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Press Row: New twist on rivalry

Press Row: New twist on rivalry

OK, baseball fans. It's time for you to decide what was the bigger story in Friday's playoffs: the Boston Red Sox's stunning and hasty departure from the postseason or the New York Yankees' meltdown that moved them one game from joining the Red Sox on the sidelines.

In one of the more significant ALDS days in recent memory, two storied franchises -- two that many thought would clash in another classic ALCS -- had their shortcomings exposed. And the Chicago White Sox showed that you can spend the entire season with the league's best record and still play the role of underdog.

On Friday, the Red Sox were bounced from the playoffs after a 5-3 loss to the White Sox, who completed a three-game sweep. Meanwhile, about 400 miles south in the rainy Bronx, the Yankees fell behind 5-0 and took a 6-5 lead, only to watch painfully as regular-season sensation Aaron Small faltered. The Yankees are now down, 2-1, with a possible elimination game on the immediate horizon.

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Who best to describe the demise of the Red Sox than the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy, who wrote: "The Sox are bound to undergo a major makeover before they next meet in Fort Myers, Fla.; well-known characters such as Johnny Damon, Kevin Millar, Bill Mueller, Mike Timlin, and maybe even Manny Ramirez are likely to be gone. Manager Terry Francona and (general manager Theo) Epstein are among others no longer under contract, and several in the Sox locker room viewed this defeat as the last roundup for the raggedy men who made hardball history in the Hub."

Meanwhile, 2004 postseason hero Curt Schilling did not make an appearance, and that was not lost on Shaughnessy: "Schilling's plight typified the Sox's uneven season. The Franconamen slugged their way to 95 wins and a first-place tie in the American League East with the Yankees, but the loss of free agent Pedro Martinez (Mets) and closer Keith Foulke (knee surgery), compounded by Schilling's difficulty recovering from offseason ankle surgery, gave the Sox a giant mound of pitching woes. At the end, even the bats failed them as Damon, captain Jason Varitek, and veteran Mueller wore down and slumped badly."

Tony Massarotti of the Boston Herald said the Red Sox should not be compared to their championship predecessors: "Was this a tough club? Heavens yes. How the Red Sox won 95 games is anybody's guess, particularly given a late-season stretch in which the club played on 30 consecutive days. By the end of that month, the Sox were spent. They had virtually nothing left. They made it into the playoffs purely on their own adrenaline and the complete inexperience of the Cleveland Indians, who lost seven of their final eight games to finish two behind the Red Sox in the wild card race.

"Consequently, what happened this week should surprise no one, least of all the Red Sox. All things considered, the Sox were the fourth-best team in the AL this year; last year, no matter what the regular-season records said, they were the best. And as recently as two years ago, when the Sox lost a heartbreaking seventh game to the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series, they went home for the winter feeling terribly unfulfilled."

How about the winning side? The city of Chicago has not been able to celebrate an athletic triumph since Michael Jordan (literally) pushed aside Bryon Russell and swished a jumper in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

Jay Marriotti of the Chicago Sun-Times said the White Sox could emerge as a playoff darling, just as the Red Sox did in 2004. "This series, by comparison, was a vacation on Cape Cod. Today the Sox are the rage of October and a team oozing of so many developing story lines that America is bound to start rooting for them, particularly if the opponent beginning Tuesday night is the Evil Empire from New York. Certainly, Red Sox Nation would be rooting for the White Sox against the Yankees, because not long after they had taken their party to a car-wash-wet clubhouse -- ouch, Ken Williams just got nailed with a full frontal -- another song played softly across the empty shrine.

"'Sweet Home Chicago.' "

Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Tribune wrote that Chicago has another new hero: "The White Sox don't have much in the way of playoff history over the last 100 years, about enough to be published in pamphlet form. So what El Duque did against the Red Sox automatically will find its way toward the top of the list. This was the kind of October story Sox fans have heard told about other teams from other cities.

"Now they have one of their own."

Meanwhile, in New York, the print media was contemplating the end of the Yankees' string of great postseason runs -- and speculating how, if the Yankees lost one more game, Knicks GM Isiah Thomas would be envious of the facelift Yankee owner George Steinbrenner gives his team in the offseason.

Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News said Friday's 11-7 loss looked familiar to the Bombers: "Then an amazing thing happened in October at the Stadium. It became April and May for the Yankees there. After the Yankees got the lead, against Aaron Small and Al Leiter and Scott Proctor and Tom Gordon, the Angels got 10 more hits. Ten hits from the sixth inning on. The part of a postseason game that once belonged to Torre's Yankees. Now it was just the second act of a four-hour mess at Yankee Stadium. Three years ago, against the Angels, the Yankees couldn't hold a big lead in Game 3. This time they couldn't hold a small one, even after Aaron Small bailed Johnson out of first-and-third in the fourth. Another bad Game 3 against the Angels."

Dave Sheinin of the Washington Post pondered the irony of Aaron Small attempting to bail out Randy Johnson. "The Yankees' season held endless possibilities in April, but it is safe to say that none of them included Johnson being unceremoniously yanked in the fourth inning of a postseason start in favor of Aaron Small. Any sane person, confronted with such a scenario in April, could have only one valid response: Who's Aaron Small?

"The irony Friday could not have been more profound: In a game the Yankees thought they would win behind their $16 million ace, he needed to be bailed out by a 33-year-old journeyman pitcher making less than one one-hundredth of that.

"It was Small, a perfect 10-0 during the regular season, who gave up the Angels' go-ahead runs in the sixth, and it was he, not Johnson, who was tagged with the loss.

"But given the choice of living the rest of this dark night in Small's skin, or in Johnson's, money and fame aside, which would you choose?"

Dan Graziano of the Newark Star-Ledger writes that the Yankees have returned to their early-season ways and forgotten how good they were in early September. And now they must depend on Shawn Chacon, who four months ago was rotting in the Colorado bullpen, to save them.

"But doesn't anybody remember the September Yankees? The Yankees who bull-rushed their way to a division title that once seemed unattainable? Those Yankees, had they come back from five runs down to take a fifth-inning lead, would have won the game 13-5.

"The Yankees that have played these past two games? They're a mess.

"And the Angels look like the better team.

"By a lot.

"The Angels are a very tough team for the Yankees to have to play at this time of year, when every pitch matters and every bouncing ball on the infield must be handled with far greater care than the Yankees have been taking. The Angels have a feisty offense. They put the ball in play. They have a tough bullpen.

"But for the entire month of September, the Yankees insisted, credibly, that they could beat any team in baseball, as long as they played the best they could play.

"Right now, they're playing about as poorly as they can play."

Moving to the West Coast, right-hander Matt Morris will be relied upon to finish off the San Diego Padres and gave the St. Louis Cardinals a few days off before the NLCS. Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes that manager Tony La Russa has the utmost confidence in Morris.

"More important ... La Russa knows what Morris can do in the postseason when he's healthy. La Russa cited Morris' performance in Game 5 of the 2002 NL Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants and his Game 1 win in that year's division series over Arizona Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson. Prior to this series, Morris' 13 postseason appearances were only one less than the rest of the Cardinals' rotation combined."

Finally, Tom Krasovic of the San Diego Union-Tribune notes that Padres right-hander Woody Williams has faced adversity before, so getting the Pads out of a two-game hole may not be his most difficult task.

"In his first tour with the Padres, Williams said he became a better pitcher after surviving an aneurysm near his left armpit. He said the brush with mortality reinforced the idea that there's more to his life than fastballs and change-ups.

"Of late, Williams has tried to salvage a disappointing season that proved cost-inefficient to the Padres. Signed to replace David Wells, another veteran pitcher with ample postseason experience, Williams was 6-11 with a 5.01 ERA entering September. ... However, when the Padres most needed Williams down the stretch, the Texan responded by giving up two earned runs or fewer in six of seven outings. He has attributed the improvement to increased concentration and better luck.

"Shortly after the World Series, the Cardinals made the right move by letting Williams leave in free agency and trading for younger starter Mark Mulder, who went 16-8 with a 3.64 ERA and won Game 2 on Thursday.

"Tonight, Williams will try to keep his former teammates in San Diego for an extra 24 hours."

Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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