By Jon Lane
The inevitable comparisons are in full force. One victory from a World Series the Yankees drop a winnable Game 5 and are back home with two chances to grab that elusive ‘W’ with both hands and hold tight.
In the event you lived on Mars five years ago and are back on Earth: The Yankees blew a 3-0 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox in 2004, starting when they were three Mariano Rivera outs from a four-game sweep and the right to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the Fall Classic.
Watching Game 5 of Yankees-Angels, my colleague and friend Jerome Preisler couldn’t help but compare Phil Hughes to Tom Gordon, the latter one symbol of that epic collapse. I covered the 2004 ALCS from start to finish and sure there are similarities. Like these Angels, those Red Sox never quit. They had heart, soul, pop, clutch hitting and pitching, and some good luck. I remember specifically Game 5. The Yankees took a 4-2 sixth-inning lead on Derek Jeter’s three-run double off Pedro Martinez and had the bases loaded with two out. Hideki Matsui laced a liner to right field. If it drops, the game is broken open and we’re not talking about the 2004 ALCS.
Alas, Trot Nixon made a sliding catch to end the inning. Looking back at the series, Joe Torre called that the turning point, the first time when he told himself, “Uh oh.” David Ortiz homered off Gordon to begin the bottom of the eighth and Jason Varitek’s sacrifice fly off Rivera tied the game at four. Fate, by the way, also smiled on the Red Sox in the ninth when Tony Clark doubled off Keith Foulke, If the ball doesn’t bounce over Fenway Park’s short right-field fence, Ruben Sierra scores from first. Instead, Clark and Sierra had to stay on second and third. Miguel Cairo popped out and David Ortiz finally won the game in the 14th.
The moral of the history lesson: 2009 is a different time with a different team. These Yankees had it within them to pull out 15 walk-off wins and two in the postseason. Andy Pettitte and not Jon Lieber (to be fair, Lieber pitched very effectively in the ’04 postseason) is starting Game 6 Saturday night. And if there’s a Game 7, the season will be on CC Sabathia’s back, not our old friend Kevin Brown.
Furthermore, there are glaring differences between Joe Girardi’s lineup to what Torre had to send out for Games 6 and 7 five years ago:
2004 – Kenny Lofton/Sierra
2009 – Matsui
2004 – Cairo
2009 – Robinson Cano
2004 – Tony Clark (John Olerud’s bruised instep kept him from starting Games 5-7)
2009 – Mark Teixeira
Cano instead of Cairo; Teixeira instead of Clark (who struck out to end Game 6 as the winning run at the plate). Here’s hoping you’re reassured. Now all this lineup has to do is score runs off two very good pitchers, Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver.