As much as we’ve been fighting the urge, we can’t help but think a lot about 2004 this morning. Just 24 hours ago, the Yankees had a commanding series lead and were one win from the World Series; now they’re still one victory away, but face a terrifying Game 6 at Yankee Stadium tomorrow night. It’s a familiar memory, and it isn’t a pleasant one, especially on the heels of such a wild (and ultimately painful) game. The fact that the once-strong bullpen is suddenly shaky — except of course for the ridiculous Mariano Rivera — isn’t comforting, either. Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill might as well be involved. But we’re optimistic; this team has proven all year (or at least since May) how good it really is, while the 2004 club, despite being a Dave Roberts–caught-stealing away from the World Series, had the feeling of a team that was held together by tape. Here are three other reasons this is different than 2004.
Home-field advantage. Of course, Games 6 and 7 were at Yankee Stadium then, too. And the 2004 team finished with the same home record (57–24) as the 2009 team. But the Yankees have been a machine at home since the All-Star break. They’ve lost just eight home games since then, and none in the playoffs. And then there’s the walk-offs and all the pie, but also the margin for error that last licks provides the bullpen.
This time, the Yankees have David Ortiz. Alex Rodriguez has reached the point where he’s so dangerous that Mike Scioscia would rather intentionally walk him in the ninth and put the tying run on base than take his chances by pitching to him. A-Rod is officially in their heads, but with good reason: He’s so locked in that it feels as though he’ll change the course of the game if he ever sees a pitch to hit in a big spot. This should be particularly good news to whoever is hitting behind him in the lineup.
A bona fide ace. The immortal Kevin Brown started Game 7 in 2004 and didn’t make it out of the second inning. He was relieved by Javier Vasquez, who promptly gave up a grand slam to Johnny Damon on his very first pitch. Once the Yankees lost Game 6 that year, it was hard not to look at the Game 7 probables and realize they were in trouble. Should this series go to a seventh game this year, the Yankees have CC Sabathia, on full rest, and he’s absolutely owned the Angels in this series. This time, the all-important pitching advantage is theirs.