Red Sox put curse on A's, 4-3

Ramirez's 3-run homer, clutch pitching finish off Boston's 3-game comeback

A's 0-for-9 with ALCS on line

Lowe strands 3 in 9th

Sox eye first title since 1918

Baseball Playoffs

October 07, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - It is way too early to declare an end to the Curse of the Bambino, but the Boston Red Sox took a big step in that direction with last night's 4-3 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the climactic fifth game of the last remaining Division Series.

They had been so far down after Game 2 that it was hard to imagine them getting up again, but the Red Sox battled from behind in each of the next three games to advance into a dream matchup against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Apparently, they were just getting warmed up.

Slumping slugger Manny Ramirez busted out at just the right moment, launching a tie-breaking three-run homer off A's starter Barry Zito for his first extra-base hit of the postseason. Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez carried a workmanlike performance into the eighth inning, and the bullpen held on for dear life in the ninth to hand the A's another ugly October surprise.

If anyone is still counting, the A's have had nine opportunities to win a clinching game in the Division Series since 2000. They are now 0-9 in those games.

The Red Sox gave themselves a champagne shower and partied like it was 1999, the year they fell behind 0-2 to the Cleveland Indians and also battled back to win the Division Series.

"It feels pretty good," said Red Sox manager Grady Little. "We left here the other day down 2-0, but we were able to win a couple games at home and win this. It was an outstanding series."

The Red Sox still haven't won a world title since 1918, but they displayed the kind of resiliency it will take to survive a best-of-seven showdown against the rival Yankees.

Even the beleaguered bullpen held things together, though Scott Williamson and emergency reliever Derek Lowe made the Red Sox Nation sweat bullets in a scary ninth that had "The Curse" written all over it.

Williamson walked the first two batters he faced, and Lowe would keep the suspense running high by walking Chris Singleton to load the bases with two outs, but he struck out pinch hitter Terence Long looking to register a potentially historic save.

"The guys we put out there on the mound did a good job for us," Little said. "We even had some guys who don't normally pitch in that role come through, like Derek Lowe did tonight."

Still, it all came back to Martinez and Ramirez, the two most dynamic players on the Red Sox roster.

Martinez pitched into the eighth inning and gave up three runs on seven hits in a gutsy performance that improved his career postseason record to 4-0.

He had run up his highest pitch count of the season (130) in Game 1, saving Little from the temptation to throw him out there for Game 4 on Sunday at Fenway Park. Nobody wants to lose a playoff series with someone as dominant as Martinez waiting in the wings - just ask Jason Schmidt and the San Francisco Giants - but Little made the prudent decision and could look himself in the mirror regardless of the outcome after a fresher Martinez took the mound on four days' rest last night.

Ramirez came into the game with just three singles in 16 postseason at-bats, but Zito threw him one high fastball too many and he drove the Red Sox all the way to New York. He admired the high drive for a moment, then pointed into the Red Sox dugout and took a jubilant spin around the bases.

"I had been swinging the bat pretty good," he said. "I had a lot of confidence in myself. I was looking in at the whole team. I had told them, `You'll see, he'll make a mistake and I'll be waiting.'"

Now, for the bad news. The victory came at a cost that could make it difficult to match up against the perennial American League East champions.

Center fielder Johnny Damon had to be removed from the field in an ambulance after a frightening head-to-head collision with infielder Damian Jackson in the seventh inning.

Damon was knocked unconscious and suffered a "significant concussion," Red Sox team doctor William Morgan said, but he was awake and he was able to raise his arm to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd as he was moved into the ambulance on a stretcher. He was taken to nearby Highland Hospital, where X-rays showed no neck damage, Morgan said.

The Red Sox also could be at a pitching disadvantage, since they have expended Martinez in two stressful starts and may have to go with knuckleballer Tim Wakefield in the ALCS opener.

No one was complaining last night. The Red Sox were still standing after a strange series in which the heart of their vaunted batting order only made a couple of cameo appearances.

So much for the notion that they had to win Game 1 behind Martinez to advance to the second round. They lost the opener and were dominated by Zito in Game 2, but a strange sequence of events brought Martinez and Zito together last night for the final showdown.

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