We wanted drama to equal any Red Sox-Yankees series ever played. We wanted history, something that had never happened before in the annals of baseball. We wanted to be amazed, mesmerized, exhausted and, heading into Game 7 of the American League Championship Series with a trip to the World Series at stake, we also wanted to have absolutely no idea who would win.
Of course, no sane person actually thought that any such combination of events could possibly happen after last year's seven-game extravaganza of brawls, suicidal managerial decisions and, finally, a walk-off homer by Aaron Boone to end the whole battle.
But now we've got it all after a 4-2 Boston win in Game 6, plus extra plot threads and improbabilities that no one could possibly have guessed. Even though Game 7 won't arrive until Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox have become the first team in 101 years of postseason baseball to come back from a three-games-to-none deficit to force a Game 7. And at the Yankees' expense.
What are the stakes now? If the Red Sox, the team synonymous with collapses, misfortune and despair, win Game 7, then, in a blink, the blackest mark in Yankees history will actually be darker than any disgrace in all Boston annals.
If the Red Sox somehow win one more game, it won't make up for the last 86 years without a world title, while the Yanks have amassed 26 of them. It won't bring back Babe Ruth or help Johnny Pesky and Bill Buckner sleep better at night.
But it will, for at least the next decade, and perhaps the next century, allow every Red Sox fan anywhere to face any New York fan and say, without fear of contradiction, "How does it feel to root for a team with the biggest payroll ever that has the biggest choke in the history of the game?"
Granted, this may not prove a physically safe decision. But for the first time in many generations at least it will be an option.
Who do we have to thank for this sublime Game 7 theater? Why, Curt Schilling, the man who said last week that he couldn't imagine anything sweeter than "to shut up 55,000 New Yorkers." Then, he couldn't back up his boast because of a bum ankle. But Tuesday night, Yankee Stadium was quieter than Kenmore Square after Grady Little left Pedro Martinez on the mound in last October's Game 7. In his seven innings, Schilling kept the joint almost soundless except for a Bernie Williams solo homer. In all, he allowed only four hits and no walks, while fanning four on just 99 pitches.
"I had had enough [after seven innings]," Schilling said. "What an incredible game." Like all the others in this series.
In the end, this Game 6 was a perfect blend of the unbelievably sweet and quixotically bitter for the Red Sox. Schilling, the man around whom Boston's "This (Really) Is the Year" quest was constructed, finally found the shoe that fit. Boston's medical staff performed a minor procedure on Schilling's ankle Monday to suture the skin tighter over the torn tendon, in hopes of preventing it from flapping over the bone as it had in Game 1. Whatever the docs did, they helped Schilling finally discover the proper combination of numbing medication, shoe shape and bandages. Make no mistake, however, the tendon-sheath injury will require surgery after the season.
Throwing 94-mph fastballs and diving splitters, Schilling pitched just like the postseason stud and certified October Yankee Killer that he's always been. For the 12th time in 13 postseason starts, Schilling was dominant, retiring the first eight Yanks.
All of which raises another of those perfect Red Sox questions: Why didn't they do that procedure before Game 1, when Schilling was clubbed for six runs in three innings only to see the Red Sox rally from an 8-0 deficit to 8-7 (before losing 10-7)? "If anybody else had been pitching except me, we would have won this game," said a disgusted Schilling after Game 1.
That's a slight exaggeration. Those Red Sox runs didn't start arriving until the seventh inning. But he might well be correct. If Schilling and his docs had simply found this Tuesday's ankle solution a week ago, this ALCS might well have ended Tuesday and the Red Sox would be on their way to the World Series instead of a Game 7.
But, come on, it's better this way, right?
Now we can spend all day Wednesday figuring out who on earth either team should use as its starting pitcher. And, after those bums get lit up, what sequence of subsequent exhausted relievers will produce the least carnage. What's the over-under on Game 7 -- 15 runs?
Red Sox Manager Terry Francona seemed to be leaning toward either Derek Lowe or knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who pitched three shutout innings in Game 5, on one day of rest. Granted, soft-tossing knuckleballers don't need much rest. But at least a couple of days would be nice.
Before Game 6, Yankees Manager Joe Torre accidentally showed just how much the prospect of a monumental Red Sox upset was playing with his mind. Normally, no reasonable question is rebuffed brusquely.
When asked who might start on Wednesday, Torre said, so firmly that no one dared bring the subject up again, "We are not talking about Game 7."
Well, they are now. If the Yankees lose Game 7, somebody may have to talk George Steinbrenner down from the top of the facade.
The Yankees' logical Game 7 choice would be Kevin Brown, who started Game 3. Except that he was knocked out in two awful innings. He's the yo-yo who broke his own hand a month ago in a temper tantrum, alienating those few teammates who didn't like his supercilious attitude already. Torre disliked him even before that. Now, Torre has already used up the only two starting pitchers he currently trusts -- Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber -- in Games 5 and 6. That didn't work out too well.
Perhaps this game, despite its enormous importance, was actually decided very quickly. Never have so many people, including every player on both teams, paid so much attention to the reading of a radar gun on the first pitch thrown by a pitcher -- in this case Schilling. In Game 1, using "The Custom-Braced Shoe That Failed," Schilling was only able to throw his fastball in the high 80s, while normally he's frequently over 95 mph and always close to it.
Since then, in hopes of allowing Schilling to drive off the rubber with normal power, the Red Sox have tried pain-killing shots, different styles of shoe and pads to keep the tendon on one side of the bone or the other and, now, stitches. Just so that darned things stopped snapping back and forth. One pitch would tell the tale.
And it did. Yankee captain Derek Jeter swung late at the first pitch and flied out to right. The gun said, "93 mph." The first two pitches to Alex Rodriguez "94." Not Schilling at his very best, but certainly good enough to compete effectively, especially on a 49-degree night with a wind knocking down any ball hit to right field.
Gradually, once Schilling found reasonable command of his fastball, he tried to find a second and third pitch to use as complements. To end the first inning, he popped up Gary Sheffield with a slider. To open the third, he started and finished Ruben Sierra with an excellent knee-high splitter for his first strikeout. In retiring the first eight Yankees, Schilling was not overpowering. Sometimes his fastball caught the center of the plate. However, Schilling is one of the game's great battlers. And he had enough.
Besides, and this may have implications for Game 7, the Yankees are in a clutch-hitting slump. In Games 5 and 6, the Yanks ended 22 of 26 innings with a man stranded and 14 of those innings ended with a man in scoring position. Teams sense such trends in their bellies. In postseason series, it is rare to see a team's clutch-hitting pattern change more than once.
If you start hot and go cold, then you seldom get hot again in such a small number of games. This Game 6 ended on just that note with two more runners stranded as 6-foot-8 Tony Clark struck out against Keith Foulke.
If anybody can reverse its gagging, it's the Yankees, the team that usually has the past on its side.
This time, however, the weight of baseball history may finally be reversed. After all, it is the Yankees, not the "cursed" Red Sox, who have a chance for the worst October collapse in history.