Outcome Brings a Bit of Dignity to the Red Sox
A town on its feet, an organization on the brink, the Boston Red Sox rallied, and so did the American League championship series in which they had hardly seemed to belong.
No longer fighting for a series, that being too large to digest, too big to even dream of, the Red Sox played their season into another day, a few more hours, all they could hope for.
At the center of Fenway Park, Mariano Rivera stood for a second inning, for thirty-some pitches on Sunday night, throwing against the sounds of 70,000 mittens pounding, and half that many hearts.
The New York Yankees had them and let them up. The Red Sox breathed.
Done after 8 1/2 innings, the American League championship series turned slightly on a lead-off walk, a bold stolen base and a hard single. The Yankees gasped. The ballpark trembled. And David Ortiz, as he had nine days before, brought the whole thing down, three innings later.
The landslide of 85 seasons ending in failure still creeps.
But, they’ll keep playing. The morning would come and baseball would follow, remarkably. The Red Sox were 6-4 winners Sunday night and Monday morning, a game played on an infield still browned by the tarp that covered it for two days, played through a chilly breeze. The Yankees lead the series, three games to one.
But, this time, it was the Yankees who were so close to the World Series, three outs away, the baseball in Rivera’s steady hand. And it was the Yankees who failed, the Red Sox who made the late, forceful plays and made October feel like ... October.
“You never know what can happen,” Ortiz would say. “But, we’re going to keep playing the game.”
The series deserved it, of course. The series demanded the Red Sox show up, to just once play something other than ineptly. A taut regular season and the swollen history between these franchises and the rivalry had earned that, at least.
So, Ortiz, with Manny Ramirez at first base, launched the baseball that nicked the Yankees. Paul Quantrill, who had let go of the pitch, dropped his head and trudged from the field. Ramirez thrust his fists into the night, Ortiz chased him gleefully and then spiked his helmet near home plate and the man behind the screen with the sign that read “No More Losses” refused to go home, five hours later.
“Good clubs come back from bad things happening,” Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. “It certainly is disappointing. We’re so close to Mo going out and getting people out.
“Everybody’s going to have trouble sleeping maybe, except for exhaustion, but that’s our job.”
In the interest of slump-breaking, perhaps, Kevin Millar clipped the bottom few inches from his chin fur and Derek Lowe brought his beard to a manageable length.
It had been their boy general manager, Theo Epstein, who stood along the right-field foul line in the early evening, refusing to consider anything but one small step forward. He was asked about the legacy of this particular Red Sox team, the one built and rebuilt for October, for these Yankees, and he shook his head.
“Legacies are meaningless,” he said, knee deep in a poor one. “It’s you win or you don’t. Our goal is not to build a legacy, it’s to win a World Series.”
No team has won a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. And these are the Red Sox and those are the Yankees. The Yankees played for a sweep, the Red Sox for a last bit of dignity, and it proved the greater motivation.
As early morning arrived in the Back Bay, as last call neared in the pubs that surround Fenway like a string of Christmas lights, these were the Red Sox mobbing a teammate, doused in something close to hope, and those were the Yankees walking off drearily, having left the series unfinished.
Manager Terry Francona moved Mark Bellhorn from second to ninth in the batting order, Orlando Cabrera from eighth to second and Bill Mueller from ninth to eighth.
He then wore his baseball cap backward and inside out.
The Yankees had been that good. They had been that precise.
They had run off Curt Schilling in Game 1, Pedro Martinez in Game 2 and the rest of the Red Sox pitching staff in Game 3.
So what remained was Rivera, the most feared closer in postseason history, pitching the eighth inning and then the ninth with a one-run lead, the eighth passing quietly, the ninth beginning with a leadoff walk to Kevin Millar, a stolen base by pinch-runner Dave Roberts and the now requisite blow by Mueller.
Mueller beat Rivera and the Yankees in July with a walk-off home run, a moment the Red Sox still cling to as a turning point in their season. Well, Mueller won nothing with his single Sunday, with the blown save he hung on Rivera, the fourth of his playoff career. But, he pushed the game into extra innings, and Ortiz won it in the 12th, and the Mueller thing will stick to Rivera now.
And the Red Sox remain standing for another day, at least. They’ll give the ball to Martinez, and they’ll hope again, against hope.
“I’m a firm believer in momentum in a short series,” Torre said. “Again, we have to look at the big picture, where we are ... and be what we’re supposed to be.”