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July 7, 2003

by Larry Mahnken

It wasn't Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS, but it was an important game for the Yankees to win, particularly because it was such an important game for the Red Sox to win. To get that win, they gave the ball to their ace, Mike Mussina, and he went toe-to-toe with the most dominant pitcher in the league and pitched every bit as well as Pedro did.

Having won the first two games of this series in dominating fashion, the Red Sox had realistic hopes of a sweep, a tie for first place, and humiliation of their main rival in their home ballpark. But they were shut down by the inconsistent Andy Pettitte while John Burkett did his best John Burkett imitation, and today they were unable to secure a victory for their ace. I've said it before, though I don't believe I've said it here, but what's the point of having Pedro Martinez if he can't beat the Yankees? I know that's a bit of an exaggeration, but the Yankees play so well against the Red Sox when Pedro starts that it's almost no advantage at all.

I do have to give credit to Grady Little for this game, though. He pitched Martinez seven innnings (which may have been one too many, considering his past arm problems), and followed him with his ace reliever, Byung-Hyun Kim, in the highest leverage situation. It didn't work out, as Kim surrendered the winning run in the ninth, but Little did utilize his bullpen efficiently today. Hopefully he won't keep it up.

So now the Yankees go off to Cleveland right where they were when Boston came to town, in first by four games. It's pretty much a certainty now that they'll go into the break in first, and with Bernie back tomorrow or Wednesday, this race might be over in a few weeks.

It wasn't all joy and giggles today, though, as Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter were both injured by Martinez pitches in the first inning and had to leave the game. Neither was seriously hurt, though they are both day-to-day. Juan Rivera was optioned to Columbus, and Eric Almont-E was recalled to give the Yankees another legit backup infielder, so he and Enrique Wilson are likely to play the first game, at least, in Cleveland. With the injuries to their middle infield, the Yankees were forced to play what was probably the worst infield defense in baseball this year, with Todd Zeile at third, Wilson at short, Robin Ventura at second and Jason Giambi at first. Fortunately it didn't hurt them, as Mussina was utterly dominant.

I cast my final vote for the All-Star Game tonight, selecting Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera. It's nice to see that Mike Scoscia was able to sneak Bengie Molina on there instead of, say, Milton Bradley or Bill Mueller or Trot Nixon. And Dusty Baker has no idea what he's doing. Kenny Lofton??? Benito Santiago??? Goodness, how the hell did he ever get to the World Series last year? Oh yeah, he had a demigod on his team.