- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- Turns out the Yankees do have their weaknesses. They can't hit a knuckleball that darts around like a mosquito that sipped from David Wells' bloodstream. Worse, their fans don't field like they did back in the days of Jeffrey Maier.
Maier was the toast of New York when his blatant interference turned a flyout into a home run in the 1996 postseason, but it was a much different situation in New York's 5-2 loss to the Red Sox in Game 1 of the AL championship series.
With Boston leading 2-0, Todd Walker led off the fifth with a towering flyball down the right-field line. As it neared Yankee Stadium's upper deck, a teenage fan seated just on the foul side of the right-field pole reached out and tried to catch it. The ball glanced off his hand and fell to the field. After initially being called foul, the ball was ruled a home run to give Boston and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield a 3-0 lead.
The fan said his first name is Josh but refused to give his last name. Who could blame him? He's going to get a lot of grief. New York fans either are going to blame him for giving the Red Sox a run or they're going to get on him for dropping the ball.
Where'd ya' learn to play, anyway? From the Oakland Athletics instructional video?
Although replays appeared to show the opposite, Josh insisted that the ball was six inches foul when he touched it. Where he touched it is unimportant. The key is he dropped it. Had he caught the ball while sitting in foul territory, it probably would have been ruled a foul ball and he would be co-hosting with Regis Philbin this morning and signing bobblehead dolls this afternoon. As it was, right-field umpire Angel Hernandez initially called it foul before home plate umpire Tim McClelland overruled him.
"McClelland just did an outstanding job,'' Walker said. "Most of the time in Yankee Stadium, they don't overturn a call like that. For McClelland to do that, it was first of all, honorable, and second of all, it was pretty good eyes.
"Me, I lost track of it. I was thinking, 'Just my luck. It's going to be a foul ball.' But that was a big run to get. To have a three-run lead with the way Wakefield was pitching was very big.''
It sure was given that Wakefield allowed only two baserunners until the seventh inning. His knuckleball was dancing so much that it would have been forbidden in at least six states and by several religions. The Yankees had no chance. "Wakefield didn't even know where his pitches were going,'' Derek Jeter said.
Wakefield provided a crucial victory for the Red Sox, who can't start Pedro Martinez until Game 3, dropped closer Byung-Hyun Kim from the roster due to a (wink, wink) sore shoulder and won't be able to play center fielder Johnny Damon until Game 3 at the earliest. Few people outside of Boston gave them much chance of winning this series.
By winning Game 1, however, they changed everything. With Pedro starting Game 3, the Yankees face the very real possibility of finding themselves down 3-0 if they don't beat the ubiquitous Derek Lowe and the game's most potent lineup tonight.
"It's big,'' first baseman Kevin Millar said. "[Our starters] match up well with theirs. ... They have a tough staff but our offense isn't fun to pitch against, either.''
The Red Sox now have won four games in a row since Millar came up with the idea of having the players shave their heads. Twenty-two have done so and only Nomar Garciaparra is exempt because of his upcoming wedding to Mia Hamm. "We're pretty ugly,'' Millar acknowledged. "But that's why we did it. Sometimes these quirky things work.''
Indeed. Things are so quirky right now that the Red Sox and the Cubs both won a postseason game on the same night. That's as unlikely an occurrence as Manny Ramirez hitting a routine grounder and running it out.
But if you want really odd, consider the way the night started for New York.
Challenger, the eagle that is described each game as "the Yankees' living symbol of freedom,'' became confused on his traditional flight during the national anthem and overshot his keeper. He flew beyond the pitchers mound, circled home plate and hovered above the players who were lined up along each basepath. Challenger was heading back toward the mound when two F-14s flew over the park (and that's a nice use of tax money, isn't it?), frightening the bird so much that it swooped so low over Derek Jeter that the shortstop dropped to the ground to evade its talons.
"He almost got me,'' Jeter said. "He was a little off tonight.''
A little off? Had Challengers flown a couple inches lower, FOX would have had a new reality show.
JOE BUCK: Oh my! Challenger dug his claws into Jeter's head! He's lifting him up and carrying him out of the stadium!
TIM McCARVER: Not many people realize it but an America bald eagle's tremendous wingspan, unique muscular structure and aerodynamics allows it to lift 20 times its body weight. Pound for pound, it is the world's strongest bird next to the African swallow. That's why I've often thought that teams should never use a bird larger than a barn owl in that situation. Incidentally, the F-14 Tomcat weighs 36 tons, has a top speed of Mach 1.88 and a range of 1,200 miles.
BRET BOONE: I'm not sure how they're going to score that, but it's definitely a tough break for the Yankees.
Fortunately, it didn't work out that way. And with the Red Sox taking Game 1 and the Cubs evening their series, FOX has a very real possibility of much more compelling programming: the ultimate dream World Series between the Red Sox and Cubs.
Which presents a difficult choice. On the one hand, the Yankees are the ultimate source of evil in the world and nobody beyond earshot of John Sterling wants to see them in the World Series again. Additionally, the Red Sox haven't won the World Series for 85 years and are the sentimental favorites.
On the other hand, if the Red Sox do reach the World Series, this whole head-shaving thing of theirs may catch on.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
Buzzed by a bald eagle, befuddled by a knuckler and undermined by a fan. You knew it wasn't the Yankees night.