BOSTON -- The Heimlich maneuver would not be necessary this time. The Boston Red Sox might have choked on a little champagne last night -- out of public view, of course -- but they did not let the American League East race get away.
Nor did they back into the title, defeating the Chicago White Sox, 3-1, on the final day of the regular season to set up a rematch of their 1988 playoff series against the defending world-champion Oakland Athletics.
Despite baseball's new rules against public displays of alcohol consumption, the Red Sox celebrated long and hard, leaving the ghosts of blown pennants past to cry in their beer. This year's collapse collapsed. The American League Championship Series will open right here at Fenway Park on Saturday.
Right-hander Mike Boddicker held the White Sox to five hits over seven innings on the way to his 17th victory of the year, a victory that pushed the Red Sox into their third playoff series in five years.
The Toronto Blue Jays had to go back to Canada alone. The only thing that will be decided at SkyDome today will be whether to order the luncheon special at the Hard Rock Cafe.
There was a catch, of course. Right fielder Tom Brunansky had to make a diving play to rob Ozzie Guillen of a game-tying, extra-base hit with two out in the top of the ninth. It was a spectacular play made all the more dramatic by the fact that the Blue Jays still were alive at Memorial Stadium. By the time Toronto eventually lost to the Baltimore Orioles, the title already had been awarded.
"It was my best catch," Brunansky said, "based on the circumstances and what would have happened if I hadn't made it. It was pure reaction, because I had just told myself what I was going to do if he hit it there."
There was one other big scare. Boddicker loaded the bases on a single and two walks with one out in the seventh inning, but he got Scott Fletcher to pop out and got off easy when Guillen lined a run-scoring single to left field. One run scored, but Mike Greenwell made a perfect throw to cut down Dan Pasqua at the plate and end the inning.
Jeff Reardon took over in the eighth and pitched two scoreless innings to record his 21st save, but it wouldn't have been the Red Sox without another frightening finish.
"We fought and scratched all year," said a jubilant Boddicker. "There is so much credit to be given to everybody. But I'd like to give some of it to the bullpen. Those guys have picked us up all year."
The Fenway crowd of 33,637, which helped the Red Sox set a club single-season attendance record (2,528,986), reflected the growing tension in the late innings, especially after the scoreboard showed that the Blue Jays had come back to take the lead in Baltimore. It built to a crescendo as Guillen laced Reardon's two-strike pitch into right field.
This time, there were seven mounted police to maintain order on the field, three more than the night before. Perhaps the Boston police figured seven was a luckier number. The Red Sox figured to need all the help they could get after blowing a 6 1/2 -game lead in September.
They apparently didn't want to leave anything to chance after the way they struggled at the plate the night before. So when Chicago starter Alex Fernandez started to self-destruct in the second inning, they jumped at the opportunity.
Fernandez gave up three straight hits to open the inning, and the White Sox defense complicated the situation with a string of fundamental lapses.
Greenwell led off with a double and scored on a single by Dwight Evans, who ended up at second when center fielder Lance Johnson overthrew a cutoff man. Brunansky followed with a base hit to right that turned into a triple when right fielder Sammy Sosa overran the ball and allowed it to roll to the fence.
The White Sox had Brunansky hung up between third and home on a blown squeeze bunt and bungled the rundown play to allow the third run of the inning to score. Fernandez's throwing error allowed Brunansky to cross the plate.
NOTES: Red Sox ace Roger Clemens bruised his pitching hand Tuesday night when he punched a clubhouse door. Clemens was upset because the club denied his request that the clubhouse be closed to the media for 30 minutes for a private celebration after the game in which the Sox clinched the division title. The team decided that 15 minutes of private celebration would be plenty. He apparently was not seriously injured.