Yanks 1, Sox 0. But oh, what a game.

I won’t lie to you: I’m a Red Sox fan, and, in keeping with a proud Red Sox heritage, the only thing that puts me in a better mood than a Red Sox victory is a Red Sox victory coupled with a Yankee loss. This is the way of things.
But, on some days, the game of baseball you hear or see is so superb that it transcends partisanship: you can step back and see the game’s artistry, apprehend the mastery of the players, appreciate the beauty of ten men working in perfect concert and making it all look so easy, and not worry about the win or the loss. It is at this level of play that you cease being solely a Red Sox fan or a Yankees fan and become simply a baseball fan. The baseline shifts — we have common ground.
Today the Red Sox lost and the Yankees won, a complete inversion of the New England ideal, a defeat that counts doubly, cutting Boston’s lead in the AL East from three games to four. Contrary to my usual state of mind after such a loss, which could be described as downtrodden or deflated, frustrated or upset, I find myself surprisingly unperturbed, elated, even (though not without a twinge of disappointment and sadness — I am a Sox fan, after all). Perhaps this makes me a subtle traitor to Red Sox Nation; perhaps it sets me apart from those who grew up rooting for Boston — I’m willing to concede the possibility. Maybe my lack of dejection marks me as less of a diehard Sox fan than I think I am. But it doesn’t change the fact that today’s game between the AL’s hottest rivals was nothing less than intense, exciting, dramatic — and at times agonizing — straight-up jaw-droppingly good baseball; nor has it dampened my spirits in the slightest.
It was a heartbreaking loss for the Sox, to be sure, particularly for veteran starter Tim Wakefield, who came into the game having won his last three starts, and who pitched like a demon for eight innings, allowing only one run, three hits, and a walk, and striking out a career-high twelve batters. The “L” next to his name is hardly deserved — nine times out of ten, a pitching performance like that is a guaranteed win, and it’s only the fact that one of those three hits was a Jason Giambi solo shot, combined with the ability of the Yanks to shut down the Sox offense whenever they threatened. (To be fair, the Sox shut down the Yanks in the same way, apart from that lone home run. But you get my point here.)
I suppose it’s possible that Randy Johnson was just slightly more freakishly good than Wake — his team won, after all — but I’d say this is contestable. I’m no sabermetrician, and I don’t know a whole lot about quantitative pitching evaluation, but I do know proficiency when I see it, and these two starters were what can only be described as “on.” By my counts, Wakefield threw 110 pitches, 65 for strikes; Johnson threw 100, 66 for strikes. Wake walked one; Johnson two. As I’ve already mentioned (and will most likely keep mentioning, as it prompted me to scribble ecstatic notes in the margins of my scoresheet, triumphant arrows pointing to the pertinent at-bats, and to shout out loud to the Midwestern neighborhood things like “HOT!” and “HOLY CRAP!” and “SO AWESOME!”), Wake struck out a total of 12 batters; Johnson struck out eight. This was the sort of game in which the level of pitching mastery is so high that the final outcome seems to be more about luck and chance than about conventional offense, getting the few hits allowed at the right moments; the sort of game that makes you wish they’d give a no-decision instead of a loss to the “losing” pitcher, since both pitchers seem to deserve that W.
The way Wake pitched, it’s a game the Sox could have (and probably should have) won — therein lies the agony for Sox fans. It’s an unjust loss for many reasons, including the purely sentimental one that an outing in which a pitcher overtakes a career record should be accompanied by a win. But you can’t win ’em all — the Fenway Faithful know this better than most, and I’d guess that Tim Wakefield does too. And there’s something else they know: that you can win some of ’em, and even the Yankees lose sometimes.
So, fellow Red Sox fans: take a break from the standings for a moment. Forget that the loss is double, that it effectively nullifies yesterday’s heroics, that it puts us back where we were on Friday. Forget the percentages and remember the hope you felt when Millar worked Rivera to a full count before getting the base hit that put Manny in scoring position. Remember the possibilities that lay in Johnny Damon’s ten-pitch at-bat in the eighth. Remember Wakefield’s impressive outing, which followed the return of the Schilling of yore, and which should be nothing but good, very very good news for our boys. Remember that we played well today — let this be heartening. Remember that this is why we love the game.
For just a moment, anyway. It is September, and there’s a beautiful but stressful October to believe in, which, for Sox fans — and baseball fans — means there’s plenty of fretting, complaining, shouting, cheering, celebrating, and worrying to do.
So get to it.

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4 thoughts on “Yanks 1, Sox 0. But oh, what a game.

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