and sprinted to first base. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings claimed the ball hit the dirt before going into Paul's glove, making it a live ball and Pierzynski reached first. Replays showed it actually went into the glove.

Either way, another out would have made the point moot. But pinch runner Pablo Ozuna stole second and scored on Joe Crede's walk off double.

The Angels were fuming but the White Sox got the win... and they wouldn't lose again the entire post season.

Honorable Mentions for Game 2 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

2007 - Indians 13 Red Sox 6 (11 innings)

The Red Sox stampeded through the Division Series and Game 1 of the ALCS. In Game 2, the Indians took an early lead off of Curt Schilling but Manny Ramirez and Mike Lowell hit back to back homers to briefly give the Red Sox the lead.

The Indians tied it up... and suddenly the scoring stopped.

In the bottom of the 9th, Kevin Youkilis fouled off a bunch of pitches before hitting a low line drive snared by Grady Sizemore, saving the game. In the 11th, Francona handed the ball to Eric Gagne who got rocked... before the 11th was over the Indians scored 7 runs, including a go ahead single by Trot Nixon and a homer by Franklin Gutierrez.

The Indians had new life and looked like they had life in the ALCS.

2008 – Rays 9 Red Sox 8 (11 innings)

The crisp pitchers duel of Game 1 gave way to a sluggish slug fest in Game 2. Jason Bay and Evan Longoria traded 2 run first inning homers. Pedroia would homer twice. Youkilis would add another one. Cliff Floyd and B. J. Upton homered for the Rays.

But Beckett couldn't hold onto a 6-5 lead and Tampa couldn't hold the lead with 2 outs in the 8th.

The Red Sox left runners in scoring position in the 9th and 11th and Tampa won the game on a sacrifice fly in the 11th by Upton. How could the series have been different had the Red Sox taken a 2-0 series lead?

2009 – Yankees 4 Angels 3 (13 innings)

The Angels needed to win Game 2 in order to realistically have a shot at going to the World Series... and somehow the Angels blew every conceivable chance to win it, even when the Yankees handed the game over on a silver platter.

Joe Saunders and Kevin Jepsen held the mighty Yankees to 2 runs over 9 innings... but A. J. Burnett of all people shut the Angels down as well. The Angels loaded the bases in the 5th and tied the game on a wild pitch... but left the bases loaded in the 7th and left runners in scoring position in the 8th.

In the pouring rain in the 11th, the Angels took the lead and sent closer Brian Fuentes to close out the 11th. He faced A-Rod and then a bunch of bench players... all he had to do was make sure A-Rod didn't homer in the downpour.

OF COURSE HE DID and the game was tied.

The Angels left runners in scoring position in the 12th and the Yankees left the bases loaded in the bottom of the frame. Vlad Guerrero once again left runners in scoring position in the 13th while the Yankees took advantage of sloppy defense to win it in the 13th.

Best Game 3 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

Let's get the Don Zimmer/Pedro Martinez fight out of the way first.

Yeah there was a big fight. And yeah I thought Manny Ramirez was out of line yelling at Clemens because the pitch was nowhere near his head.

But anyone who saw it saw Don Zimmer, one of the great idiots in baseball history, running at Pedro Martinez... clearly not to chat.

Pedro tossed the old fool aside... maybe with a little too much relish.

But how it was covered in New York leapt far beyond absurd. Pedro did NOT attack Don Zimmer. One person talked on the radio about how "Zimmer was trying to make peace and Pedro attacked him."

That is as truthful as saying "Los Angeles is in Rhode Island."

What you might forget about that insane game was that it was actually a good GAME! Pedro and Roger... Sox taking an early lead... Jeter and Ramirez homering...

But the fact of the matter is the high pitches to Posada that started the insanity woke up the Yankees and gave them life as Pedro Martinez lost a playoff game for the first time.

Honorable Mention for Game 3 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

2009 – Angels 5 Yankees 4 (11 innings)

The Yankees looked like they were ready to sweep away the Angels when they took a 3-0 lead in the 5th. But the Angels got off the matt, highlighted when Game 2 goat Vlad Guerrero launched a game tying homer off of Andy Pettitte. The Angels took the lead but Jorge Posada tied it with a homer in the 8th.

The game went into extras again... where once again Guerrero left the bases loaded. But this time the Angels were able to push a run across in extra innings when Jeff Mathis singled home Howie Kendrick and gave the Halos some hope.

Best Game 4 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s
Don't worry. I haven't forgotten the Dave Roberts game... just giving some love to the good folks in Detroit.

