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PENNANT FLIES, BUT SOX MUST PLAY BETTER

The lopsided score illustrated an anti-climactic Game Seven, but the series was dramatic nonetheless. Nothing quite captures our attention like postseason baseball, especially when it comes down to the Red Sox and Yankees settling the greatest rivalry in sports with seven games for the pennant.

Nothing beats a seventh game. Heck, I'd watch a seventh game in soccer, so long as I was excused from the first six. People who didn't catch an entire ballgame this year barely missed a pitch of the American League Championship Series. In our sordidness, we even watched because it was fun watching Red Sox fans watch. The Yankees losing was merely a plus.

As you know, the Red Sox won the finale, 10-3, which means New Englanders, once they stop celebrating, will sleep peacefully knowing their team finally beat the Yanks and reached the World Series. But they were so intoxicated with victory, so blinded by allegiance, they failed to see the obvious.

Although captivating, the ALCS was hardly an exercise in terrific baseball. History will mislead us into the seventh game. The Yanks didn't simply win three games before the Red Sox gallantly stormed back. Boston gave away three games. New York returned the favor. It was two storied teams that couldn't get out of their own way. The Red Sox calling themselves "idiots" wasn't a stretch, but what's it say about the Yanks?

Houston and St. Louis were somehow pushed under the national radar because people were engrossed in Red Sox-Yanks mystique. It's unfortunate, really, because the better baseball was played for the National League pennant.

Other than Curt Schilling's masterpiece in Game Six, the ALCS was mediocre pitching beating worse hitting, one taxed bullpen having fewer weak arms than the other. People will talk about Boston's grit, how the Red Sox were resourceful and prevailed, how Manny Ramirez didn't drive in a run and they still won.

In truth, the Yanks crumbled. They stranded 69 base runners, 64 in the first six games, 32 in two extra-inning games. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui combined for a .176 batting average after Game Three. A-Rod, Sheffield and Matsui combined for two RBIs in the final four games.

Entertaining series, definitely, but Boston's intelligence and patience were absent in the first two games when the Red Sox flailed, and failed, against Mike Mussina and Jon Lieber. The Yanks' 19-8 win in Game Three was beer-league softball.

Did either team move a runner from first to third when it mattered? Can anybody drop a successful bunt?

Mark Bellhorn whiffed on the same inside pitch for five games before hitting a decisive opposite-field homer in Game Six, so expect a street named after him in Boston. The Yanks blew leads in the fourth and fifth games, gagged in the sixth and seventh. People will remember Johnny Damon's two homers and six RBIs in Game Seven and forget that he was catatonic for the first six.

Damon was gunned down at home when he should have been held at third. It wasn't aggressive base running but a senseless decision considering David Ortiz, hitting like Barry Bonds, stood on deck. The Yanks trumped by pitching to Ortiz with first base open. Sure enough, Ortiz hit a two-run homer.

Javier Vazquez served up Damon's grand slam with a fastball in the second inning and started him with another heater in the fourth that traveled farther. Red Sox skipper Terry Francona got away with another mindless maneuver after pulling Derek Lowe -- for Pedro Martinez? -- after his starter surrendered one hit.

Beantown is spending a few days partying double-fisted. Tell the Sox to enjoy. But it ends there if they continue playing the same way. After all, the postseason isn't about beating the Yankees. It's about winning the World Series, right?
e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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