SERIES: American League Division Series; tied 2-2.
The Oakland Athletics were looking forward to a relaxing flight back to the Bay Area with a trip to the AL championship series secured.
Instead, they are faced with the prospect of losing a fourth consecutive division series.
After squandering a 2-0 advantage in Boston, the A’s will return home to Network Associates Coliseum for the fifth and deciding contest of their first-round series with the resilient Red Sox.
Making matters worse, they’ll have to contend with a fully rested Pedro Martinez.
“We feel like we have the driver’s seat because we have Pedro going tomorrow,” said Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon. “We know Pedro’s going to be on.”
The A’s hosted Game 5 of the ALDS in 2000 against the New York Yankees, but suffered a tough 7-5 loss. In 2001, Oakland won the first two games in New York, only to lose the next three games to the Yankees.
Last year, Oakland held a 2-1 series lead over Minnesota, but lost Game 4 in the Metrodome and Game 5 at home.
“This is this year. We’re worried about this year,” Oakland second baseman Mark Ellis insisted. “We’re trying to make some new history and win that Game 5.”
Ramon Hernandez won this year’s series opener with a bases-loaded bunt and Barry Zito shut the Red Sox down in Game 2. But Boston bounced back by winning a pair of thrilling one-run games at Fenway Park, including Sunday’s come-from-behind 5-4 triumph.
The A’s have lost a major league record eight consecutive playoff games in which they had a chance to eliminate their opponents.
The decisive game will feature a classic pitching matchup between Martinez and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Zito, who will be working on three days’ rest.
Martinez threw a season-high 130 pitches in the Red Sox’s 5-4 loss in 12 innings in Game 1 on Wednesday. Zito was nearly flawless the next afternoon, surrendering a run and five hits over seven strong innings as the A’s coasted to a 5-1 victory.
Trot Nixon’s two-run walkoff homer in the 11th inning of Game 3 then shifted the momentum in Boston’s favor.
Boston has a chance for its second comeback from an 0-2 deficit in ALDS play. The Red Sox escaped the same hole in 1999 against the Cleveland Indians.
Ortiz broke an 0-for-16 series slump with his hit. Manny Ramirez scored the go-ahead run after ending a 1-for-12 drought with two hits in Game 4.
“I couldn’t think of a better time for that to happen, because the clock was running out there,” Boston manager Grady Little said. “That was a good time for them to bust loose.”
The A’s have looked futile in trying to close the series out, committing five errors to go with numerous base-running mistakes in losing the last two games.
Needless to say, the Red Sox will enjoy their flight back to Oakland much more than the A’s.
“This is the happiest I’ve ever been for a five-hour flight,” Boston first baseman Kevin Millar said. “Usually at this time of year I’m barbecuing in the backyard with my boys and watching the playoffs. Now, they’re watching me.”
The winner of Game 5 will face the Yankees in the ALCS. New York eliminated Minnesota in four games.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Red Sox - AL wild card. Athletics - AL West champions.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Red Sox - CF Damon (.273, 12 HRs, 67 RBIs, 30 steals,) 2B Todd Walker (.283, 13, 85), SS Nomar Garciaparra (.301, 28, 105, 120 runs), LF Ramirez (.325, 37, 104), DH Ortiz (.288, 31, 101), 1B Millar (.276, 25, 96), RF Nixon (.306, 28, 87), 3B Bill Mueller (AL-leading .326, 19, 85), C Jason Varitek (.273, 25, 85). Athletics - 2B Ellis (.248, 9, 52), DH Erubiel Durazo (.259, 21, 77, 100 BBs), 3B Eric Chavez (.282, 29, 101), SS Miguel Tejada (.278, 27, 106), 1B Scott Hatteberg (.253, 12, 61), C Hernandez (.273, 21, 78) or Adam Melhuse (5, 14, .299), LF Jose Guillen (.311, 31, 86 for Cincinnati and Oakland), RF Jermaine Dye (.172, 4, 20 in 221 ABs), CF Eric Byrnes (.263, 12, 51).
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Martinez (0-0, 3.86 ERA). Martinez, who led the majors with a 2.22 ERA this year, was reached for three runs and six hits over seven grueling innings in Game 1. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out three and walked four. Martinez is 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA in nine career starts against Oakland. At Network Associates Coliseum, he is 4-1 with a 1.45 ERA in six regular season outings.
ATHLETICS PROBABLE STARTER: Zito (1-0, 1.29). Zito is 3-2 with a 3.27 ERA in six career regular season starts against Boston.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Red Sox - 2B Walker has three homers in the series, including one in Game 4 that got the Red Sox within a run before their eighth-inning rally. … In Boston’s favor, pitchers going on three days’ rest in the playoffs are 5-14 since 1998. … In 1999, Boston also won Games 3 and 4 at Fenway before beating the Indians in Cleveland in Game 5. Athletics - LHP Zito was 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA in 15 home starts this year. … Game 4 starter Tim Hudson, pitching on three days’ rest, left after one inning Sunday because of a strained muscle in his left side. … C Hernandez was a late scratch from the lineup Sunday because of a lower back strain. His status for Game 5 has not yet been determined.