Just 3 years removed from a 119 loss season, the Tigers were on the verge of a pennant.

But the A's, fighting for their life, came out swinging. Milton Bradley and Eric Chavez hit RBI doubles in the first and Jay Payton added a solo shot to make it 3-0 Oakland. But the Tigers fought back, tying the game on a Magglio Ordonez homer in the 6th.

The A's blew a bases loaded chance in the 8th. In the 9th, with 2 outs and nobody on, the Tigers rallied. Finally Huston Street grooved one to Ordonez, whose second homer of the game, a 3 run shot, won the pennant for the Tigers.

Honorable Mentions for Game 4 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

Mariners starter Paul Abbott had a no hitter going through 5 innings. The problem was he also let up 8 walks and wasn't exactly sharp.

Either way, it is harsh to lift a guy while throwing a post season no hitter!

Roger Clemens and Ramiro Mendoza combined for 2 hits over 8 innings. In fact going into the bottom of the 8th, the Mariners had a 1-0 lead and there were only 3 hits in the entire game.

Bret Boone's homer gave Seattle the lead, but Bernie Williams' homer tied the game in the bottom of the 8th.

In the bottom of the 9th Alfonso Soriano hit a walk off homer off of Kaz Sazaki, giving the Yankees a 3-1 win and a 3-1 series lead.

A lot of people made a big deal about the fact his homer took place at 9:11 PM in the wake of the September 11th attacks. I think it was a coincidence.

I know I will catch flack from Red Sox fans for not putting this game at the top.

Yes, I know it was the turning point of the rivalry. Yes I know it was the moment where the Red Sox stared into the abyss and found their character. I know it was the moment where the single most transcendent moment happened in Red Sox history and Dave Roberts stole that base and started a chain reaction that resulted in the Red Sox slaying their demons.

I know. I remember the game well.

I remember Papi's homer too.

I remember it all.

And guess what? The 2004 ALCS is going to get a lot of love on this page. And besides, when the game was over, I thought "Oh man... this is just prolonging the agony." It wasn't until the Game 5 victory that I began to think "wait a second! We can win this thing!"

Best Game 5 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s
Less than 24 hours after The Dave Roberts Game ended, the Red Sox and Yankees had to play another game.

As I said in Reverse the Curse of the Bambino, I was actually a little pissed when the euphoria ended at the end of Game 4. The Red Sox were still in a terrible hole, down 3 games to 1, and while it was fun to see the Sox squeeze out a win... the series was still over.

Game 5 just seemed cruel, especially when the Red Sox took an early 2-0 lead only to see it slip away on a 2 out 3 run double by Jeter on Pedro's 100th pitch.

Then Game 5 became surreal. Down 4-2 with Tom Gordon on the mound, David Ortiz homered to make it a 1 run game... and Kevin Millar walked again and Dave Roberts came in to run again.

And I sat back thinking "Oh man... so cruel. They'll bring in Rivera now."

But an unnerved Tom Gordon remained in the game long enough to let Trot Nixon execute a perfect hit and run putting the tying run on third with nobody out. Rivera came in but let up a game tying sacrifice fly.

Then Game 5 became insane...

Tony Clark hit a 2 out ground rule double that just skipped over the fence, taking a potential pennant winning run off of the board for the Yankees.

The Red Sox had 2 on and nobody out in the 11th and couldn't score.

David Ortiz tried to steal in the 12th. He was called out even though replays should he might have been safe.

The Red Sox had to bring in Tim Wakefield and use Jason Varitek as his catcher. The Lobster couldn't catch Wakefield's knuckler yet kept calling for it. In the bizarre 13th inning, Wakefield had two base runners and threw three passed balls... and yet didn't let up a run. Why Torre never set the runners in motion never made sense to me.

In the 14th, the Red Sox rallied against a surprising Esteban Loaiza with David Ortiz driving home the winning run with 2 outs, 2 strikes and a brown stain creating at bat.

After that game, Red Sox fans dared think "Hmm... I wonder if the Sox could win this."

There was no time to think. The next game was less than 24 hours away.

Honorable Mentions for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

Only the emotion of the 2004 series kept this from the top spot. One of the most mind boggling comebacks in post season history. The Rays took a 7-0 lead with 2 outs in the 7th at Fenway and were poised to blow the Red Sox out for the third straight game for the pennant.

The Red Sox cut the score to 7-4 and the next inning J. D. Drew brought the Red Sox to within 1 with a homer. Then Coco Crisp fouled off 4,391 pitches and singled home the tying run with 2 outs in the 8th.

