- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

NEW YORK. — Those guys in Chicago and Boston who have belittled the notion of a curse on those baseball teams might want to start taking it more seriously now.

If I’m Cubs manager Dusty Baker, after his team blows a 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series with his two studs, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, on the mound, I might not be so dismissive of the Curse of the Billy Goat.

In fact, if I were a Cubs fan, I’d call for Dusty to feed his kid Darren (who sat on his father’s lap at the news conference after Game 7 as if it were Romper Room) to the goat. That might take care of two problems.

As far as the Red Sox, I don’t know what I would do to solve this Curse of the Bambino, but, again, I wouldn’t ignore it after they lose both games of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees that Pedro Martinez pitches — including Game 7, when Pedro has a 4-1 lead after six innings.

You lose that game, you might want to form a study committee to explore ways to exorcise the curse that has plagued the Boston franchise since it sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920 — two years after the last time the Red Sox won a World Series.

They could make Ruth’s daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, part-owner of the franchise (and get rid of the New York Times in the process. Having a New York publishing company own a piece of the Boston Red Sox is bad mojo).

They could ask Manny Ramirez to change his name to George Herman Ruth.

Or they could simply fire manager Grady Little. That might work.

Forrest Gump left Pedro in the game to pitch Thursday night even after Jason Giambi hit his second home run of Game 7 to cut the Boston lead to 4-2 in the seventh inning. And he left Pedro in the game even after Derek Jeter doubled, Bernie Williams singled and both Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada doubled, and, when the score went from 5-2 to 5-5 in the eighth inning, Forrest finally took Pedro out — after 123 pitches, his third most in any start this season.

“Pedro Martinez has been our man all year long, and in situations like that he’s the one we want on the mound over anybody we can bring in out of that bullpen,” Forrest said. “He had enough left in his tank to finish off Posada.” Jeter, Williams and Matsui had three hits in a row, as many as the Yankees had as a team through six innings. Pedro was working on fumes when Posada came up to hit.

Game 7 was like every other game in this memorable Yankee-Red Sox series — but it didn’t unfold in a way that had been anticipated. The great pitching showdown between Pedro and Roger Clemens never materialized. Clemens had nothing and was gone after three innings and four runs. The pitching performance of the day was turned in by Mike Mussina, the former Orioles great who made the first relief appearance of his career after 400 starts. He relieved Clemens and shut down the powerful Boston lineup for no runs and two hits over three innings.

“The guy who stopped the bleeding was Mike Mussina,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He came in with runners on first and third and nobody out and gets out of a jam with a double play ball from [Johnny] Damon, which is not easy to do, and strikes out [Jason] Varitek. That was the turning point for me. You felt like you were getting your brains beat out and you look up, it’s 4-1, and you say, ‘OK, now we are at arm’s length here.’”

After the Yankees tied it at 5-5 in the eighth inning, their arms stayed locked with Boston until the bottom of the 11th. That’s when Aaron Boone, who had been killing the Yankees at third base and didn’t even start the game, led off the inning. He slammed the first pitch he saw from Tim Wakefield, who came on in relief in the 10th inning, into the Bronx sky for the game-winning home run. That sent the Yankees into the World Series to face the upstart Marlins tonight in Game 1 at Yankee Stadium.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Boone is the former Cincinnati Red who gave Dayton Daily News baseball writer and Hall of Famer Hal McCoy an inspirational pep talk in February. You see, the veteran scribe came to spring training to tell the Reds he was quitting because he was losing his sight.

Boone fit right in with this Yankees, a classy group of players who are the antithesis of their owner, Boss Steinbrenner.

The Red Sox are just the opposite. They have a decent group of owners — Larry Lucchino, John Henry and Tom Werner — who have done everything they could to make the former cold and distant Red Sox more open and fan friendly. And yet, Boston’s players acted like ill-mannered children during the division series and worse in instigating the fracas that took place during Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. Their two biggest stars, Pedro and Manny, are a public relations nightmare and they leave their teammates to answer for their excesses. That is another curse that the Red Sox have to deal with.

There are no curses surrounding the Florida Marlins, though — maybe they have been cursed at for their success — but no goats or Bambinos or black cats or any other legendary lore in their history. Heck, they have no history. They are only 10 years old.

What they have is a very good team, perhaps the most-balanced lineup of any team in this postseason. With solid players — Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo, Orlando Cabrera, Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Beckett and Mark Redmond — they hit, run, catch and pitch. And they do all of those things well. They are having a pretty good time and may be just rambunctious enough not to be intimidated by the mighty Yankees, who make their 39th World Series appearance.

Look out Yankees, your curse may wind up being a fish.

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