Saturday, September 04, 2004


I could've written the title to this post after last night's action, but it's still apropos.

Bonds is closing in on 700 (do we really need this in our lives?); the NL Wild Card race is really good; and I'm sure there are a half-dozen other captivating storylines that I'm not even aware of going on in baseball right now. But the story right now is what is going on in the American League East.

It was getting close to 11:00 last night when the biggest Red Sox fan in North Carolina called me on my cell phone. Between the two of us "I can't believe it" was probably uttered 20-25 times in the course of the conversation.

The Cowboy Up Swagger of '03 is finally a personality trait of this edition of the Red Sox. They're hitting the ball, they're pitching the ball and yes, fielding the ball. Meanwhile in the Bronx the Yankees have scored 1 run in two games worth of work against Baltimore. And those wounds from the 22-0 debacle on Tuesday night are still fresh.

What the hell has happened/is happening?

One point that could be made is that the Red Sox's record is simply catching up to their Runs Allowed/Runs Scored margin. I wish I had a day-by-day record of the Pythagorean Standings for the season. In any case, the Red Sox were floating in the -5 to -6 range for a significant chunk of the season. Simply put, the margin between RS and RA (of which there is a strong correlation to actual wins and loses) suggested that the Red Sox's record should have been better than it was.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have been performing well over their Pythagorean record all season long.

So while the Yanks are 10 games better than their run totals suggest (New York and Cincinnati, who are at +9, are the only teams in baseball over +5), the Red Sox have pulled to within one game of their Pythagorean Record:

TeamExpected W-LW-L+/
New York73-6183-52+10

The last time I checked "Last 20 Games Stats" on Doug was about a week ago. Now that the timeframe encompasses nearly all of the Red Sox surge (the last 18 games), I thought it would be insightful to go back and check again. (Through games of 9/3)

StatBostonNew York
HR Allowed1622

The most notable and significant advantages for Boston are in the OBP/SLG/ERA columns. The Yankees have actually outhomered Boston in this stretch (33-28). However, Boston's +15 advantage in doubles more than makes up for that in the SLG department.

As I noted to both my buddy in Carolina, and a fellow Yankee fan, it's not as if the Yankees have been terrible. They've been kicking around a bit, playing mediocre ball, specifically in the pitching department. With the Red Sox winning every single day though, it makes New York's recent stretch look even worse.

All of this, of course, conjures up memories of 1978. Not my memories, exactly, since I was just a toddler. But I sure have heard enough about that race over the years to make it seem vivid in my mind. Thanks to the wonderful tool called Retrosheet, we can take a day-by-day stroll through that pennant race.

As has been well documented, the Red Sox had an absolutely blistering first half of that season. At the All-Star break (at the end of play on July 9) the standings in the AL East looked like this:

New York46-3811.5

Boston had an eight-game loss-column lead for best record in baseball at the Break that year.

By July 19, the Yankees (2-4 since Break) had fallen 14 games behind Boston (5-2 since Break): the infamous low-water mark for New York. The Yankees had actually been knocked back into 4th place by that point.

I had the idea that Yankees quickly chopped into that lead, similar to what the Red Sox have done over the last 2+ weeks. Actually, it was a slow process that lasted into September.

New York got the lead back under 10 by the end of play on July 29, and were 7.5 out and still in fourth place entering August.

The Yankees picked up a game on August 1 to cut the lead to 6.5. However, there would be only three times in August that they would be as close as 6.5 games: August 1st, 11th and 31st. They spent most of the month in the 7.5-8.5 games back range, and the lead even spiked back up to 9 on August 13. So, going into September, the division looked like this:

New York77-546.5

By the end of play on September 4, New York was within four games. The stage was set for a four-game set at Fenway Park, which started Thursday, September 7. The series is famous enough in Yankee-Red Sox lore that it's well-known by its moniker, "The Boston Massacre." The scores of the four games, all Yankee wins, were:


When the Red Sox woke up from their beating on Monday morning they saw:

New York86-56-

The Yankees claimed a stake of first place on September 13, and incredibly by September 16 held a 3.5 game lead on Boston. They would never fall out of first place again.

From September 17-30, the Yankees went 9-4. The Sox went 10-2.

On Sunday, October 1, the last day of the regular season, the Yankees held a one game lead over Boston. A Red Sox loss or Yankee win would seal the deal.

Boston was at home against an awful Toronto Blue Jays team (59-102); the Yankees were playing host to a bad Cleveland Indians team (69-90).

Luis Tiant was throwing for Boston; Catfish Hunter was throwing for the Yanks.

Tiant was brilliant, throwing a complete-game, two-hit shutout. Boston scored five runs, including home runs from Burleson and Rice, his 46th of the year.

Catfish wasn't brilliant. He was gone by the second inning, having allowed five runs (two home runs) in the process. The Indians scored two in the top of the 1st; the Yankees matched in the bottom of the frame to tie it. The Tribe scored four in the top of the 2nd, and it was never a game again. Cleveland 9, New York 2.

After 162 games:

New York99-63-

I can only imagine what it must've felt like to wake up on that sunny, crisp October morning in 1978 getting ready to watch that one-game playoff. I imagine it was akin to how it felt getting ready for Game 7 last October... But a one-game playoff, an unexpected bonus to the regular season is a bit different than anything else in baseball. And after that race, and tooth-and-nail September...

I can grumble and grit my teeth all I want. The Red Sox have decisively pulled within 2.5 of the first-place Yankees. There are six teams left between the two teams, and all of a sudden those games are starting to feel enormous. And that's exactly the way we thought it would be before the season started.

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