After a double play killed a 9th inning Rays rally, the Sox took advantage of an error and a J. D. Drew double to win a game that just didn't seem to be really happening.

I will go on record in saying that Game 5 of the 2009 ALCS was one of the strangest playoff games I have ever seen. The Yankees were held scoreless in all but one inning. The Angels were held scoreless in all but 2 innings.

Most of the game was a tense pitching duel. But those three innings were so wild that it gave the game a sense that it was a crazy slugfest.

The Angels pounded A. J. Burnett and were up 4-0 before he recorded an out. Then the Angels bats went dead.

Then with 2 outs in the 7th and the bases loaded, Mike Scioscia took out John Lackey, who didn't seem happy about it. Turns out Lackey was right. The Yankees scored 6 runs with 2 outs and looked like they were lined up to win the pennant. But Girardi let A. J. Burnett start the bottom of the 7th and then the Yankee bullpen collapsed. Vlad Guerrero tied the game with a single and Kendry Morales gave the Angels the lead.

Brian Fuentes had 2 outs and nobody on... and managed to let the Yankees load the bases. But Nick Swisher popped up to end the game and force a Game 6.

Best Game 6 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s
First of all, let me say this right off the bat:

I was there.

It's not often you get to be in the stands during one of the classic playoff games of all time. But I was there, thanks to Jon Griggs getting me a ticket.

The game was an unnerving experience, waiting for that moment when the other shoe was going to drop and the Yankees would win in front of the home crowd.

First I thought the Yankees were going to bunt like crazy off of Schilling. I couldn't see the bleeding sock... but we all knew he had a crazy surgery just days before the game and nobody was sure if his foot was going to pop off of his ankle, let alone have him throw a shutout into the 7th.

And then came the A-Rod slap. From where I was sitting, it wasn't clear what happened. I just assumed Bronson Arroyo did something stupid and threw the ball away.

But when Yankee Stadium was going nuts, screaming 19-18 and Boston Sucks, I noticed the umpires huddling. Now heaven forbid they use replay to check the play... but they did get the call right. A-Rod slapped that ball away and was out... despite his protestations.

What people forget about that game was that the Yankees brought the pennant winning run to the plate in the bottom of the 9th. With 2 outs and 2 on, Tony Clark faced Keith Foulke... who could have been the post season MVP for the 2004 Red Sox.

All the while I was thinking "This is it... this is where the 2004 Red Sox end... Tony F---ing Clark."

But Foulke struck him out and one of the iconic games of the decade went to the Red Sox.

There was no time to rejoice... they would play again in less than 24 hours.

Honorable Mentions for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

Facing elimination, the Mariners jumped out to an early lead thanks to first inning RBIs by then Mariner A-Rod and Edgar Martinez.

Their 4-0 lead quickly became 4-3. Then in the 7th, David Justice launched a 3 run homer that game the Yankees the lead.

The Mariners would rally with an A-Rod homer in the 8th and had the tying run at the plate in the form of Yankee killer Edgar Martinez in the 9th. But Edgar grounded out to give the Yankees the pennant.

The tremendous 2003 ALCS looked like it was running out of gas with the Yankees pulling away. The Red Sox blew an early 4-1 lead and the Yankees took the lead partially on a Nomar Garciaparra error.

But Nomar made up for it by tripling in the 7th and scoring on Hideki Matsui's error, making it a 1 run game. In the same inning David Ortiz tied the game with a single and Johnny Damon's walk with the bases loaded gave the Red Sox the lead.

Trot Nixon's homer gave the Red Sox some wiggle room and the Yankees couldn't rally off of relievers Alan Embree, Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson... a fact forgotten by manager Grady Little 24 hours later.

The Angels were on the brink, trailing the series 3-2 and were down 3-1 in the 8th. But the Angels cut the lead to one on a Vlad Guerrero RBI single. The Angels just needed to play mistake free ball in the bottom of the 8th to give the team a shot in the 9th.

That didn't happen. The usually steady Angels made two errors in the bottom of the 8th and the Yankees pulled ahead and clinched the pennant with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

Best Game 7 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s
Arguably the single greatest game of the decade.

The Red Sox seemed poised to finally slay their demons in the Bronx.

The Yankees were ready to maintain supremacy.

It was Pedro vs. Clemens just a few days after the Zimmer brawl.

The build up to the game was so intense that there was no way it could match up to the hype. Somehow it surpassed it.

If you are reading this blog, then you don't need a recap for Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.

