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In the end, pitching did in Yankees
10/21/2004 1:43 AM ET
NEW YORK -- Joe Torre, looking wan and ashen, looking like a manager who hadn't spent any of the previous night sleeping, had offered his premonition prior to the game.

The Yankees skipper didn't know how Game 7 of the American League Championship Series would turn out. But he did know that it would not take him long to find out.

"Hopefully, we'll see a lot of strikes early," Torre said, referring to his starter, Kevin Brown, "because I think that will be a big key for him."

Brown instead turned into a big key for the Red Sox. In an inning and an out, he labored through 44 pitches, only a slight majority of them strikes, walked two and, with the first-pitch assistance of Javier Vazquez, allowed five runs.

So Game 7 lived up to its historic potential -- Boston completing its unprecedented revival from a 3-0 coma -- but not its dramatic promise.

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Perhaps deluded by their track record of 62 regular-season comeback victories, the Yanks dismissed the notion of the early deficit as terminal.

"We've been down before," Derek Jeter said. "The thing that hurt us is, a couple of times we did score, they came right back to score again. When you fall behind early, you try to hold the other team so you can come back."

Added Gary Sheffield, "They had go through the same thing in a couple of games. No excuses. When they had to come from behind, they did. And we didn't. And that was a difference in the series. They played better."

But Torre sensed the weight of those early Red Socks on the bench.

"You go out there," he said after the 10-3 loss, "and all of a sudden you give up a two-spot and a four-spot."

But that is what the back end of New York's pitching rotation was: Spotty.

Offense carried the Yankees and deposited them within one inning of a four-game sweep (which, from the perspective of where they wound up, blew everyone's mind in the home clubhouse). But when the ALCS matured into quieter, fundamental baseball, the Red Sox always stayed a pitch ahead of the Yankees.

And then, because both managers had placed huge demands on their pitching staffs, the Armageddon came down to a pair of right-handers who had begun this whole thing as outsiders.

Derek Lowe, shunned to Boston's bullpen, stood tall for six brilliant innings of one-hit ball.

Brown, shunned for punching a hole in a wall -- and in the Yankees' rotation -- seven weeks ago, stooped short.

"I'd give anything -- short of my family's health -- to be able to go back out there and give them what this team expected from me," a repentant Brown said in the hush of the clubhouse. "They're a great team. If you can't make your pitches, they're going to make you pay for it."

The Yankees paid for a thin pitching staff that navigated six months of the regular season remarkably well. But in the concentrated atmosphere of the postseason, it couldn't stay afloat for a week.

"We just didn't pitch well enough to win," Torre said.

In the four games started by Mike Mussina and Jon Leiber, the cumulative three-inning score was Yankees 8, Red Sox 0.

In Brown's two starts, in both of which he was relieved by Vazquez by the third inning, the three-inning totals were Red Sox 12, Yankees 7.

So not even marching out one of those Yankee Stadium ghosts Jeter always talks about helped. Bucky Dent, a symbol of Boston torment for his 1978 playoff home run over The Green Monster, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to the screaming delight of 56,129.

Unfortunately, Brown also was a ghost of himself, a haunting feeling he has sensed all season, hence the swelling frustrations which matched him against that wall.

"No one cares how you feel," Brown said, "just whether you can take the mound and do your job. You're asking about 'feel,' and it doesn't matter. I've gone out there 10 times without feeling any different. I'm not going to hide behind it."

A night after Curt Schilling had left ankle-blood on the rubber, Brown knew he had better not even try.

He was bowed by the humbling finish to his humbling first season in The Bronx, but hindsight wasn't going to help.

"I don't have a crystal ball," Brown said. "I couldn't go up to (Torre) and tell him, 'Joe, oh, no. Don't start me.'"

"He left a couple of pitches up in the first inning," Jeter said, "then Ortiz, who is swinging as well as anyone, got to one of them."

And the walls started closing in on Brown.

But he hardly represented the only New York pitching deficit. Setup men Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill both suggested regular-season burnout. And the lack of a match-up left-hander more reliable than Felix Heredia was a glaring omission against the predominantly left-handed hitting Boston lineup.

Of course, it makes little sense to try to rationalize the total pitching picture at the end of a week which saw Mariano Rivera blow consecutive saves -- and thus consecutive chances to nail down the pennant.

"Definitely," Rivera said when asked if, ultimately, superior pitching won for Boston. "If you don't pitch good, you are not going to win. I couldn't do it. We didn't pitch well, and we didn't win."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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