- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 16, 2003

NEW YORK — These resilient Boston Red Sox keep rallying just in time.

Down by two runs and nine outs from ending their season, they’re one win from returning to the World Series for the first time in 17 years. Better still, they’re one win from finally knocking off the New York Yankees.

And it all comes down to Game7 tonight, Roger Clemens vs. Pedro Martinez for the American League pennant.

“The gods of baseball wanted to see this happen,” Boston’s Kevin Millar said after the Red Sox won 9-6 yesterday and forced these two old foes to the limit in the AL Championship Series.

David Ortiz tied it with a run-scoring single, and Johnny Damon drove in the go-ahead run with a bases-loaded walk in a three-run seventh inning.

Already the teams were looking ahead to Game7, which has all the makings of a classic: Clemens and Martinez were the central characters who set off fireworks and fights during Game3 at Fenway Park, and it could be the final appearance of the Rocket’s illustrious career.

“I guess it was supposed to come down to seven games,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “I don’t know of any two clubs that are more evenly matched than we are.”

Slumping Nomar Garciaparra had four hits, including a wind-blown triple that started the seventh, atoning for an earlier error. Jason Varitek hit a third-inning homer off starter Andy Pettitte, and Trot Nixon added a two-run shot in the ninth off Gabe White as the Red Sox beat up New York for 16 hits.

“I’ve never been around a club quite like this,” Boston manager Grady Little said. “It typified our whole season.”

New York, which won the regular season series 10-9, will play Boston for the 26th time — the most meetings ever between two teams in one year. It also will mark the fourth time Boston and New York have battled each other face to face until the final possible day. The Red Sox won 3-2 at New York in a doubleheader opener to clinch the AL pennant on the last day of the 1904 season, the Yankees overcame the Red Sox by winning the final two games of the 1949 season in the Bronx, and the Yankees won a one-game playoff for the AL East title in 1978 on Bucky Dent’s three-run homer at Fenway Park.

A swirling 25 mph wind floated napkins across the field during the entire game, and the conditions made it difficult for fielders on both teams, spinning line drives into twisting gappers. Boston’s first hit was a second-inning liner by Bill Mueller that sailed over Hideki Matsui in left for a double.

“It’s a fact that it is hard to catch fly balls in wind like that,” Matsui said through a translator.

Jason Giambi’s first-inning homer put New York in front, but Boston went ahead 4-1 in the third on Varitek’s long solo homer to left, Ortiz’s two-run single over leaping Derek Jeter at shortstop and Millar’s soft RBI single to center.

Boston starter John Burkett, a 38-year-old who relies on offspeed pitches, couldn’t get through the fourth. Nick Johnson hit an RBI double to the right-center gap, Aaron Boone had a run-scoring grounder, Garciaparra allowed Karim Garcia’s bouncer to kick out of his glove for an error and Alfonso Soriano lined a two-run double to center that the wind pushed into left-center.

Jorge Posada made it 6-4 in the fifth with a solo homer that appeared to ride the wind over the wall in left.

Jose Contreras relieved Pettitte to start the sixth and struck out the side, but he overthrew his pitches in the seventh and wound up the loser.

Boston, the top offense in the major leagues during the regular season, had been hitting just .230 in the playoffs and hadn’t scored more than five runs in 10 postseason games. But the Red Sox remembered back to the first round, when they fell behind Oakland 0-2 before winning three in a row to advance.

Garciaparra, who didn’t get his first postseason RBI until Tuesday, hit a deep drive to center leading off the seventh, and the ball gusted over Bernie Williams for a triple. Garciaparra came home when the wind sent Matsui’s throw to third sailing on a hop into the seats for an error. Manny Ramirez followed with a similar shot over Williams for a double.

“I thought both balls would be caught,” Contreras said through a translator.

Ramirez took third on a wild pitch and scored the tying run when Ortiz smashed a single off first base.

Felix Heredia relieved with one out and two on, threw a wild pitch that moved up the runners, then threw a called third strike past Nixon. After an intentional walk to Varitek, Heredia walked Damon on four pitches — two of them close — forcing in the go-ahead run.

“It looked like he had a couple of strikes that weren’t called, but that’s what you’ve got to deal with on a regular basis,” Torre said of Heredia.

Alan Embree, who struck out Giambi to help escape a big jam in the fifth, got the win. Scott Williamson, Boston’s sixth pitcher, got three outs for his third save of the series.

“It comes down to tomorrow,” Jeter said. “You’ve got Rocket versus Pedro. It’s fun. It’s what you play for.”

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