Striking similarities for Red Sox
Missed ground ball has been seen before in October
CHICAGO -- The ball rolled through Tony Graffanino's legs just the way the ball rolled through Bill Buckner's legs 19 years ago. Some part of you believed that this sort of thing wasn't going to happen anymore.
But there it was. The little grounder, harmless enough by the look of it, hit to the right side, one position over from the original, second base instead of first. It went through Graffanino's legs. And you remembered this Wednesday night, because you couldn't forget. And you knew that the Boston Red Sox weren't going to win this game, either.
This one won't groan through the ages like the Buckner boot, because it occurred in Game 2 of a Division Series, not Game 6 of a World Series. But like the 1986 misplay, it led to a Boston loss in a postseason. Buckner's error didn't end the 1986 Series, but it pointed toward the likelihood of defeat. Graffanino's error didn't end this Division Series, but it helped to put the Red Sox in an 0-2 hole.
The similarities continue. The Red Sox had all but wrapped up that Game 6 in 1986 before the roof fell in, the floor collapsed and life in general took a turn for the worse. They looked fine in this Game 2, too. They were up four runs in the fifth, and the four runs looked larger than that because David Wells was dealing and he was 10-3 in the postseason, so obviously this Series was going to be tied at 1-1.
And the Red Sox hadn't even begun to pound the ball the way they could. They were going home to Fenway, where they were merely the best home team in baseball in 2005. A few more games were going to have to be played, but soon it would be time to bring on the Yankees once more in a larger-than-life AL Championship Series. It was all so clear and obvious.
Then, Carl Everett singles to open the Chicago fifth. This is hardly serious. Aaron Rowand doubles to score Everett. Even this is not so acutely troubling. A.J. Pierzynski grounds out to second, Rowand taking third. With a three-run lead, the Red Sox will gladly trade a base for an out. Joe Crede singles, Rowand scores, and, OK, Boomer has become hittable, but this is still far from a time when panic should even be an option.
Now we get the ninth hitter in the White Sox lineup, last and least, Juan Uribe. And he hits the double-play grounder that than will end the inning and preserve the 4-2 lead. It is all right. The crisis has passed. If there is any doubt about this ground ball, from the Boston perspective, you would actually like it to be struck a bit more sharply, because Uribe runs well and maybe he will beat the relay.
There is no relay. There is the ball hugging the ground and Graffanino's glove just above it. You have seen this ground ball before. You have seen the glove of the Boston infielder above the ball before. And there is the ball trickling out to the outfield grass -- also a remembered sight. But instead of New York Mets running happily and safely, here you have Crede scampering around to third and Uribe safe on first.
On the one hand, there is still hope. On the other hand, you already know, deep down, how this one ends. Hope, it turns out, wins the battle and loses the war. The next batter, Scott Podsednik, fouls out to third. Perhaps the wily veteran Wells can wriggle out of this one, as he has so many times before in his long and peripatetic career.
Tadahito Iguchi, second baseman, veteran of Japanese baseball, Major League rookie, is at the plate. Graffanino later says that he wanted the next ball hit to him, a natural enough wish for atonement. His worst nightmare, Graffanino said, was Iguchi hitting a home run.
Welcome to "Nightmare on 35th Street."
Iguchi has already taken the big, swooping Wells curveball for a strike as the count goes to 1-1. It looks unhittable; too high at first, too low at the end. But the next breaking ball from Wells does not dive as low. Iguchi has watched and learned, and this pitch finds a home in the left-field bleachers. Chicago 5, Boston 4.
Later, through an interpreter, Iguchi says: "All year, I have been fooled by Wells' curveball. I went out to hit it today, and I'm happy I was able to."
The 5-4 score holds up, as you believed some score favoring the Chicagoans would, as soon as the ball rolled between Graffanino's legs.
In the Boston clubhouse, a Chicago writer asks Graffanino a question containing the inevitable Bill Buckner reference, a topic of some press box discussion. A Boston writer steps on the question, saying that nobody in the press box mentioned that. This latter interpretation was far from accurate. It was perhaps an attempt to protect Graffanino, who didn't need protection, handling his postgame interrogation as a standup guy.
It was not all Tony Graffanino's fault. David Wells didn't exactly pick him up. The entire Red Sox offense, after scoring four runs over the first three innings, was shut out the rest of the way against Mark Buehrle and the rookie closer, Bobby Jenks.
But the ground ball in U.S. Cellular Field was simply too reminiscent of the ground ball 19 years ago at Shea Stadium. There never was a curse against the Red Sox, as all of the 2004 postseason proved for posterity. At this point, you can only look and remember and chalk it up to bad infield play in October, then and now.
Mike Bauman is national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.