Red Sox force Game 5, keep A's on hold, 5-4

Oakland loses 8th in row when on brink of ALCS

Division Series

October 06, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Everybody knows about the star-crossed history of the Boston Red Sox, but the Curse of the Bambino may have met its match.

The Oakland Athletics have been one game away from the American League Championship Series four years in a row, and that's exactly where they stayed through two heart-breaking games at Fenway Park.

The Red Sox rallied from a two-run deficit in the late innings yesterday to score a 5-4 victory that evened the Division Series at two games apiece and set up a climactic Game 5 showdown between 2002 Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito and three-time Cy Young winner Pedro Martinez tonight in Oakland.

Designated hitter David Ortiz, who had come into the game hitless in 13 playoff at-bats, lined a two-run double to right field off A's closer Keith Foulke in the eighth inning to put the Red Sox over the top.

Reliever Scott Williamson pitched two perfect innings of relief to register his second victory in less than 24 hours and send the raucous sellout crowd of 35,048 home to ponder the Pedro-related possibilities.

Could this finally be the year of the Red Sox, or are they being set up for another dramatic fall? "This ballclub, the fans of Boston, they just keep grinding all the way to the last out," said Red Sox manager Grady Little. "And we've had some players come through for us this year, day after day, and they continue to do that. We feel we have a chance. As long as we have a uniform on and they have a schedule for us telling us there is another game, we feel like we have a chance."

The A's certainly have to wonder what it's going to take to win a Division Series. They have lost eight straight times when they have been on the brink of winning the first playoff round, so the Red Sox don't exactly have the market cornered on negative karma.

"It's just a fact," said A's general manager Billy Beane, "that's all it is. We have the ability to change that fact. I don't think any of these guys were thinking about that when they went out there today."

Maybe not, but after Saturday night's strange defeat, the A's had to feel snakebitten when starter Tim Hudson strained a muscle in his side after pitching only one inning yesterday.

Knuckleballer Steve Sparks pitched admirably, and the A's scored three times in the sixth inning to take a 4-2 lead. Foulke, who has been their anchor all year, took over in the eighth with a one-run advantage, but gave up a one-out double to Nomar Garciaparra, a two-out hit to slumping Manny Ramirez and the game-winning hit to Ortiz.

"I think at some point, you have to look at the other side," said Beane. "Nomar hit a ball off the wall and Manny Ramirez had a big hit ... about $35 million in salary came through for the Red Sox. That's their job. Give some credit for someone's success instead of someone's failure."

Oakland manager Ken Macha gave his team a lot of credit, which is something he could not do after the A's thoroughly bungled Game 3 on Saturday night. This time, they hung tough after the Hudson setback and came within an inning of advancing to the ALCS against the New York Yankees.

Once again, however, they failed to make the most of several scoring opportunities against Sox starter John Burkett, generally considered the most vulnerable pitcher in the Boston playoff rotation. Burkett gave up four runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings, leaving after Jermaine Dye homered to put the A's up by two.

"Our guys played their rear ends off," Macha said. "It was a tremendous ballgame. They were tremendous. I can't see why we aren't going to come out and play a great game tomorrow."

Zito overpowered the Red Sox for seven innings in Game 2, but he will be coming back on three days' rest. Martinez threw a season-high 130 pitches in his Game 1 start, which is why Little chose not to pitch him in yesterday's game. That decision is looking pretty good right now.

"We're very aware of what's in front of us," Macha said. "Pedro is a great pitcher, and two Cy Young guys are going out there to pitch against each other."

Hudson, who suffered a strained oblique muscle on his last pitch of the first inning, didn't hedge his opinion of tonight's game.

"I'll take Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez every day," he said.

The A's probably would take their solid relief corps over the Red Sox's beleaguered bullpen every day, too, but the Sox proved that it doesn't always matter who's better on paper.

"I think that all of us understood what we were getting into," Williamson said. "I think all of us have done some little things to keep us at ease. I thought we've all done really good. Mike Timlin pitched a great three innings last night. I think the bullpen is really confident right now."

As is starting pitcher Burkett, when he speaks of Martinez pitching Game 5.

"We've got the best pitcher on the planet going," he said.

The Oakland Athletics have played eight AL Division Series games over the past four seasons in which a victory would have allowed them to move on to the ALCS. They have lost all eight.

Date Opponent Score Series

10/4/03 at Boston L, 3-1* 2-1

10/5/03 at Boston L, 5-4 2-2

10/5/02 at Minnesota L, 11-2 2-2

10/6/02 Minnesota L, 5-4 2-3

10/13/01 New York L, 1-0 2-1

10/14/01 New York L, 9-2 2-2

10/15/01 at New York L, 5-3 2-3

10/8/00 New York L, 7-5 2-3

*-11 innings

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