BOSTON -- Welcome to another New England nightmare. The Boston Red Sox could not put an end to the American League East race last night, nor to the prophecies of gloom and doom that have followed them around since the early part of this century.
It would have taken only a victory over the Chicago White Sox or a loss by the Toronto Blue Jays. It will take the same tonight to keep the season from going into overtime.
The Chicago White Sox went into extra innings last night to score a 3-2 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park and leave thousands of Boston fans to agonize for at least one more day.
Who could blame them for their superstitions anymore? The Red Sox still are in first place. They still have a one-game advantage with one game to play, and yet disaster is in the air. You couldn't help but see it in every corner this historic ballpark.
Four horsemen rode onto the field after the seventh inning to remind the crowd not to celebrate on the field after the game. Nothing like being a little symbolic.
They were outlined against a dark October sky all right, but there was no reason to warn anybody yet. The Red Sox were trailing by a run at the time. The only question was whether there was enough bad Boston karma to choke that many horses.
It was 12 years ago last night that Bucky Dent hit the home run that completed one of the Red Sox's most famous collapses. It came in a one-game playoff like the one the Red Sox would have to play in Toronto if something doesn't go right tonight.
"We still have an option," Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said. "We've always got Roger [Clemens] as our option, but we're not thinking about that right now. Let's go out and get it over with tonight."
Morgan was referring to the availability of Clemens for the playoff game on Thursday. That might sound a little fatalistic, but he wasn't the only one.
"We're a little down right now, but we're not out," said designated hitter Dwight Evans. "We'll come out battling tomorrow, and if we have to we'll come out battling on Thursday."
There were plenty of opportunities to get the race over with early. The Red Sox came back to tie the game against White Sox stopper Bobby Thigpen in the eighth and had the winning run at third base with Wade Boggs up in that inning and again with Ellis Burks at the plate in the 10th. White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen finally decided the game with a two-out RBI single off reliever Dennis Lamp in the 11th inning.
"I said it would go down to the bitter end," Morgan said. "I hope I'm wrong, but the bitter end would be a playoff game in Toronto."
The White Sox have not spoiled the party yet, but they have pushed the Red Sox to the limit. They took a one-run lead in the seventh inning, but Boston outfielder Tom Brunansky delivered another big swing in the eighth to set up the tying run, which scored on a two-out sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Danny Heep.
Boston went on to put runners at first and third for Boggs, but he grounded out to first. The Red Sox had the bases loaded for Burks in the 10th, but he flied out to right.
Chicago finally broke through in the top of the 11th, after back-to-back singles by Ron Karkovice and Robin Ventura had put the winning run in scoring position with one out against Lamp. Scott Fletcher popped out, but Guillen lined a single to right that broke 30,000 hearts.
"We're not going to lay down and die for anyone," Guillen said. "We have a lot of pride. We thought we proved we're a better them than them all season."
Lamp had him down two strikes in the count, but Guillen dug out a pitch low in the strike zone and pulled the ball to right.
"It wasn't a bad pitch," Morgan said. "How he pulled that ball into right field I don't know."
So the Red Sox still have not shaken the specter of their 6 1/2 -game September collapse or quieted their skeptical public, but no one said it was going to be easy.
"We knew this was a six-game series when the weekend [against Toronto] started," Brunansky said. "We were prepared for that. I think it [tonight's game] is going to be a lot of fun."
The gravity of the situation was not lost on Red Sox starter Tom Bolton, who had to overcome first-inning jitters to keep the game under control.
He gave up a one-out single to Lance Johnson in the first inning and walked Carlton Fisk before moving both runners up with a balk. The White Sox took the lead on a sacrifice fly by first baseman Frank Thomas, but the Red Sox came back to tie when Chicago starter Melido Perez wild-pitched a run home in the bottom of the inning.
The scoreboard watch started earlier than the night before, though there was little for the Fenway faithful to cheer about in the early innings. There was a modest ovation when the first zero showed up next to the Blue Jays entry on the scoreboard, but nothing happened to evoke further response for more than an hour.
Not much happened on the field either, even though neither Bolton nor Perez have pitched particularly well in September. Bolton came in with three losses in his previous four starts, but had worked a solid seven innings his last time out. Perez was hit hard in his previous two starts, giving up nine earned runs in a total of 2 1/3 innings.
Nevertheless, the offensive show that might have been expected after a rocky first inning for both starters gave way to a defensive showcase that featured flashy plays all over the field.