Fight to the finish
Following bench-clearing brawl, Red Sox battle it out to take dramatic win over Yankees
Almost a century ago, the Red Sox embraced a rally song, "Tessie," which the Dropkick Murphys yesterday performed at Fenway Park before the latest installment of the ancient blood rivalry between the Sox and Yankees. Last year, the Sox rallied to Kevin Millar's karaoke version of "Born in the USA."
This year? How about Chumbawamba's catchy inspirational, "Tubthumping," with the lyric, "I get knocked down . . ."?
The dust had barely settled from a benches-clearing melee triggered by a violent tussle between Sox stalwart Jason Varitek and Yankees star Alex Rodriguez when the tune burst through the public address system the next inning after a two-run single by Nomar Garciaparra.
"I get knocked down, but I get up again," the recording blared. "You're never going to keep me down."
The Sox were down, all right, way down, as they entered the game a monstrous 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Yankees. They were
down, 3-0, when Bronson Arroyo drilled A-Rod with a pitch, touching off a fracas that emptied both dugouts and bullpens. They were down again, 9-4, in the sixth inning. But they kept getting up again. And just when the Sox seemed about as far down as any playoff-bound team could tolerate, they got up for good when Bill Mueller jolted a walkoff, two-run homer off supercloser Mariano Rivera with one out in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Sox to an electrifying 11-10 victory before 34,501 in the Fens. The homer was only the second this season off Rivera, who had converted 23 straight save opportunities.
"You're never out of it if you continue to fight," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I hope we can look back at this day a while from now and say that this brought us together."
With the Sox trailing, 10-8, entering the bottom of the ninth against Rivera, Garciaparra ignited the winning rally with a leadoff double. A batter later, Kevin Millar knocked in Garciaparra with his fourth single of the day, clearing the way for Mueller to rock a 93-mile-per-hour cutter from Rivera into the Yankee bullpen.
"It was a classic," Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. "It had more intensity than most postseason games. This win and the way it happened should prove to be very important to us. It's hard to have a more meaningful regular-season victory. We've been kind of waiting to have this feeling all year."
By the time the 3-hour-54-minute thriller ended in the gathering dusk, the Sox had lost Varitek and Gabe Kapler to ejections for their roles in the third-inning brouhaha (Rodriguez and Kenny Lofton of the Yankees were tossed with them). Francona was heaved for protesting when Johnny Damon was called out on a close play at second base in the fifth inning. And Arroyo survived only until there were two outs in the sixth, as he surrendered eight runs (six earned) on 10 hits and the memorable hit batsman.
But the Sox, who demanded to play the game when the front office seemed inclined to postpone it because of soggy field conditions, may have gained a spark they have sought all season from the A-Rod Incident.
"I think that's the best thing that ever happened to us," said David Ortiz, who was one of the most active participants in the melee. "It's the start of something good."
The brawl erupted with two outs and the bases empty in the third when Arroyo plunked Rodriguez in the left arm with his first pitch after the Yankees seized a 3-0 lead. Arroyo said he merely was trying to pitch inside.
"I've got to get in," he said. "I don't have good enough stuff to stay on the outer half all day, especially with a team like this."
While Arroyo, who ranks second in the American League in hit batsmen (14), stared silently at him, Rodriguez spewed a stream of invectives toward the mound, with Varitek standing before A-Rod to block a possible move toward his pitcher.
"I was just trying to protect Bronson," Varitek said. "For protecting a teammate, I'll take whatever comes."
What came immediately was Rodriguez turning his verbal wrath on Varitek after the catcher brusquely advised to stop yapping at Arroyo and take first base. The two exchanged words -- plate umpire Bruce Froemming said they told each other to engage in unprintable acts with themselves -- before Varitek shoved Rodriguez backward. At that, the fight was on, and players raced from both dugouts to join the fray.
While both teams converged in a giant scrum around the principal antagonists, a sideshow developed as Yankees starter Tanyon Sturtze of Worcester grabbed Gabe Kapler in a headlock. Sturtze began to drag off Kapler, prompting Trot Nixon and Ortiz to rush to Kapler's defense, diving into a tussle on the ground near the Sox' on-deck circle.
When order was restored, Varitek, Kapler, Rodriguez, and Lofton were ejected, all to await word from the commissioner's discipline chief, Bob Watson.
"I was shocked to find out I was thrown out of the game," Kapler said. "I didn't get it, to be honest with you."
Froemming said, "We picked out the guys who were the most flagrant. There were other guys fighting, too, but we can't see everything."
Arroyo went unscathed, at least physically, while Sturtze, who was bleeding from his left ear after the brawl, lasted only one more inning before he left the game with a bruised right pinkie. X-rays on the finger were negative.
As for Arroyo, the Yankees touched him for two unearned runs in the second inning and mustered another in the third before the brawl erupted.
Then, as if Varitek had lit a fire under them, the Sox surged back. After Millar singled and Mueller doubled off the Wall to open the bottom of the third, they scored on ground outs by Mark Bellhorn and Damon, making it 3-2. Then Garciaparra capitalized on a walk to Ortiz and a double by Manny Ramirez as he rapped the two-run single to grab a 4-3 lead.
Arroyo ran into trouble, though, in the sixth when Enrique Wilson sneaked a single down the third base line and the Sox missed a solid chance to cut down Jorge Posada trying to stretch a single off the Monster into a double. Ramirez made a strong throw to second that reached the base in plenty of time, but the ball bounced untouched past Bellhorn, putting runners at second and third with no outs.
"He's usually perfect with his throws," Bellhorn said. "I should have made the play, but it was a little tougher hop."
The play was indicative of another sloppy defensive game for the Sox, who committed four errors, putting a bit of a damper on the triumph.
"It wasn't a work of art," Epstein said. "We still made some mistakes. We can't keep playing this type of defense and win."
After Posada reached, Hideki Matsui laced a two-run double down the right-field line, before Arroyo retired the next two batters. The inning would have been over had the Sox erased Posada. Instead, the inning continued, with Arroyo surrendering two more hits, including a run-scoring single to Miguel Cairo, before he yielded to Curtis Leskanic.
Tough break for the Sox because the weary Leskanic brought nothing but trouble to the mound. With the Sox trailing, 6-4, he coughed up three more runs on three walks and a two-run double to Wilson, creating a 9-4 mess.
"The last 10 days the bullpen has kind of tired," Leskanic said. "It's tough to go out there and try to spot the ball and you end up walking guys. For the offense to come back and pick up like that, it shows the character of this team. That might be the turning point."
The Sox started pulling themselves up immediately after Leskanic's woes. First, the Yankees sent 12 batters to the plate to score their six runs in the top of the sixth. Then the Sox batted 10 times in the bottom of the 1-hour-7-minute inning, scoring four runs on four hits and three walks. The Yankees used four pitchers in the inning before they escaped a bases-loaded predicament when Scott Proctor fanned Garciaparra on a 95-m.p.h. heater.
The Sox did little else until Garciaparra triggered the winning rally in the ninth, helping to give Derek Lowe a chance to win the rubber game of the series tonight.
"This is what we know we are capable of doing," Bellhorn said. "We've been kind of up and down all year. Hopefully, we can carry this emotion and momentum the rest of the season."