Once upon a time, there was a major league baseball team that had the best record in its league.
And it went into the first round of the playoffs, a five-game series, playing the first two games at home, and won both of them -- a blowout win setting records in the first game, and a closer, but no less satisfying win in game two. And then it went on the road, expecting to wrap things up quickly.
You must know I'm not talking about this year's White Sox, because why else would I write it this way?
That description, of course, fits the 1984 NL East champion Cubs, who breezed through the first two games against a Padres team that looked like it hadn't even shown up, and of course we all remember what happened next.
It's not completely direct comparison, of course; the winner of that NLCS went right to the World Series, and the winner of the White Sox/Red Sox series still has to go through either the Yankees or Angels to get to the WS; and one major difference, of course, is that the White Sox don't have to play all three (if necessary) remaining games on the road.
Last night's 5-4 White Sox win over the Red Sox was defined by one play, Tony Graffanino's error on what could have been an inning-ending double-play ball in the fifth inning; even though David Wells got Scott Podsednik to pop up for the second out, Tadahito Iguchi won the game for the White Sox with a three-run homer.
Mike & I discussed this inning at length during yet another unseasonably warm night -- it's the first time, from what I understand, that we have ever had five consecutive days this warm in October. I said the error was the play that made the inning, because even if Graffanino doesn't turn the DP -- and he might not have, with Juan Uribe up -- the inning is likely over and the score would have remained 4-2 Red Sox.
Mike countered by saying, "Wells still had to make his pitch, and he didn't." True enough, but if Graffanino doesn't make that error, Iguchi probably never comes up in the inning.
The entire day felt different from game #1. There were far fewer anti-Cub signs and shirts and cheers, and the crowd seemed much more just into the game and their team, and that, of course, is as it should be for a postseason game. The Red Sox took the crowd out of the game in the early innings by taking a 4-0 lead; it was about as quiet as I'd ever heard a postseason crowd, until the White Sox' fifth-inning explosion.
After that the Red Sox appeared stunned, even though they did have a baserunner in each of the remaining innings; Ozzie Guillen went against the book by having his rookie closer, Bobby Jenks, come in for a two-inning save. I'm not really an Ozzie fan -- I think he's too much of a loose cannon -- but I have to applaud this move, because it gave a kid with zero playoff experience (and hardly any ML experience, for that matter) exactly that, in a one-run game, and Jenks was up to the task, consistently throwing 96-98 MPH (according to the RF pitch speed meter).
So. The Red Sox have their backs against the wall, just as they did a year ago against the Yankees in the ALCS. It's no longer that difficult to come back in a five-game series after being down 2-0; it's been done five times since the ALDS was added to baseball's postseason in 1995, including a couple of times when the losing team had won the first two games at home. Mike says the series is over. I say it comes back to Chicago for game five on Sunday.
We shall see.