- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 12, 2004

From combined dispatches

BOSTON — The fans wanted it. For that matter the entire baseball world wanted it. Now it’s here, and nobody is champing at the bit more than the Boston Red Sox.

After a workout at Fenway Park on Sunday the Red Sox flew to New York to prepare for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series tonight against the Yankees. While all of Boston’s focus is on the Bronx Bombers, a sweeter pinnacle lies ahead.

And the only way the Red Sox are going to reach the World Series is by beating the Yankees.

The players aren’t thinking about revenge from last year’s devastating Game 7 loss to New York when Aaron Boone’s 11th inning home run crushed Boston’s series hopes.

It’s all about now. The plan is in place and all the Red Sox have to do is complete it.

“We’re trying to create history,” outfielder Johnny Damon said. “And they’re trying to stop history. Fans have been saying all season that this is the year, and I believe them. We’re playing good baseball right now.”

Damon is certainly glad the New York Yankees are the team standing in Boston’s way for a World Series berth.

“Absolutely,” he said. “If we didn’t you’re going to hear all these stories all the time, ‘Well, they didn’t have to face the Yankees.’ So we have to go through New York, and we know they are a very good team, and they know the same [about us].”

And, of course, there is the other subplot that involves the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, who was close to being traded from the Texas Rangers to the Red Sox before the deal fell through in December. The Yankees swooped in and pulled off a blockbuster deal with Texas, acquiring him for All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano. Rodriguez shifted from shortstop to third base so he could play alongside Derek Jeter and has been at the center of the Yankees-Red Sox storm ever since.

“Without a question, it was a huge blessing in disguise,” said Rodriguez, who went 8-for-19 (.421) with a home run, three doubles and three RBI to lead the Yankees past the Minnesota Twins in the first round. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be in pinstripes.”

His most important moments may be yet to come. After watching from home as New York beat Boston in a seven-game classic last fall, Rodriguez said he is ready.

What he and the Yankees will face this year is a better, more well-rounded team than a season ago. Add to that the fact the Yankees don’t have the dominating pitching staff they have had in the past and it’s tough not to think the Red Sox have a realistic shot at divinity.

Still, the memories and feelings of last season remain in the rearview mirror.

Team owner John Henry figured last season was his team’s chance, and it was only five outs away from beating the Yankees and going to the World Series. How sweet it would have been for the organization to beat New York.

“That’s how I felt last year,” Henry said. “I always thought the road to a World Series is going through New York, but I haven’t thought about it a lot this year.”

“If we get to a World Series and beat New York along the way it’ll mean that much more,” general manager Theo Epstein said.

The Yankees’ Game 1 starter, Mike Mussina, called the meeting inevitable.

“I know this is what everyone was hoping for, I imagine,” Mussina said. “I think it’s the way it should be.”

His counterpart in Game 1, Curt Schilling, who was 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 211/3 innings to help the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Yankees in seven games in the 2001 World Series, is thinking along the same lines.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever pitched in a game that will have the atmosphere that tomorrow’s game has. In Arizona during the World Series, it was electric,” Schilling said, “but I think the Yankees and the Red Sox is a step above everything else.”

Epstein admitted last year’s club was one-dimensional with its offensive prowess, but this team is solid in every aspect. The Anaheim Angels certainly found that out in the ALDS after being swept by Boston, and the Angels’ Darin Erstad proclaimed when that series was over that the Red Sox have the most depth of any team he has seen.

Boston’s multidimensional club still expects a typical Yankees-Red Sox series.

“We’re facing the greatest team in sports franchise history,” Damon said. “We can’t ask for anything better. We kind of knew we would have to go through New York, and here it goes. … Hopefully we’ll make a lot of people happy.”

Perhaps 86 years of devastation is coming to an end and it’s the Yankees’ turn to hurt.

“That’s why we’re here,” Jason Varitek said. “Baseball wants this. Fans want this. And the players want this.”

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