THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Dan Shaughnessy

The good feelings disappeared in a New York minute

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / August 29, 2008
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NEW YORK - The ancient house of horrors came back to bite the Red Sox in the butt one last time.

It was all going perfectly. Theo Epstein was having a better week than Barack Obama, the Sox were positioned to sweep the Yankees off the playoff map, and citizens of the Nation were going to enjoy a last laugh in a place where they were tortured for so many years.

Then the ghosts of 161st Street reared their ugly heads and everything unraveled faster than you could say "Mickey Rivers." It was as if an occult hand had reached into the wretched past and served one final bowl of gruel to visitors from Boston.

And so Red Sox fans traced the tracks of their tears from harmful moments going all the way back to 1923. The Sox could not escape without final indignities in the final hour of their final day at Yankee Stadium.

First a 2-0 lead was vaporized by Jason Giambi's seventh-inning, Ruthian pinch homer to center off Hideki Okajima. At 4:29 p.m. in the bottom of the ninth, Giambi won the game with a bases-loaded single off Jonathan Papelbon on an 0-and-2 pitch. It was like watching Mickey Mantle beat Dick Radatz in 1964.

Then came the real bombshell. After Terry Francona delivered postgame remarks similar to those spoken by Joe Cronin, Joe McCarthy, Pinky Higgins, John McNamara, Grady Little, and other men who worked one or more of Boston's 490 (including playoffs) Yankee Stadium losses, Epstein matter-of-factly announced Josh Beckett would be scratched from his scheduled start tonight at Fenway.

Theo delivered this news with no urgency or emphasis. He reminded me of a teenage driver who "forgets" to mention a minor traffic accident. You know the drill. Dad comes in from the driveway and says, "What happened to the car?" and Junior - not moving from his prone position on the couch - says, "Oh, yeah, I forgot to tell you. We had a little fender-bender when we went for pizza last night."

The Red Sox do not want anyone to be alarmed. They want you to think they are merely being cautious.

But this is alarming.

Beckett has elbow trouble and tingling in the ring and pinkie fingers of his pitching hand. This is the third time he's been scratched since he was lit up at home against the Blue Jays 12 days ago. First he was going to pitch a week ago in Toronto. Then it was going to be Tuesday in New York. Then it was going to be tonight. But he's not pitching tonight. He was scheduled to see arm specialist Dr. James Andrews - the same man who operated on Roger Clemens back in 1985.

So instead of a nifty sweep and a happy farewell to Yankee Stadium, the Sox come home with Sinatra's "New York, New York" ringing in their punctured ears, wondering what's going to happen with their ace of October.

"We need for other guys to step up and pitch in," said Kevin Youkilis.

Theo has done a masterful job plugging holes while the Sox try to catch the Rays and hold a wild-card lead. Paul Byrd was a nice acquisition and young Justin Masterson has bailed out some of the struggling middle men. Bartolo Colon may yet contribute.

But the Sox know they aren't going anywhere in October without Beckett. He was 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in last year's tournament. He was also The Man for the Marlins in 2003.

Beckett wasn't around to talk after yesterday's game, but he spoke freely about his situation Wednesday, saying, "I think scary is probably a good word for it. I've had some sleepless nights, thinking about all kinds of stuff. You generally think the worst."

He also said the tingling in his fingers "is something I've battled for a while."

Beckett said he felt great after his 58-pitch bullpen session Tuesday. He did not throw Wednesday or yesterday. So, what changed? It's hard not to conclude the tingling sensation is back. Either that, or the elbow is hurting? It's nothing good, that's for sure.

When Theo says, "We don't feel comfortable pitching him unless he is 100 percent," the Sox make it sound like this is merely a case of the club being hypercautious. Most of us bought that the first couple of times Beckett was scratched.

Not now. You don't go to see Dr. Andrews because you are "not quite 100 percent." You see him because you are worried about a season-ending or career-threatening situation.

Curses. On their final day at Yankee Stadium, the Sox were inches from a clean getaway and a feel-good October. Now the sky is falling again. The House of Pain got them one last time.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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