So here are some facts and thoughts about the last game of the curse:

- Aaron Boone didn't start the game. Enrique Wilson had a solid record against Pedro Martinez and started at third in his place. Boone didn't enter the game until he was a pinch runner in the dreaded 8th.

- The biggest hero of the game might have been Mike Mussina who came into the game in the 4th, Yankees down 4-0 with 2 on and nobody outs... Sox in danger of blowing the game open. He threw 3 scoreless innings and kept the Yankees in the game.

- Every single Red Sox fan knew that Pedro Martinez always fell apart after 100 pitches. When he struck out Alfonso Soriano with 2 on to end the 7th, I yelled what every other Red Sox fan yelled. "GREAT! TAKE HIM OUT!"

- When Pedro came out to start the 8th, I thought "OK, but take him out after he lets up a base runner."

- Alan Embree's ERA in the ALCS was 0.00... so was Mike Timlin's... and Scott Williamson had 3 saves. It's safe to say they could have cobbled together 5 outs. In fact Embree and Timlin DID get 5 outs... when it was too late.

- Anyone who said that Grady Little made the right decision with the lame excuse "Pedro was the best pitcher so he should have been there in the 8th" is insane. I would always say in return "So did Grady make the wrong decision taking Pedro out when the game was tied?"

- Little took David Ortiz out of the lineup in the 9th when he lifted him for a pinch runner. If the game went deep into extras, Gabe Kapler would have been protecting Manny Ramirez.

- If the Red Sox won this game and won the 2003 World Series, chances are the Yankees would pick up Curt Schilling in the off season and the Red Sox would have acquired Alex Rodriguez.

- That night almost hurt as much as 1986... the only thing that made it hurt less was that it was erased the very next year.

Honorable Mentions for Game 7 of the American League Championship Series for the 2000s

The closest 10-3 game in history. Even when the Red Sox were up 8-1, I couldn't relax. I kept thinking "Oh Christ... how will the Yankees come back?"

And it sure seemed like we were going to get our answer when Pedro Martinez came into the game in the 7th. The game went from 8-1 to 8-3... then Pedro reached back and struck out Olerud and got Cairo out... and Bellhorn homered in the top of the 8th.

Then I remember a very strange feeling take over my body... confidence.

And in one game the rivalry was changed forever. The Yankees can win in the future and they did this year... but the Red Sox finally had a highlight against the Yankees go THEIR way.

In some ways the World Series was an anticlimactic after thought. As Red Sox fans, what do you think about when 2004 is mentioned? Is it the Cardinals? Or beating the Yankees?

There is no way to look at the final score to know how tense this game was. The Indians were trying not to let a 3-1 ALCS lead completely slip away. The Red Sox were trying to complete yet another comeback and get back to the World Series.

And in the 7th inning, it looked like the Series was going to turn in the Indians favor. With the Red Sox up 3-2, Kenny Lofton reached when Julio Lugo let an easy fly ball drop. With the speedy Lofton on second, Franklin Gutierrez singled to left. Manny Ramirez loafed in and tossed it to second... and Kenny Lofton was standing on third base. Third base coach Joel Skinner held him from scoring the tying run. Historians for generations will study that tape and not have any clue why he was held at third. A double play in the next play ended the rally.

Dustin Pedroia homered to give the Sox some breathing room in the 7th, but the Indians put the tying run at the plate with nobody out in the 8th. Papelbon came in and got Hafner and Martinez out... then Garko hit a deep flyball that looked like it was going to tie the game or at least make it a 1 run game. But Jacoby Ellsbury tracked it down.

The Red Sox unloaded on the Indians bullpen in the 8th to make it a blow out... but make no mistake, this game could have gone either way.

The Red Sox looked like they were going to complete their third "Down by 3-1 in the ALCS" comeback in 5 seasons. Pedroia homered in the 1st and Jon Lester was on the hill... and the Rays were suddenly the Devil Rays again.

But Matt Garza didn't let up another hit until the 7th and the Rays managed to score 3 runs and take a 3-1 lead into the 8th... setting up one of the most heart stopping innings of the decade.

Alex Cora reached on an error, knocking Garza out of the game. Against the bullpen that blew the 7-0 Game 5 lead, the Red Sox loaded the bases and had playoff hero J. D. Drew come to the plate.

In came David Price, a year removed from Vanderbilt University. Drew chased a 1-2 pitch and the inning ended as a heart breaking goose egg (for me at least). Price worked around a walk in the 9th to be one of the most unlikely bullpen closers in playoff history.

He was so cool under pressure that he was enlisted to introduce Barack Obama at a rally in Florida.



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