BOSTON - One more loss by the Boston Red Sox, one more failure to "Cowboy Up," and they'll be roped and dragged out of the 2003 postseason.
David Wells tied a pretty good knot yesterday.
The fourth starter in New York's vaunted rotation, Wells limited the Red Sox to a bases-empty home run by Manny Ramirez over seven innings before passing the lead to his closer, and Karim Garcia celebrated his return to the lineup with a two-run single, as the Yankees claimed a 4-2 victory at Fenway Park in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.
The Yankees won twice in Boston after the teams split two games in New York. The series resumes today at Yankee Stadium, with left-hander Andy Pettitte trying to make Red Sox Nation wait at least one more year for its first World Series championship since 1918.
A winner in Game 2 of the AL Division Series and ALCS, Pettitte also could give New York its sixth pennant since 1996.
Unless Boston manager Grady Little changes his mind, he'll send out John Burkett today rather than use Pedro Martinez or knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on short rest. Wakefield has won twice in the series, but he pitched Monday night and might be available only in relief.
"There's no quit in this club," catcher Jason Varitek said.
There is some desperation, though.
Pitching on eight days' rest, Wells improved to 10-2 lifetime in the postseason. He held the Red Sox to four hits, and retired the last seven batters he faced.
"You know, I live for this time," he said. "I get an opportunity to pitch in a big game, and I'm not afraid to take the ball. I live for being the guy to go out there and be on the mound, trying to make things happen, trying to shut the other team down, because I'm not afraid to fail."
Or to stir up the clubhouse. Wells angered some Yankees with the spring release of his book, which contained inflammatory comments about a few teammates. But he went 15-7 in the regular season and is 2-0 in the playoffs, allowing only two runs in 14 2/3 innings.
"We all love him today," said Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, a Yankees consultant. "He's the big man in New York."
A series marred by its Game 3 violence has turned nice on the Yankees.
They scored three runs in the second inning off Derek Lowe, the first two coming on a single by Garcia, whose only notice before yesterday involved a fastball by Pedro Martinez that hit his back, and a cut left hand from a bullpen skirmish. Alfonso Soriano singled to increase New York's lead to 3-0.
David Dellucci was written into the Yankees' original lineup after reaching base twice and scoring a run in Game 4. But Garcia replaced him after batting practice, making his first appearance since Saturday's fiasco.
"His eyes lit up when I said, `You're playing tonight,'" manager Joe Torre said. "He thanked me, actually."
Said Garcia: "I had to impress Mr. Torre that I could swing the bat. When he saw me hit, he changed his mind."
The crowd booed him at the plate and jeered him in right field, putting Garcia in select company in this storied rivalry.
"I really tried to ignore the fans as much as I could," he said. "I'm a professional and all I have to do is play baseball. They can say whatever they would like."
Garcia convinced the Yankees he was healthy and not distracted by the legal issues related to the fight, which also involved reliever Jeff Nelson and groundskeeper Paul Williams. Boston police are continuing their investigation and haven't decided whether to file charges against the two players.
"Whatever happened the other night, the altercation, in my eyes, it's over and done with," Wells said. "We have to move on."
The Red Sox are trying to do the same in the postseason, but they're one loss away from stalling.
Their most significant achievement yesterday was scoring a run off closer Mariano Rivera in the eighth, the first he has allowed since Aug. 20. Nomar Garciaparra delivered it with a groundout for his only postseason RBI.
"We know we've got our work cut out for us and we'll go do the best we can," said Little, whose team won three straight against the Oakland Athletics to advance to the ALCS. "These guys have been enjoyable to watch all season long. We had our backs to the wall in the last series, and we've got it here again."
They won't move forward with so many players slumping. The Red Sox led the league in hitting during the regular season, but Garciaparra is batting .105, Bill Mueller .118, Kevin Millar .158, and David Ortiz .188 in this series. They've combined for four RBIs, and Ortiz has the only homer.
"You want to get this thing over with," Jackson said, "before somebody catches fire."
The Red Sox put two runners into scoring position with one out in the third, but Trot Nixon held at third base on Todd Walker's shallow fly to left field, and Garciaparra struck out with the count full.
Garciaparra is 8-for-39 in the postseason, but the slump didn't creep up on him. He hit .170 in September.
"These guys are professional hitters and the clock is ticking on us right now," Little said. "We'll just wait it out another day and see if they can't get it going because we're going to need everybody to contribute for us to get this done."
If it doesn't happen immediately, the Red Sox will be home again when another World Series is played.
"Anyone who thinks we're done," said general manager Theo Epstein, "doesn't know us very well."
New York 4, Boston 2 (New York leads series 3-2)
Boston (Burkett 12-9, 5.20) at N.Y. (Pettitte 23-8, 3.89), 4:18 p.m., chs. 45, 5