NEW YORK - Maybe it will seem just mere whistling in the Bronx, these pledges by manager Terry Francona and general manager Theo Epstein even before Boston's 3-1 loss in Game 2 that the Red Sox would somehow find a way to overcome the possible loss of Curt Schilling for the rest of this American League Championship Series because of a torn tendon in his right ankle.
With Jon Lieber doing a passable impression of Mike Mussina, holding the Sox to three hits and a run through 7 innings plus in outdueling Pedro Martinez, and Mariano Rivera starring again as his incomparable self, the Sox last night were placed in dire peril of having this season end like the 85 that have preceded it. Since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, 15 teams have taken a 2-0 series lead, and all but two have advanced to the World Series, including the last 13 in a row.
As if the Sox, of all teams, needed any more history lessons. If they don't start hitting - they went down 19 in a row to start Game 1 and managed just two base runners in the first six innings last night - they may all find themselves under a mango tree, to borrow an allusion from Martinez, who was down, 1-0, three batters into the game and was ultimately done in by a two-run home run in the sixth by John Olerud, who had a chance to come to Boston this summer after being released by the Seattle Mariners but never called back.
In a heartfelt but remarkably offbeat aside, Martinez said he not only wasn't dismayed by the ``Who's your daddy?'' chants that filled the Bronx last night, the ones he'd invited by assigning paternity to the Yankees after they'd beaten him in Boston last month, but actually enjoyed them.
``It actually made me feel really, really good,'' he said. ``I don't know why you guys laugh. It really made me feel really important. When I think where I was 15 years ago, sitting under a mango tree without 50 cents to pay for a bus, and today I was the center of attention for the entire city of New York. I don't regret one bit [what I said].''
For all the attention he received last night, however, the Yankees appear bent on rendering the Sox obsolete, sooner than later after Lieber held them to three singles until departing after allowing Trot Nixon's base hit to open the eighth. Setup man Tom Gordon entered and gave up a double to Jason Varitek and a run-scoring groundout by Orlando Cabrera. Gordon also retired Bill Mueller for the inning's second out, before Joe Torre summoned Rivera, who caught Johnny Damon (0 for 8, 5 K's in the LCS) looking at a called third strike). In the ninth, Rivera struck out David Ortiz and Kevin Millar after Manny Ramirez's one out double to close out the Sox.
During the regular season, the Sox have shown Rivera to be vulnerable - he's blown five saves against them since the start of the 2002 season. But in the postseason, he's 6 for 6 in save opportunities against the Sox, including saves in the first two games here.
``I think we had some poor at-bats,'' Varitek said. ``We got ourselves out. Pedro pitched very well. We just didn't do the job on our end.''
The Sox have no illusions about the task ahead of them.
``We've been in tough situations before,'' said Sox closer Keith Foulke, who has been rendered a bit player in these last two games, ``and we've shown that we're very capable of coming back. We've gotten ourselves in a hole, and now we've got to go home and climb out of it.''
Jeter, who walked, stole second and scored the Yankees' first run on Gary Sheffield's single, is not assuming anything.
``Winning two is great,'' he said, ``but it doesn't mean anything if we don't win two more.''
Francona, who may not be able to call upon Schilling to pitch again in this series after the severity of his injury was revealed, had bravely vowed that the Sox would forge ahead without him.
``If we're not able to overcome some adversity, whether it's Schill getting beat in Game 1, if that's all it ends up being, which we're hopeful, or if it ends up being more than that, if we are not able to overcome it, we're not a good enough team,'' he said before Game 2. I don't think anybody in that clubhouse, including myself, thinks that that's the case.''
Epstein summoned similar words in Francona's office after appearing with Sox medical director William Morgan to inform the world that Schilling, who had envisioned shutting up 55,000 Yankee fans, might instead have to shut down because of a torn ankle tendon.
``This is the same bunch of guys who lost their starting shortstop [Nomar Garciaparra] and starting right fielder [Nixon] in spring training and had a great April, and then overcame more adversity in the middle of the season,'' said Epstein.
``We can win this series with Curt or without Curt. It will be a greater challenge without him. We battled these guys down to the last at-bat last season with John Burkett in that slot. Burkett is a heck of a pitcher, but you know what I'm saying. We can still win this series. That's our plan.''
After the game, it was more of the same.
``The last time we were here, however long ago it was, I remember saying something about the Yankees putting us in their rearview mirror, but I thought we would fight our way back and we did,'' said Francona.
``So we'll regroup tomorrow, go home for three, and see if we can get back in this. We really have no choice but to look forward to the next game. That's what's in our control now. We've been handling it that way the whole year, so we'll continue to do that.''