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October 20, 2004

Nightmare Scenario
by Larry Mahnken

Well, at least it wasn't Torre's fault.

After frittering away his bullpen the previous two days trying deperately to win games they could afford to lose, Joe -- and Jon Lieber -- gave pretty much everyone who matters a day off, making pretty much everyone that matters acceptably rested to go one or two innings in Game Seven.

I knew from the moment Al Leiter commented on Schilling's mechanics that the Yankees were in trouble last night. Then Jeter swung at the first pitch, and I realized that they were counting on beating up on him, rather than working the pitch count to get into the bullpen, and I knew they were going to lose. Lieber would pitch fine, and he did, but I knew that he wasn't going to be quite good enough. And he was fine. But not good enough.

So now the collapse is complete, and all that's left is redemption or utter failure. Redemption for Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez, redemption for Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon, redemption for every Yankees hitter who failed to get the hit that mattered the last three days. Ironic, isn't it, that it's not been the Yankees' pitching that's failed them, but their hitting?

I look at Game Seven and I see a game they can win. At first, I felt calm, as though having lost the lead was the completion of my worst fears, but I guess I just put that aside so I could write something. Now I am brought back down by the realization that the Yankees are the only team on the field tomorrow facing a must win. The Red Sox will head back to Boston tomorrow heroes, either as the AL Champs, or the team that didn't quit. They have no fear of losing, because there is no consequence to them losing. For the Yankees, losing is the completion of the greatest collapse in the history of baseball, perhaps the history of sports.

They can win. Derek Lowe was solid on Sunday, but there's always the possibility of a meltdown. Of course, at the first sign of trouble Tim Wakefield will come in, as will Bronson Arroyo, a rested Mike Timlin and Alan Embree, and maybe even Keith Foulke. The Yankees will have a fairly rested 'pen, too, but they'll need as good an outing from Kevin Brown as they've ever gotten. If the Yankees fall behind early, they're done for.

I think they can do this. They have to do this.

Do it.