There were four references to the 2004 ALCS in one hour of SportsCenter this morning. Your friends who are Red Sox fans have joked about the series on Facebook and Twitter since Tuesday. If you step outside your home or office, there's probably a single-engine plane flying overhead with a '2004 ALCS: You Blew It' message tailing behind.
You had to expect this. This is the Yankees' first opportunity to clinch an American League pennant since the team's infamous collapse against the Red Sox five Octobers ago. It would be weird if it didn't come up.
I was at Game Seven in 2004. That's the only way I still know for sure that it actually happened. It was a game that forever changed the franchise. For the first time ever, it gave the Yankees baggage.
Today's Game Five against the Angels won't rid the Yankees of that baggage. Just as winning in '04 didn't wipe away Grady and Boone and Buckner for the Sox. The baggage is still there, it just isn't as heavy anymore.
The good news is that this Yankees team is far better equipped to deal with adversity. The '04 team had a ton of bad character guys (Kenny Lofton, Ruben Sierra, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown), a set-up man who was throwing up in garbage cans before appearances (Tom Gordon), a first baseman who hit like a corpse (Tony Clark) and a Game Seven starter with less guts than a stuffed antelope (Brown).
By contrast, this Yankees team is loaded with good character guys that keep things loose (Damon, Swisher, Sabathia, Hughes), a set-up man who is a proven postseason performer (Hughes), a first baseman, who, while slumping, is a stud waiting to breakout (Teixeira) and a Game Seven starter that most teams would kill for (Sabathia).
The plan, of course, is never to let things get to a Game Seven. In '04, we learned about the dangerous power of momentum. By Game Six of that series, you already felt the Yankees were in deep trouble.
It falls on A.J. Burnett to make sure momentum is something the Angels don't feel for months. Burnett was erratic all season, and he carried that right into the postseason. He spiked curveballs into the dirt over and over again and clearly looked uncomfortable with runners on base in Game Two. He needs to be sharper...it's time for this guy to start earning his money.
You will hear the ghosts of '04 in the distance tonight in Anaheim. If the Yankees have to fly home with the series still undecided, the ghosts will only get louder this weekend in the Bronx.