- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

From combined dispatches

The Boston Red Sox are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1999 and looking for their first World Series title in quite a bit longer.

Derek Lowe held Baltimore to two hits in six innings, and Jason Varitek, Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Millar homered as the Red Sox clinched the last spot in the American League playoffs by beating the Orioles 14-3 last night at Fenway Park in Boston.

Meanwhile, the Florida Marlins defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 8-4 in Miami to complete a three-game sweep and reduce their magic number to one in the National League wild-card race and eliminate the Phillies from playoff contention.

The Marlins hold a three-game lead over Chicago and Houston entering the weekend. The Cubs lost 9-7 at Cincinnati yesterday to fall into a tie atop the NL Central with the Astros, who defeated Milwaukee 6-1 in Houston.

Los Angeles, which played late last night against San Diego, is four games behind Florida and still alive in the wild-card race.

The Red Sox, who have made the postseason 10 times since 1918 without winning a championship, are four games ahead of the Mariners in the AL wild-card race with three games remaining.

“These fans deserve this, and they definitely deserve a World Series championship,” second baseman Todd Walker said on the field during a raucous celebration. “We’re fired up right now, and we’re going to do what we can.”

Boston’s win finalized the AL matchups for the first round: Minnesota will play against the Yankees starting Tuesday in New York, and Boston will open the following day at Oakland.

Playing before a full ballpark for the 64th consecutive home game, the Red Sox quickly gave the crowd of 34,526 something to cheer about. It was 12-0 after four innings, and the rest of the night was just a prelude to the celebration.

With the crowd cheering, flashbulbs popping and the Red Sox perched on the dugout steps, Ramiro Mendoza struck out Brian Roberts to end the game. The Boston players poured out of the dugout for a somewhat subdued celebration — it didn’t even match the one that greeted David Ortiz’s 10th-inning homer two games earlier. But this time they had hats, T-shirts and champagne.

Gabe Kapler and Tim Wakefield sprayed the fans with bubbly, while Garciaparra went out to the outfield to applaud the fans. Millar took a microphone to the pitcher’s mound and reprised his embarrassing “Rally Karaoke Guy.”

“It’s time to ‘Cowboy Up,’” said Millar, a Texan who inspired the team’s motto. “We’re going to take this thing to the next level.”

Manager Grady Little emptied his bench after five innings, and Lowe (17-7) left after six with the victory all but secure. The Red Sox won’t be back at Fenway Park until Game3 of the playoffs on Oct.4.

“We’ve had a pretty successful September,” Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. “Now we want a successful October.”

Elsewhere, the Marlins continued their mastery of the Phillies at Pro Player Stadium behind eight strong innings from starter Brad Penny (14-10).

Juan Encarnacion sparked Florida’s fourth consecutive victory with a homer and four RBI as the Marlins climbed a season-high 19 games above .500 and won for the 14th time in their past 16 home games.

The Phillies led the wild-card standings Saturday but have lost five consecutive games since. They finished 6-13 against Florida this season and lost their final seven games in Miami.

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