"Cursed" Red Sox advance

Ramirez's 3-run homer caps 3-game comeback as A's fall short again, 4-3

Oakland leaves bases loaded

No world title since 1918, Sox meet Yanks in ALCS

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 hardly knew what to do with all that unexpected offensive support, but he managed to hold on long enough for the Red Sox to complete their amazing comeback and 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 traditional 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.

They 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 "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.

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 an apparent concusion, 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.

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 game one 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.

Martinez ran up his highest pitch count of the season (130) in Game 1, saving manager Grady 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.

He struck out three of the first four batters he faced and allowed just two hits through his first five innings of work in another tense pitching duel.

Zito was working on short rest after pitching brilliantly in Game 2 in Oakland.

The first nine Red Sox batters went down in order before leadoff man Damon broke through with an infield single in the fourth. He would steal second uncontested to get into scoring position with one out, but Zito got Todd Walker to fly out to left and struck out Ramirez to end the inning.

It was not a big series for the biggest hitters in either batting order. Ramirez and No. 5 hitter David "I'm not struggling' Ortiz were a combined 4-for-37 when Zito served up the belt-high fastball that Ramirez deposited over the left-field fence.

Oakland sluggers Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada were even less productive, entering the game with two hits in 37 at-bats and going 0-for-5 before Tejada delivered an RBI double to cut the deficit to two in the bottom of the sixth.

By necessity, much of the offensive excitement for both teams has been generated behind the heart of the order, and that's what it took for the A's to break through against Martinez in the fourth.

Chavez and Tejada went down quietly, but Scott Hatteberg drew a two-out walk and Jose Guillen - who owned the only A's hit to that point - hit a low-flying rocket to right-center to break the scoreless tie.

But it seemed as if every action by the A's during the final three games of the series was counterbalanced by an equal and opposite reaction. This time, Guillen tried to stretch his run-scoring double into a triple and got thrown out at third base for the second straight game.

The A's might have spent the past few days resting up for the Yankees if not for the strange series of brain locks that cost them two runs and allowed the Red Sox to get a free run on a botched rundown play.

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