This is not 2004

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.

gordon_250_102309.jpgWatching 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:

DH
2004 – Kenny Lofton/Sierra
2009 – Matsui

2B
2004 – Cairo
2009 – Robinson Cano

1B
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.

4 Comments

Actually – in passing you mentioned what I thought to be the key of the series- that of Olerud’s injury in the blow-out game 4.

For the rest of the series, it seemed that Posada was constantly pitched-around so the Sox could get to Clark – and Clark was always up with guys on base…soon to be seen flailing at pitches as he was compoletely exposed.

Despite his hit which crawled over the fence, he was an absolute black hole in the series, and with Torre’s pathetic options available to him, I believe this really killed the Yanks.

I was racking my brain thinking about who started in Game 6in 2004. Lieber did a good job for the Yankees in 2004.

Anyway, this year’s team is just better all around. I have all the faith in the world in Andy Pettittte to put the Yanks in The Series. Also, while in 2004 the offense more or less fell apart after Game 3, this year the team seems to be hitting better than they did in the beginning of the ALCS. Swish is the only guy who hasn’t come around, while Melky has quietly put together a nice series, and Cano and Tex got big hits in Game 5. Bottom Line: the Yanks will win Game 6.

Mike,

That is a great point about Olerud. His injury was lost in the craziness of that 19-8 Game 3 win but it had a major impact on the series. Even in that stage of his career, you’d want Olerud over Clark at bat anytime.

Thanks for reading,

Jon

Saying the Yanks lineup now is better than ’04 is not a slam dunk, and i would venture to say that the ’04 lineup was better. It’s really not right to compare position to position. If i were to ask you: “who’s a more dangerous hitter, Sheffield or Teixeira?” The answer is indeed Gary Sheffield. You also have to judge the lineups on performance and not just “names.” Yes, Sierra was the dh compared to Matsui, but he’s way more clutch than Nick Swisher ever was, during the postseason. In ’04, the Yanks played Minnesota in the first round, and check out the Yanks hitting during that series against better pitching(mostly because Santana started two games). The ’04 team was bludgeoning teams to death with their lineup, including the postseason. The same cannot be said about the Yanks lineup this year. Saying all that, the determining point is always going to be pitching. In this postseason, Yanks have only shown sign of being a good hitting ball club, but in 8 postseason games, they’ve only had 1 bad outing by a starter. In ’04, we had to keep pitching Vazquez, Kevin Brown, and mr. unreliable(physically) El Duque. I will say that no cheap shot should be taken at Lieber, because only Sabathia has clearly pitched better than him in comparing the ’04 and 09 starters.

I don’t see the Yanks losing this series for a lot of reasons such as having two really good reliable starters, banking that Mariano looking better than ever, the Yanks finally showing some life with their bats, and that the Angels are not as good as that red sox team in ’04.

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