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October 12, 2003

Game Three: New York 4, Boston 3 - Testosterone 6, Sportsmanship 0
by Larry Mahnken

Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS was advertised as the "Brawl in Beantown", matching two of the greatest pitchers in baseball, Pedro Martinez and Roger Clemens. The game didn't even come close to living up to the hype, as Clemens was gone in the third inning with a 5-0 deficit, and Pedro was untouchable, beating the Bombers 13-1.

It was the only game that Roger Clemens ever lost at Fenway Park as a visiting player.

The Yankees lost that game, but it was the last game they lost that season, beating the Sox in the next two, and sweeping the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. For all the hype leading up to the game, however, it wasn't really that important for the Yankees to win; it was more important for the Red Sox not to lose.

This year, Game 3 was important for both teams, the series being tied 1-1, though again it was probably more important for the Red Sox than the Yankees. With the next two pitching matchups clearly favoring the Yankees, and the third probably favoring them as well, Boston now faces the difficult task of winning two of those three games just to get it to a Game Seven, with Pedro facing Rocket again at Yankee Stadium. A loss would have been nearly as damaging to the Yankees' chances, too, as they would have had to win all three of those games to avoid facing Pedro in Game Seven.

And with so much on the line, the game lived up to the hype. Clemens gave up base hits to three of the first four batters he faced, and it appeared that we might be witnessing a repeat of 1999. But Clemens not only settled down, he shut the Red Sox down from that point on, giving up only 2 hits after the first, striking out 7 men in total, and sending a clear message: if it does come down to Game 7, the Yankees are going to have a chance to win.

I've said again and again that the Yankees don't beat Pedro, despite what is now a 9-9 record against him and a 15-11 record against his team when he starts. When they've beat him, it's usually been because of great pitching by the Yankees, or a poor showing by the Boston bullpen. The Yankees did get outstanding pitching today, but they beat Pedro. They hit him, they scored off of him, they beat him. And they got in his head, too.

Jorge Posada started the Yankees' scoring with a double off the wall in the second, and was driven home with a two-out single by Karim Garcia. At that point, you weren't sure if the Yankees were going to get Pedro any more, maybe it wouldn't be enough. But one swing by Derek Jeter in the top of the third changed that, as he crushed a ball over the Green Monster, tying the game. I don't buy into Clutch Hitting, but that was a Clutch Hit, as it negated Clemens's bad first inning, and while the Yankees' might still have lost the game, it was going to have to come after that point.

They didn't lose, and in fact won it in the fourth. Jorge Posada walked, Nick Johnson slammed a single off the Green Monster to move Posada to third, and Hideki Matsui drove a ball over Trot Nixon's head for an automatic double, scoring Posada. And then Karim Garcia came to the plate.

Why Pedro did what he did is something that we'll never know. Maybe he was trying to get the Yankees' hitters to back away from the plate, or maybe he was trying to get Roger Clemens upset, and throw off his rhythm--maybe he was trying to get him tossed. But what he did was undeniable. He threw at Karim Garcia. He didn't throw at his head--the location of the pitch was below the shoulders of Garcia--but the pitch was behind Garcia, and Pedro hadn't been wild at all. He intended to hit him, or at least knock him down.

It was, of course, stupid to throw at someone anyway, but in that situation, it was especially so. With second and third and nobody out, not only was Martinez putting another runner on base, but he was risking a wild pitch that would have scored another run--and left the Yankees with a runner on third and still nobody out. In fact, the pitch almost certainly didn't hit Garcia--it hit his bat--and had it missed that, would have been just such a disastrous wild pitch.

But the umpires awarded Garcia first base, and Alfonso Soriano bounced into a double play, scoring a run, but killing the rally. Garcia went (unnecessarily) hard into second base, taking out Todd Walker, and the jawing started again, as Garcia had to be kept from going out towards Martinez on the mound. And then it got ugly. The Yankees dugout started yelling at Martinez, who yelled back at them, and pointed twice at his head while jawing with Jorge Posada. What was Martinez saying? I have no idea. But if you're a pitcher with a reputation as a headhunter, and you point at your head while arguing with an opposing batter...well, that's pretty stupid.

It should have ended there. It didn't end there. With two strikes on Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens threw a high fastball, and Ramirez, clearly expecting to get thrown at, started walking towards the mound yelling at Clemens (carrying the bat with him), and had to be restrained by Posada and the home plate umpire. Of course, the pitch was nowhere near Ramirez's head--even Grady Little had to admit that--and Ramirez was just being stupid. And it was stupid--you don't risk getting thrown out of a playoff game, not when you're the best hitter on your team.

The dugouts and bullpens cleared, there was some yelling and pushing, but the most shocking incident came when Don Zimmer charged Pedro Martinez and swung at him, and Martinez responded by grabbing his head and shoving him to the ground. Zimmer was way out of line charging Martinez, but Martinez's reaction was not the best one. He could easily have stepped out of the way of the 700 pound Zimmer, but instead chose to use physical force against him. Was he in his rights to defend himself? Absolutely. Was it necessary? Uh, no.

From that point on, Clemens and Martinez dominated, and the game went into the 7th with the Yankees leading 4-2. Torre lifted Clemens after 6 innings and 96 pitches, choosing to go with lefty Felix Heredia against lefty David Ortiz. Heredia walked the Cookie Monster, and Jose Contreras came in, gave up a single to Kevin Millar, moving Ortiz to third, and then a double play by Trot Nixon, making the score 4-3, then walking Bill Mueller before getting out of the inning.

Now, I've been critical of Torre all season for his use of Mariano Rivera, essentially leaning on him whenever there's an opportunity for a win. But in the postseason, if you've got a chance for a win, you have to go for it, and Torre made the right decision in bringing Rivera in for the eighth. He's still available for an inning tonight, and if he isn't used, then two on Monday. By bringing in Mo--who has been his old dominant self this postseason--he neutralized the Boston offense, and sealed the win.

Now the Yankees are in control of the series again. If Wells pitches tonight like he did in Minnesota, the Yankees will have a stranglehold on this series, and be in position to finish Boston off with their best starter on the mound Monday. This was a fantastically huge win for the Yankees, and I'm ecstatic about it.

* * *

The one other incident in the game that I didn't mention was the fight in the bullpen. I didn't talk about it because I don't know what really happened--and you don't, either. The details are that Nelson and Garcia fought a Boston groundskeeper in the bullpen, and that he had spike marks on him from getting kicked and/or stepped on. Apparently he was cheering for the Red Sox and holding a Red Sox towel and waving it, and was very pumped up after the Yankees hit into a double play. Nelson says the groundskeeper took a swing at him, I'm not so sure about that.

Nelson was wrong to hit the man if he didn't throw a punch, and I have no idea when Garcia really came onto the scene, so I won't say anything about his guilt or innocence (if he just saw a fight, then he was right to go in and help his teammate), but I do recall one thing my friend Jeff said: "every beating has a lesson". The groundskeeper had a right to be there, but to openly root for the Red Sox in that situation--that's just plain stupid.

Jeff Nelson is a punk and a redneck, and if he gets suspended, it's probably deserved, and it's no loss. At least it keeps him from walking someone in a tight spot.