For New York Yankee fans, nothing will ever ease the permanent sting of the Yankees’ colossal collapse of historic proportions when the Boston Red Sox became the only team in major league baseball history to incredibly rally from a three games to none deficit to win the 2004 American League Championship Series in seven games at the old Yankee Stadium.
But, as the Yankees prepare for Game 6 of the 2009 World Series on Wednesday leading the Philadelphia Phillies three games to two, there exists a chance of gaining at least some satisfaction for what happened in 2004 if they can again beat longtime, hated former Red Sock Pedro Martinez.
Taking a step back, beating Martinez, now the Phillies’ starting pitcher for Wednesday’s Game 6, wouldn’t entirely wash away the 2004 memory of losing to a much less loathed, yet still disliked Curt Schilling — Martinez’s teammate that year — who pitched the Red Sox past the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS.
On a few different levels, another Phillies’ world championship on Thursday, should it happen, wouldn’t equate to when Boston accomplished the previously unthinkable five years ago.
For one, the Phillies aren’t really a Yankee rival, let alone the Yankees’ biggest rival for many decades in arguably the greatest rivalry in all of sports, as the Red Sox have been.
And, coming back from a 3-1 deficit, as the Phillies are trying to do, doesn’t compare to Boston’s feat. That’s not to take away from what a great accomplishment it would still be, but it’s been done before, even in the World Series.
Also, it’s not as if the Yankees haven’t beaten Martinez in a big spot in the playoffs at home before. The year prior to Boston’s 2004 comeback, the Yankees rallied from a 5-2 eighth-inning deficit against a tiring Martinez who was left in too long, to win Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS on Aaron Boone’s heroic 11th inning shot deep into the New York night.
Still, there are some similarities between that Schilling victory and what could take place on Wednesday night at the new Yankee Stadium.
When the Yankees won Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS by the football-like score of 19-8, how many really believed, even among Red Sox fans, that the Bronx Bombers weren’t headed to the 2004 World Series?
Likewise, after the Yankees won two games in Philadelphia last weekend to take a commanding three games to one lead, the overwhelming consensus was that it would only be a matter of time before the Yankees would capture their 27th world championship in their long and storied history.
And, it still may be.
But, the Phillies, as they showed in their Game 5 home victory to send this year’s World Series back to the Bronx, have proven to be among the scrappiest and grittiest teams in all of professional sports, let alone major league baseball.
So, even if you’re the mighty Yankees, with your huge payroll and a roster chock full of all-star caliber talent, you had better come to play, if you want to put these Phillies away for good.
And, that’s where the reminder of the 2004 ALCS comes into play now.
The Yankees face that same opportunity on Wednesday night.
They still control their own destiny, at home, with a Game 6 starting pitcher in Andy Pettitte, who’s
pitched the Yankees to success in big postseason spots before.
And, of course, if the Yankees win Game 6, or even a Game 7, they and their fans will simply celebrate with 2004 being a distant memory.
But, because the Yankees couldn’t close the deal back then, they saw the Red Sox go on to win their first championship in 86 years instead of winning what would have been their own fifth title in nine years.
Now, as in the 2004 ALCS, because New York didn’t close out the 2009 World Series on the road when they had the chance to, the Yankees on Wednesday night at home, have to once again avoid all of the pressure of letting a postseason series that was in their control turn on them.
So, here the Yankees are, five years later, in a familiar and somewhat suddenly uncomfortable situation.
Instead of the old Yankee Stadium, it’s the new park in the Bronx. And, in place of the disliked Red Sock Schilling, it’s the even more despised former Red Sock Martinez trying to get his new team to a Game 7, and put all of the pressure on the Yankees to win in an all-or-nothing game on Thursday night.
Just like that other former Red Sock did on October 19, 2004.
Should Martinez accomplish what Schilling did, recollections of that night and of the way that season ended for the Yankees will return to the forefront. Even Yankees’ projected Game 7 ace starter C.C. Sabathia, would feel the weight — not his of his own 6-foot-7, 290-pound frame, but of not letting 2004, to only a slightly lesser degree, happen all over again in the Bronx.
Adding to that responsibility is that Sabathia, like Pettitte in Game 6, would be throwing on short rest, which is something didn’t work out well for Yankees’ Game 5 starter A.J Burnett on Monday, after he earlier shut the Phillies down on his full compliment of rest in a Game 2 win that evened the Series at a game apiece.
Martinez meanwhile, will be going on regular rest on Wednesday. On Monday, on his way out of the Phillies’ clubhouse, the day before the Phillies’ Game 5 win, Martinez coolly smiled and said simply, “See you manana.”
Now, it’s up to the Yankees to make sure that Martinez won’t say the same after Game 6.
Doing so would not only finally capture that 27th title which has eluded the Yankees since 2000, but it would also, at least in some way, make up for 2004.