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RED SOX 3, YANKEES 2

Even money

Wakefield deposits a win in the bank as Sox tie series

There was no letup in tension between the Red Sox and Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series last night, merely an absence of the histrionics over the weekend that had created an embarrassing hiccup in this storied rivalry.

And as Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield demonstrated again, there is a way to throw a purpose pitch other than planting it in the back of an opposing hitter.

With the Sox in desperation mode as they attempted to keep the Yankees from moving within a game of winning their 39th AL pennant and fifth in seven seasons, Wakefield's soft tosses had the Yankees unhinged at the plate, while the Red Sox -- loosened up before the game by comedian Bill Cosby -- maintained an emotional equilibrium light-years removed from Saturday's Game 3 hoohah.

Sox closer Scott Williamson gave a sellout crowd of 34,599 palpitations when Yankee pinch hitter Ruben Sierra homered over the visitors' bullpen with one out in the ninth, the first run allowed by the Sox pen in this series. But Williamson, who credits a heart-to-heart talk with Nomar Garciaparra in Oakland for restoring his confidence, struck out David Dellucci and Alfonso Soriano to preserve a 3-2 Sox win that evened this best-of-seven series at two games apiece.

"We've got a lot of heart and strength in this clubhouse, despite what might be said," said Sox second baseman Todd Walker, who with Trot Nixon hit bases-empty home runs off loser Mike Mussina, taken deep five times in two losses this series.

"I'm telling you," said Walker, who has more home runs in one postseason (five) than any Sox hitter in history, "we're not going to give up. If people don't see that, I don't know what to say. Just like after losing the first two in Oakland, everybody was loose and confident about what we were going to do."

A bit of history suggests the series could swing in Boston's favor: The Yankees had won five straight one-run decisions in LCS play, their last loss coming in Game 2 of the 1980 ALCS against Kansas City. Since the start of the '98 postseason, they are 17-4 in one-run games. Their previous three one-run defeats came in series they lost, the last being the 2001 World Series against Arizona.

Soriano's failure to make what would have been an inning-ending double-play relay with the same amount of urgency that Jason Varitek ran down the line to beat the second baseman's throw allowed Kevin Millar to score what proved to be the deciding run in the seventh, when the Sox took a 3-1 lead.

Varitek didn't start for two reasons: Doug Mirabelli is Wakefield's regular catcher, and because he was 2 for 36 lifetime against Mussina. But after the Sox loaded the bases on a walk to Millar, Nixon's Wall double (his third hit of the game), and an intentional walk to Bill Mueller, Varitek came sprinting in from the bullpen.   Continued...

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