SERIES: AL championship series Game 7; tied 3-3.
Now it is up to Clemens to prevent them from winning another one.
Clemens will be on the mound—possibly for the final time—when he leads the New York Yankees against Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox in perhaps the biggest game in the history of one of baseball’s biggest rivalries.
“This is as big as it gets,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “It’s going to be fun.”
The Red Sox forced a seventh game Wednesday by rallying for a 9-6 victory. That moved them within one victory of their first World Series appearance since 1986, which they reached when Clemens beat the California Angels in Game 7 of the ALCS.
Boston lost that World Series, extending one of sports’ most famous droughts by remaining without a championship since 1918. Clemens will try to make sure it stays that way—and make sure he has a chance to play for one more before he retires.
Clemens plans to retire after the season, so a Yankees loss Thursday will end a brilliant career that includes more than 300 wins, 4,000 strikeouts and six Cy Young Awards.
It also includes a victory over Martinez in Game 3 of this series, though their eagerly awaited pitching matchup eventually took a back seat to a brawl that injured Yankees coach Don Zimmer—after Martinez threw him to the ground—and a fight in the New York bullpen between some Yankees players and a Fenway Park employee.
For Clemens to win again, he will have to beat a Boston team that finally hit Wednesday like it did in the regular season.
The Red Sox were the majors’ top-hitting team during the regular season, but were batting only .230 in the postseason before Game 6, when they had 16 hits, including two homers, a triple and four doubles.
Four of those hits came from Nomar Garciaparra, who had been in a terrible slump before the game. The star shortstop was batting just .205 in the postseason through Game 5.
“A superstar in a slump is still a superstar,” Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. “We knew he would break out of it in a big way, and he did—just in time.”
Now that Garciaparra seemingly is back on track, the Red Sox need Martinez to rebound from his poor Game 3 start. The right-hander yielded four runs in seven innings, lost in the postseason for the first time in his career, and appeared to throw a pitch at New York’s Karim Garcia, inciting the bad tensions that remained throughout the game.
Martinez, just 9-8 against New York in the regular season, says he isn’t nervous heading into the most important start of his career.
“I’ve got to wait for the game tomorrow. Maybe I’ll be nervous then,” he said.
If the Yankees beat Martinez again—they have defeated him more than any other team—they return to the World Series after a one-year absence. New York went to the World Series five times in six years from 1996-2001, winning four times.
A decisive seventh game seems fitting, since the teams have been so evenly matched this year. Besides the split of the first six games, New York won the season series 10-9.
Game 7 will be the 26th meeting of the season, a major league record for any two teams, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I guess it was supposed to come down to seven games, as much as you hate to think about it,” Torre said. “At least we know tomorrow will be the last day.”
The winner of this game will have home-field advantage against the NL champion Florida Marlins in the World Series, which starts Saturday night.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Red Sox - CF Johnny Damon (.273, 12 HR, 67 RBI, 103 runs, 30 SB), 2B Todd Walker (.283, 13, 85), SS Garciaparra (.301, 28, 105, 120 runs), LF Manny Ramirez (.325, 37, 104), DH David Ortiz (.288, 31, 101), 1B Kevin Millar (.276, 25, 96), RF Trot Nixon (.306, 28, 87), 3B Bill Mueller (AL-leading .326, 19, 85), C Jason Varitek (.273, 25, 85). Yankees - 2B Alfonso Soriano (.290, 38, 91, 114 runs, 35 steals, 130 Ks), SS Jeter (.324, 10, 52), DH Jason Giambi (.250, 41, 107, 129 BBs, 140 Ks), CF Bernie Williams (.263, 15, 64), C Jorge Posada (.281, 30, 101), LF Hideki Matsui (.287, 16, 106, 42 doubles), 1B Nick Johnson (.284, 14, 47, 70 BBs in 96 games), 3B Aaron Boone (.267, 24, 96, 23 steals) or Enrique Wilson (.230, 3, 15), RF Garcia (.262, 11, 35).
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTER: Martinez (14-4, 2.22 ERA). Martinez had been 4-0 in the postseason before his Game 3 loss. The right-hander was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts at Yankee Stadium this year.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTER: Clemens (17-9, 3.91 ERA). Clemens is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in this postseason. He is 8-6 lifetime in the postseason, including 1-1 against Boston.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Red Sox - Boston is 4-0 when facing elimination in this postseason. … RHP Scott Williamson has saved all three Boston wins in the series. Yankees - New York has not lost a best-of-seven series in which it led 3-2 coming home since the 1926 World Series against St. Louis. … 1B Giambi is batting .190 in this series. He struck out Wednesday with two on, ending the fourth, struck out with runners at second and third with one out in the sixth and struck out again leading off the ninth.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Red Sox - 42-39 on the road in regular season, 3-3 in postseason. Yankees - 50-32 at home in regular season, 2-3 in postseason.