- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2005

Throughout the rich fabric of baseball history, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees keep showing up, their seasons frequently intertwined, their destinies often determined in head-to-head showdowns.

From Death Valley in Yankee Stadium to the Green Monster in Fenway Park, a litany of dramatic confrontations often have defined their seasons.

The characters change. Where once there were the Yankee Clipper and the Splendid Splinter and later Dent and Yaz, now there’s A-Rod and Big Papi. Instead of Raschi pitching against Kinder, the Yankees have the Big Unit and the Red Sox have Boomer.

It all adds up to the same thing — one final series between two old rivals to settle the season’s accounts.

They will do it again this weekend in Boston, three games to decide the American League East championship, the Yankees and Red Sox going mano-a-mano.

Perfect.

Only once before did it come to this, the Red Sox and Yankees playing a final regular-season series for first place.

In 1949, their fates came down to the last two games of the season. Boston held a one-game lead with two to play at Yankee Stadium. The math was simple for the Red Sox: win a game and win the pennant. The challenge was a bit more daunting for the Yankees, who had no margin for error. Lose one and they were done.

The Red Sox had chased the Yankees all season, gaining the lead a weekend earlier by sweeping New York in Fenway Park. Then they went on the road for their final five games, three in Washington against the hapless Senators and the final two at Yankee Stadium. When they arrived in New York, the Red Sox still were clinging to that one-game lead.

The two teams were crowded with superstars.

Boston had MVP Ted Williams, who batted .343 and led the league with a career-best 43 home runs and tied teammate Vern Stephens with 159 RBI, and a pitching staff headed by 25-game winner Mel Parnell and Ellis Kinder, who won 23.

The Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio had missed the first 65 games of the season with a heel injury but hit .346 when he returned to the lineup. New York’s pitching staff was anchored by 21-game winner Vic Raschi; Allie Reynolds, who won 17; and reliever Joe Page, an important bullpen presence.

An eighth-inning home run by Johnny Lindell, a distinctly peripheral character on a team of All-Stars, gave New York a 6-4 win in the first game.

With the two teams tied for first place, the pennant would come down to one last game with Kinder going against Raschi.

The matchup equaled the occasion. Kinder had a 7-2 lifetime record against New York and had beaten the Yankees four times that season. Raschi was the Yankees’ ace who was bypassed by manager Bucky Harris in the showdown against the Red Sox the year before. Bob Porterfield lost the game, the Yankees were eliminated and Harris was fired. New manager Casey Stengel was not going to make the same mistake.

The Yankees scored a run in the first inning when Phil Rizzuto led off with a triple into the left-field corner. Tommy Henrich’s infield out delivered the run.

The Yankees’ 1-0 lead stood up into the eighth inning. Then Joe McCarthy lifted Kinder for a pinch-hitter, enraging the starter. The move backfired. New York scored four more, the first on a home run by Henrich, the last three on a bases-loaded double by Jerry Coleman that eluded the dive of Al Zarilla in right field. It was not a hard-hit ball, but as players like to say, it looked like a line drive in the boxscore.

“It was a double,” Coleman said. “I was thrown out at third. I wanted to draw the throw from the plate. I just kept going. I didn’t want them to throw anybody out at the plate, so I just kept going, and the guy went for me instead of the plate. But the runs scored before I got there.

“For the first time in Casey’s career, he didn’t pinch-hit for me. I never got to hit in the clutch. He left me up there, and I used to tease Williams about this. He said, ‘It was the worst hit I’ve ever seen.’ ” I said, ‘Ted, let me tell you something, you were out in the outfield at Yankee Stadium, it was bright and you were looking into the shadows. What you saw was the cover of the ball fall. The core is still in orbit.’ ”

Red Sox infielder Johnny Pesky remembered it well.

“Coleman was protecting the plate,” Pesky said. “He hit a ball off the end of his bat over Bobby Doerr’s head. You couldn’t have thrown the ball out there any better.”

Three outs away from elimination, Boston rallied in the ninth. Williams walked with one out, and Stephens singled. Doerr hit a ball that eluded DiMaggio in center field and went for a triple. His aching body had betrayed him for the last time. With the pennant on the line, DiMaggio would not let that happen again. He took himself out of the game, trotted resolutely to the dugout, refusing to let his ailments interfere with the Yankees’ quest anymore.

After Zarilla flied out, Billy Goodman singled, scoring Doerr and making it 5-3. Now, with two out in the ninth inning, the tying run was at the plate. Raschi was running on fumes and Henrich came to the mound to give him a breather. The pitcher ran him off and got Birdie Tebbetts on a popup to end it.

“We had two years in a row with the Yankees,” Pesky said. “We always played them pretty good in those years. We beat them our share but not as much as we should have.”

The Yankees’ win touched off a dynasty that produced a remarkable 14 AL pennants and eight World Series championships in 16 years from 1949 to 1964.

The Red Sox, one win from the World Series that year, would not get to one until 1967. In 1978, they missed a chance when Bucky Dent’s homer lifted New York in one-game playoff for the division title, with Carl Yastrzemski making the final out with the go-ahead run on base.

The Red Sox would not win one until 2004, when they produced the greatest playoff comeback in history, winning four straight after losing the first three games against, of course, the Yankees.

Tomorrow night, the same two old rivals go at it again with a postseason berth on the line.

“But now,” Pesky said with a smile, “It’s our turn.”

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