Probably like others here and elsewhere, I was half-watching last night's Game Five unfold between the Rays and Red Sox and starting to think ahead to next week's Fall Classic: the FOX nightmare of the storyline-resistant Phillies and the relatively small-market Rays. Then, of course, all hell broke loose: seven runs down and seven outs from elimination, Boston erupted for eight runs and won on a walkoff hit by notorious never-former-Phil J.D. Drew. The series now returns to Tampa, where the Red Sox will attempt to complete their second straight pennant comeback after trailing three games to one.
Granting that the Phillies, with a worse regular season record and without home-field advantage since the AL won the all-star game, will be underdogs either way, what should we be hoping to see this weekend?
Two thoughts come to mind. One: after last night, I want no part of the Red Sox. Granted that Tampa's relievers probably aren't at the level of Ryan Madson or Brad Lidge, and that Phils might derive some relative advantage by virtue of being a somewhat more experienced team--if you think that sort of thing matters, and I'm not convinced it doesn't at this stage--than the Rays... Boston's winning a game like that just scares the hell out of me. If they reach the World Series, they'll be riding an unbelievable wave of momentum and feeling like they just beat a far superior team to the one they'll face. And they'll have the incentive of seeking a second straight championship and the opportunity to cement themselves as the first true dynasty of the 21st century.
Two: I could see this series turning out along the lines of the 2003 ALCS, when the Yankees outlasted the Red Sox in seven games. That one is remembered mostly for Pedro's running out of gas in Game Seven and Aaron Boone one-upping Bucky Dent with a series-winning walkoff homer in the bottom of the 11th. But the victory proved to a Pyrrhic one: the Yankees were entirely out of gas by the time they got to the World Series and lost to a probably inferior Marlins team. It took everything they had to beat the Red Sox; after that, they were done. I could see either AL pennant winner expending themselves in this round. (Note: this was not a problem for the 2006 Cardinals or last year's Red Sox. I can dismiss the 2007 Sox based on their annihilation of Cleveland in those final three games; I have no answer for the '06 Redbirds, who outlasted the Mets in a superb NLCS.)
In either event, at this point I think we should hope for a seven-gamer simply to avoid seeing the AL pennant winner's ace in Game One. If it's Boston, they'd start with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched last night (and was smacked around) since Josh Beckett and Jon Lester are going this weekend. If it's Tampa and they win on Saturday, I suspect they would come back with Scott Kazmir--but he doesn't worry me as much as James Shields does. The best case scenario, though, is a Rays win in seven--along the lines of the 2003 Yankees--with Kazmir playing the role of Mike Mussina, who extended himself to keep the Yanks close in Game Seven after Roger Clemens was bombed early.
So to both AL East titans: let's leave it all out on the field this weekend!