When last we looked at the incredible, shrinking lead that was once upon a time the Red Sox’ stranglehold on the American League East, Boston had a six-game advantage on the Yankees, prompting certain blowhards to pronounce that it may not get any closer than that deficit the remainder of the '07 season.
Less than 12 hours later, it was five, clogging said gasbag's Inbox with the boisterous numerical equivalent of a knuckle sandwich. Certainly it stood as a reminder of what a capricious game baseball can be.
Still, it has now been 14 days and the Yankees are sitting right where they were on Aug. 8, having gotten no closer than the four games they found their deficit to be prior to last night’s 10-inning loss to the Angels. Thirty-six games remain for each team, which means we get to play the “if” game one more time.
If the Red Sox go just 18-18 the rest of the way, the Yankees will need to finish 23-13 to keep pace, which is just about the mark (27-12) they’ve played since the All-Star break.
That’s “if” the Yankees can keep up such a torrid pace. That’s “if” the Red Sox can finish only break-even now through the end of September.
Of course, you can take all your “ifs” and toss them out onto the progressively cooling asphalt depending upon how things turn out next Tuesday through Thursday when the two rivals meet face-to-face for Round One of the latest edition of Baseball Apocalypse.
Well, at least that’s the hope for the Yankees, who have, as many predicted, cooled down somewhat after hitting a much more difficult stretch, following the slate of Duncan Hines opponents that awaited them after the All-Star break.
From July 12-Aug. 8, the Yankees pulled off a 19-8 mark that pulled them from 9 ½ games out to the aforementioned six games behind Boston. They then charged into their tough schedule by sweeping the Indians in a statement series that made Red Sox fans tug on the tightening collars around their necks. But since then, they have indeed come back to earth if only just a bit, settling for a 4-4 mark against the Orioles, Tigers – albeit taking three out of four from Detroit – and dropping the first game of a three-game series on the left coast vs. the Angels (41-17 in the shadow of Splash Mountain, the best home record in the game).
And the news seemingly gets even better for Red Sox fans, who had the pleasure of watching Tim Wakefield dazzle the Devil Rays last night to the tune of a 6-0 win in the worst stadium in the major leagues. While Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka take the hill the next two nights in Florida against Devil Rays pitchers (Andy Sonnanstine, 2-8, Edwin Jackson, 3-12) with records that look more like height requirements to ride Mother Hubbard’s Shoe Carousel, the Yankees tonight get stuck with Kelvim Escobar, who has allowed just one earned run in each of his last three starts and owns the lowest ERA (1.60) among starters since the break. (Walks have been out of control, however, with seven vs. Oakland three starts removed, five vs. Minnesota two starts ago). Nice matchup tomorrow as John Lackey, who was hit hard by Boston last Friday, goes against Andy Pettitte, who has won his last four starts.
Over the weekend, both teams get the benefit of playing struggling AL Central squads. Boston travels to Chicago to face the floundering White Sox, just 2-8 in their last 10 games, as the Yankees have another go-around with the free-falling Tigers, who have fallen out of the top spot in the division with a 6-12 August mark. When they collide come Tuesday, odds are that not much will have changed within the division as far as deficits and commands are concerned.
As it stands now, the rotation would be Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling for three in the Bronx, which is pretty much the way any discerning Red Sox fan would want it. For the Yankees it looks to be Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and Chien-Ming Wang, which is pretty much the way any discerning Yankee fan would want it. Much as one might try to resist the overwhelming nature of yet another ginormous Red Sox-Yankees late-season showdown, the lords of baseball once again tell us that’s simply not an option.
And while there are still a six-pack of dates to be concerned with before then, make no mistake that Round One in determining the AL East, for once and for all in 2007, is but a week away with Boston in the driver’s seat and visions of 1978 dancing in the heads of the Yankees.
Not much has changed in the past two weeks. The next 10 days won’t promise to be quite as placid.