He's always been one of my favorites. Thought you'd dig this.
Potentially playoffs or bust for Yanks, Sox
By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com
BALTIMORE -- There were two TVs in the visitors' clubhouse at Camden Yards, one in the players' lounge, another in the weight room -- but, somehow, no one had to ask for the remote. The Yankees were all locked into the same broadcast, watching the final moments of Boston's ninth-inning rally against the Blue Jays 400 miles away at Fenway Park.
The Yankees had just finished blistering the Orioles for the third time in a four-game series. Now, all that was left was showering, shaving ... and waiting to see whether David Ortiz's grounder would whisper through Toronto's infield.
The moment it did, the Yankees quietly finished packing, preparing for the kind of weekend that'll be remembered for years, if not generations.
"The stage is set," Alex Rodriguez said. Like everyone else in the room, he'd watched as the Sox rallied from an earlier three-run deficit against Toronto -- "nice hitting," he said of Ortiz's game winner -- which made the weekend's math all the more compelling.
Three games to go in this memorable finish to the regular season. This isn't just a series to sort out the standings. For the Yankees, it's a chance to vaporize the ghosts of the 2004 American League Championship Series. For the Red Sox, it's a chance to stave off a collapse that would tear away layers of the franchise's psychological flesh.
Everyone has an agenda this weekend -- from Mariano Rivera, who's been dreaming about getting the final three outs that eluded him in Game 4 of last year's ALCS, to David Wells, who still hasn't figured out why the Yankees refused to sign him last winter, to Curt Schilling, who's looking to outpitch Mike Mussina on Sunday, to A-Rod, who's locked into his own war with Ortiz for the MVP award.
No wonder it feels like history is being written. This is the most dramatic regular-season collision between these two teams since 1978, with just as much personal friction as Graig Nettles and Bill Lee ever mustered.
"It's going to be crazy, I can't even imagine," Shawn Chacon said. "A couple of the guys have already told me, 'You don't realize how much the [Boston] fans hate the Yankees until you go up there.' "
Hatred, of course, is just another form of desperation, which is what the Sox must've been feeling in the early innings on Thursday against Toronto.
Another loss to the Jays -- which would've been Boston's third in four games at home -- would've left the Sox two games out with three to go, meaning the Yankees would've been in a position to knock them out of the playoffs altogether.
But Rodriguez was speaking for the rest of his teammates when he said, "We knew the Red Sox were going to win that game. They'd lost two in a row, and they're just too good to lose again. This is the way it's supposed to be."
The Yankees, coming off a breezy 8-4 win over the Orioles on Thursday, say they're ready in every possible way. Rivera is fully rested after pitching just once in the final three games at Camden Yards. Tom Gordon had a critical night off as well on Thursday, and Joe Torre's closed-door meeting with his players on Wednesday afternoon, following an ugly 17-9 loss, apparently paid off.
The manager told the Yankees there was no rewriting the mistakes of that blowout. According to a veteran player, Torre said, "The only thing we [can] control [are] the games still ahead of us."
Still, no one pretends to be staring history in the face without feeling a line of sweat on his brow. Even Torre, a rock of calm, says, "This is exhilarating to the point of anxiety."
The Sox know the feeling. They've had the kind of run-up to the Yankees weekend that forced them to question their late-September guts, even their loyalty to each other.
Schilling has been obsessed with quotes that recently appeared in the Boston Herald. A veteran Red Sox player said, "When [Schilling] comes into the game people cheer him like he's the pope. You think they'd let Pedro [Martinez] get away with this? Why does he get the pass?"
An even harsher reality for Schilling is knowing that he's lost precious inches off his fastball and that his killer splitter, which took the Sox all the way to the World Series in 2004, is missing its bite.
Opposing hitters are proving that Schilling is far less effective this year when he needs outs most critically. The AL is batting .321 against him with runners in scoring position and does even more damage (.337) after he falls behind 1-0 in the count.
Still, there are factors working in the Sox's favor. Even after splitting with the Blue Jays this week, they've won two-thirds of their homes games, the best winning percentage in the American League. Ortiz is batting an inhuman .344 with runners in scoring position. And Sox fans have so far been able to get inside A-Rod's head; he's batting just .207 at Fenway this year.
What's it all mean, though, in a stand-alone, history-making weekend? Jason Giambi says, "This is going to be the start of the playoffs."
He means, throw out the regular-season stats. Forget the scouting reports. The regular season was just calisthenics for what's next -- baseball's war of the worlds.
Bob Klapisch is a sports columnist for The Record (N.J.) and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.