SERIES: AL championship series; Tied, 3-3.
Forget the Curse of the Bambino. The Boston Red Sox have a chance to end the curse that has plagued every major league team that has ever slipped into an 0-3 hole in the postseason.
One victory away from completing the greatest comeback in playoff history, the Red Sox will also try to hang an epic AL championship series collapse on their archrivals from New York when they take the field for Game 7 at Yankee Stadium.
“For the last three days, we kept showing up saying we had to win today,” Boston manager Terry Francona said following his team’s 4-2 win in Game 6 on Tuesday. “And because of that, we’ll show up tomorrow and say the same thing. Come to the ballpark and it’s the most important game of the day. Carries a little extra weight.”
After last year’s thrilling seven-game ALCS between these teams, one that ended with Aaron Boone’s walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th for New York, many predicted that the pennant could again come down to a decisive game between the Yankees and Red Sox.
But no one could have imagined that it would be under this type of scenario.
New York beat Boston aces Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez in the Bronx to open the series, then pounded the Red Sox 19-8 in Game 3 at Fenway Park to put an apparent stranglehold on its 40th AL title, and seventh in nine years under manager Joe Torre.
Of the previous 25 teams that had been buried in an 0-3 hole, only two had forced a sixth game and 20 had simply been swept away in four.
But the resilient Red Sox, who have not won a World Series since 1918 and not reached a Fall Classic since 1986, paid no attention to previous history— their own or anyone else’s.
Two thrilling extra-inning, walk-off victories in Boston set up Game 6 on Tuesday back in New York, and Schilling got redemption for his poor effort in the series opener, pitching Boston to the victory on an injured right ankle.
Now for the second straight year, the stage is set for baseball’s most storied rivalry to add another historic chapter in a winner-take-all game. Only this time, the Red Sox appear to hold the advantage despite playing on New York’s home field.
“I guess it was supposed to happen,” Torre said. “We just have to call on the reserve that allowed us to bounce back from a lot of challenges all year.”
Schilling allowed one run—a solo homer to Bernie Williams—over seven brilliant innings with blood visible on his right ankle. Bronson Arroyo and Keith Foulke made it stand up as Boston became the first team to reach Game 7 after losing the first three games.
“This is incredible,” Schilling said.
Mark Bellhorn, who has been dropped from second to ninth in the Boston lineup due to his continuing offensive struggles in the playoffs, belted a three-run homer off New York starter Jon Lieber to stake the Red Sox to an early 4-0 lead.
Boston even got some breaks from a pair of umpire rulings, which reversed two calls that had—incorrectly, TV replays showed—gone in New York’s favor.
“There were a lot of things that went on that didn’t fall our way, but that’s the way it goes,” Torre said.
But now comes the ultimate test.
The Red Sox had the Yankees down 5-2 with one out and none on in the eighth inning of last year’s Game 7 before former manager Grady Little’s now-infamous decision to leave a tiring Martinez on the mound resulted in a game-tying rally for New York.
The rest was just a matter of time as Boone’s blast sent Boston reeling into another offseason of misery. That could all change Wednesday night.
Ironically, the pitcher that yielded Boone’s homer, knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, was expected to take the mound for Boston in Game 7. However, Francona instead opted to turn to right-hander Derek Lowe, who pitched 5 1-3 solid innings in Boston’s come-from-behind 6-4, 12-inning win in Game 4 on Saturday.
The Yankees will counter with either Kevin Brown or Javier Vazquez, both of whom pitched in New York’s blowout win in Game 3. Brown started that game but left after only two innings. He has surrendered eight runs over 2 2-3 innings in two starts against the Red Sox since returning from a broken left hand—an injury suffered when he punched a clubhouse wall in frustration back in September.
Vazquez, who earned the Game 3 win in relief despite allowing four runs in 4 1-3 innings, did not get a decision in his only previous postseason start, surrendering five runs in five innings of New York’s division series-clinching 6-5 win at Minnesota on Oct. 9.
The winner will begin the World Series on Saturday in its home ballpark.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Red Sox - CF Johnny Damon (.304, 20 HRs, 94 RBIs, 123 runs, 19 SBs), 2B Bellhorn (.264, 17, 82, 177 Ks), LF Manny Ramirez (.308, 43, 130), DH David Ortiz (.301, 41, 139), 1B Kevin Millar (.297, 18, 74), RF Trot Nixon (.315, 6, 23), C Jason Varitek (.296, 18, 73), SS Orlando Cabrera (.294, 6, 31), 3B Bill Mueller (.283, 12, 57). Yankees - SS Derek Jeter (.292, 23 HRs, 78 RBIs, 23 SBs), 3B Alex Rodriguez (.286, 36, 106, 28 SBs), RF Gary Sheffield (.290, 36, 121, 117 runs), LF Hideki Matsui (.298, 31, 108), CF Williams (.262, 22, 70), C Jorge Posada (.272, 21, 81), DH Ruben Sierra (.244, 17, 65), 1B Tony Clark (.221, 16, 49), 2B Miguel Cairo (.292, 6, 42).
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Lowe (1-0, 4.26 ERA). Having appeared in only two games for 6 1-3 innings during Boston’s two playoff series, Lowe is one of the best rested pitchers on the staff. He allowed three runs and six hits against the Yankees in Game 4, but left the game with a 3-2 lead before New York rallied to take the lead against reliever Mike Timlin. In his career at Yankee Stadium, Lowe is 3-5 with a 6.02 ERA in 18 career appearances, including eight starts. In his last start in New York, Lowe was pounded for seven runs and four hits in one-plus inning before being lifted with a bruised shin.
YANKEES PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Brown (1-0, 4.50 ERA). Before his poor outing in Boston, Brown did have a solid effort in Game 3 of the ALDS at Minnesota on Oct. 8, yielding one run over six innings in an 8-4 New York win. Brown has pitched effectively at Yankee Stadium this year, going 6-2 with a 3.65 ERA in 11 starts.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Red Sox, 11-8.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Red Sox - RHP Foulke got the save in Game 6 with a scoreless ninth after throwing 72 pitches over the previous two days. … Bellhorn was in a 4-for-32 playoff funk before his three-run blast in the fourth inning Tuesday. Umpires originally ruled it a double, but after conferring, they got the call right and sent Bellhorn home. The ball cleared the fence and only landed back on the field after making contact with a fan in the stands. … The only teams in North American major sports to overcome 3-0 deficits in best-of-seven series were both in the NHL: Toronto against Detroit in the 1942 Stanley Cup finals and the New York Islanders against Pittsburgh in the 1975 quarterfinals. Yankees - Williams extended his major league record with his 22nd postseason homer. He also went deep against RHP Martinez in Game 5. … In Game 5’s other key ruling, Rodriguez hit a ball between the mound and first base with Jeter on first and one out in the eighth inning. Arroyo picked up the ball and ran toward first, where just before the base the striding Rodriguez slapped the ball away. Jeter came all the way around to score as the ball bounced down the right-field line. After Francona came out to argue, the umpires huddled, discussed the play, then called Rodriguez out for interference and sent Jeter back to first. … The Yankees had won six straight playoff games before dropping three in a row to Boston. They have not lost four in a row in a single postseason since the 1981 World Series when they squandered a 2-0 advantage to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
POSTSEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Red Sox - 3-2 on the road. Yankees - 3-2 at home.