Strike one for Red Sox

With Lieber, Sturtze and Contreras to pitch in Fenway, the Yankees will see how much another starter is needed.

Originally Published: July 23, 2004
By Buster Olney | ESPN The Magazine

Yankees Red Sox

Big Comeback: The Red Sox had it all in place Friday night to take the first game of the three-game series. Three-run lead, Curt Schilling on the mound, in Fenway. And they blew it. The Yankees wore down Schilling, scored five runs in the sixth and won 8-7, increasing their least over Boston in the loss column to 10 games. The last two games of the series will offer some insight into the Yankees' questionable starting pitching -- and, if things don't go well, spur owner George Steinbrenner into a full-blown impetuous panic. But the race is over.

Big (Flawed) Decision: With the score tied 7-7 in the ninth, Boston reliever Keith Foulke had a runner at second, with first base open. Alex Rodriguez, the star on whom the Red Sox hinged most of their off-season, was coming to bat and Tony Clark was on deck. Foulke could have pitched around A-Rod. Instead, Foulke pitched to A-Rod, who ripped the go-ahead RBI single.

Lieber
Lieber

Contreras
Contreras

Big Matchups (or maybe not): The Yankees line up perhaps their weakest trio of starters in any series against Boston in Joe Torre's tenure as manager -- Jon Lieber, Tanyon Sturtze and Jose Contreras. They will face Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo and the erratic Derek Lowe, respectively. But they knocked off Schilling.

Big At-bats: Schilling threw 112 pitches, but 58 of them were in the fifth and sixth innings, when he seemed to melt on the mound. Sweating on a humid night, Schilling began losing steam on his fastball in the fifth, and the Yankees' veterans would either refuse to swing at his off-speed stuff or foul off pitches, extending their at-bats. After Alex Rodriguez singled to lead off the sixth, Jason Giambi had a 10-pitch at-bat before walking. Jorge Posada then had an eight-pitch at-bat before singling, and it continued on like this; the Yankees fouled off nine pitches in the sixth against Schilling, exhausting him. He tried to catch his breath by re-tying his shoes, by pausing to chat with infielders -- but he could not finish off the Yankees' hitters. After Kenny Lofton doubled to give the Yankees a 5-4 lead, Schilling was replaced. Fifty-eight pitches to get only four outs.

Big Shot: Boston's Kevin Millar, a major disappointment this year, slammed three homers in the defeat.

Big Mess: In Boston's last 75 games, they are 37-38, and don't look fit to fight in a six-team dogfight for a wildcard spot. In the midst of a disappointing season in which the Red Sox were put together to win it all, with the addition of Schilling, it will be interesting to see if changes are made before the July 31 trade deadline.

Big Ramifications: Despite the win, starter Jon Lieber did nothing to alter the perception that the Yankees' rotation is vulnerable and in need of a certain 6-foot-10 lefty. Lieber allowed four runs in five innings, and once again, it was left to the team's remarkable bullpen to hold together the victory.

Big Moment: Jose Contreras has pitched much more effectively since his wife and children defected from Cuba, and this will be his toughest test since their arrival into the U.S. He has a 12.71 ERA in two starts against Boston this year, and struggled in Fenway last season. The Yankees need Contreras to be reliable in October, in moments of great pressure, and this will be a nice dress rehearsal for him -- and for the Yankees' execs, as they evaluate their starters.

Steinbrenner
Steinbrenner

Big Unit: If the Yankees' starters flounder this weekend, Steinbrenner's pursuit of Randy Johnson will become frenzied. Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo could probably get himself written into Steinbrenner's will if he played his cards right, or at least have part of Florida deeded to him. And Johnson could probably get a 101-year extension, if he wanted it. There might not be a comparable situation in Steinbrenner's 31-year ownership, when his team had such a clear need for a particular player -- and Steinbrenner may or may not be able to get him.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," will be released Aug. 17, and can be pre-ordered through HarperCollins.com.

Buster Olney | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine