When the final out was recorded in a 19-8 trouncing to put the New York Yankees up 3-0 in the 2004 American League Championship Series, the ‘Curse of the Bambino’ appeared to be alive and well.
In the history of Major League Baseball, no team had ever rallied from a three-game deficit to win a postseason series.
However, after two extra-inning, game-winning walk-off hits by David Ortiz, a pitching performance for the ages from Curt Schilling and a Johnny Damon grand slam in the decisive game at Yankee Stadium, the Boston Red Sox proudly joined the National Hockey League’s 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1975 New York Islanders in the annals of professional sports.
And although the Yankees didn’t find themselves in a 0-3 predicament, it certainly could be argued the situation was equally as grim when they took the field for Game 5 of the 2010 ALCS against the Texas Rangers. The three previous contests saw the Rangers outscore New York, 25-5, to place the defending World Series Champions on the brink of elimination.
But behind CC Sabathia’s best outing of this year’s postseason and timely hitting from Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano, the Yankees pushed the series back to Texas with a convincing 7-2 victory.
As a result, Phil Hughes, who got roughed up for seven earned runs in four innings in Game 2, will take the mound Friday evening in an attempt to save New York’s season and force a deciding Game 7 against the virtually unhittable Cliff Lee.
Much like the Red Sox in 2004 though, the Yankees’ mentality should essentially boil down to one pitch, one at-bat, one inning and, most importantly, one game at a time.
As daunting as the prospect is of facing Lee again, Texas’ left-handed ace shouldn’t be a thought or the subject of any conversation in New York’s locker room because Game 6 presents enough of a challenge of its own.
The immediate task at hand for the Bronx Bombers is two-fold, getting to Rangers Game 6 starter Colby Lewis early and often enough to boost the confidence of Hughes; which is exactly what Texas did for Lewis in Game 2 when they staked him to a five-run lead in the first three innings.
This allowed Lewis to settle into a groove and pitch confidently enough to hold the Yankees to only two runs on six hits before the Rangers bullpen shut the door.
Meanwhile, whether New York’s offense gives him a cushion to work with or not, the goal for the 24-year-old Hughes is to work six solid innings in serving as the bridge to Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera.
The Game 2 debacle should already be in Hughes’ rear-view mirror and he should step on the mound assured his repertoire can win the Yankees one more game; especially considering the fact he finished tied for fourth in the American League in victories with 18.
Another point to consider is that all the pressure is on Texas to close out the series at home, where they have gone 1-3 in the postseason.
In addition, the Rangers will feel the tremendous weight of an entire state on their shoulders as they attempt to clinch the AL pennant for the first time in franchise history.
On the other hand, New York has 40 AL pennants and 27 World Series Championships to show for all the pressure-packed playoff games they have participated in over the course of their 97-year history, and this year’s team is as battle-tested as the rest.
Therefore, ‘the moment’ will not have the impact on New York as it does on the Rangers.
The Yankees took the first step toward an improbable comeback in Game 5, just as the Red Sox did in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS. And as evidenced by their age-old rivals, once a team begins building a little momentum it can become the impetus to leaving a lasting impression in professional sports lore.
This is the hope New York can cling to entering Game 6 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and where lessons can be gleaned from the greatest failure in team history.
If the Boston Red Sox can come back from a three-game deficit against a team that historically owned them then anything is possible, including a Game 6 victory to knot the series and a triumph over Cliff Lee in a game to decide the AL pennant.