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October 10, 2003

Must-Won: New York 6, Boston 2
by Larry Mahnken

Usually, Game Two is an important game, but it's not exactly a must-win. A good team is capable of coming back from 2-0 down in a 7 game series, even when they lose the first two at home. But last night was a must-win for the Yankees. Had they lost, they would have faced the unenviable task of having to defeat the greatest pitcher in the world, or face a 3-0 deficit. They needed to win, and they did. They're still not in control of the series, but they're still alive.

I said last night--well, implied last night--that the Yankees needed Good Andy if they wanted any chance of winning. Andy Pettitte, for those of you who haven't noticed, isn't a "Big Game Pitcher", like he's often called. He isn't a choker, either. He's good, but sometimes he's great, and sometimes he's terrible. Last night was the most crucial game he's ever pitched for the Yankees, more crucial than Game 5 of the '96 Series. He started out as Pedestrian Andy--without getting much help from his defense--and it looked in the first two innings like the Red Sox might turn the game into a laugher, much like they did when they last faced Pettitte in early September. But they only put one run on the board in those two innings, and then Good Andy entered the building.

Of course, that run would have been enough had Derek Lowe shut the Yankees down like Tim Wakefield had on Wednesday, but the Yankees were able to take their first lead of the series in the bottom of the third inning, when Nick *SIGH* Johnson was left a fat pitch over the heart of the plate, and launched it to deep right for a two-run home run.

A rally in the third loaded the bases for the Yankees with one out, but only resulted in one run. The Yankees, in fact, wasted nearly as many scoring opportunities as the Red Sox--leaving 4 men on in scoring postion with 2 outs, to Boston's 5. But the Yankees created more opportunities than the Red Sox did, as Andy Pettitte was nearly untouchable after the second, giving up only one more run on a Jason Varitek homer in the 6th.

Jose Contreras entered in the 7th, and retired all four batters he faced, and Rivera came in to finish the job in the ninth. It was a solid win for the Yankees, though not as much as Boston's was the night before. The Red Sox wasted opportunities to put the Yankees away in the first two innings, and the decision to bring in the struggling Scott Sauerbeck into the game in the 7th inning, after Giambi had walked, and turning Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada around to their strong sides, can only be explained by saying that Lowe was finished, and Sauerbeck was the only pitcher who had warmed up.

But why only Sauerbeck? Sauerbeck is a LOOGY, and his lefty/righty splits are painfully obvious in the regard. If Sauerbeck was used this way during the regular season, it's apparent why his numbers were so awful. That's just bad managing. But I ain't complaining. If Little wants to bring in the wrong guy to pitch to good hitters this series, more power to him.

Tomorrow the Yankees face Pedro in a huge swing game. Really, this game is all about Clemens--he won't be getting any standing ovations this time, unless he gets pounded out of the game. Rocket has only had two great starts against Boston in the past two seasons, and he's been pounded by them three times this year alone. The Yankees need him to throw six innings without giving up more than two or three runs, while they work Pedro's count and try to get the bullpen into the game. It can be done, but it's almost all on Clemens, pitching in what is absolutely his last game in Fenway Park, probably the last game he pitches against an American League team, and maybe the last game of his career. But, you know... no pressure, Rog.

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Hero of the game: Derek Lowe, for hitting Aaron Boone with a pitch. Made my night.