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MICHAEL HOLLEY

Good things fall out of the sky

Not many people in New England will forget one of the best rainy days of the year. It was football weather on Sunday, with the Patriots and Giants sloshing around in the mud. The temperature was in the 50s, somebody somewhere had a fresh pot brewing, and the Red Sox were prevented from playing outside.

Remember the date: Oct. 12, 2003. It was a rainy day that tilted the American League Championship Series in favor of the Sox. If Sunday had been sunny and Game 4 had been played then, the Sox would have started John Burkett, currently at the back of their playoff rotation. When the rain cleared yesterday at Fenway Park, Tim Wakefield was the man assigned to beat the Yankees for the second time in the series. Not only did he do it, he did it with the flair of an ace.

Wakefield and the Sox won the game, 3-2, and now the ALCS reset button has been pushed. A strange series just got stranger. The Sox and Yankees are tied at two games apiece, and now Boston no longer talks as if getting the ball to Pedro Martinez again is the ultimate plan. Now they talk as if they have two aces. There is Pedro, the man who knows about being debated and discussed at playoff time. And there is Wakefield, the man who knows how it feels not to be picked for the playoff squad.

What we have just witnessed is a baseball remake of "48 Hours." After all the anger, accusations, and spin control of Saturday night, Sunday's rainout kind of felt like a work stoppage. Everything changed yesterday when the questions shifted to baseball, and Wakefield put on a throwback jersey from his dominant summer of 1995.

Yes, he was lucky at times last night. He didn't look good in the first. He gave up a leadoff walk to Alfonso Soriano, a second baseman who usually tells himself that walking is not the way he wants to go. He allowed a single to Derek Jeter. Jason Giambi was up next, and the designated hitter crushed a ball. Kevin Millar turned it into a double play.

"We had him on the ropes a couple times, and we couldn't get the hit that would put him on the ropes," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

He could have been talking about the Sox as well. If they had fallen behind three games to one, neither Wakefield nor Martinez would have been enough to save them. But that's irrelevant now. The League Championship Series is tied, and rainy days aren't the only weird things going on in the Fens.

Would you believe, for example, that Jason Varitek ran hard to first last night and disrupted a potential double-play ball in the seventh? Varitek stands 6 feet 2 inches and 230 pounds. He is a catcher, but no one is surprised when he reports that he was a linebacker in high school. "But I'm a lot faster now than I was then, if you can believe that," he said.

Sox manager Grady Little asked Varitek to pinch hit for Doug Mirabelli with the bases loaded in the seventh. He was in the bullpen at the time, so he had to run in from right field with his equipment in hand. He took a few swings, tried to figure out what Mike Mussina would be throwing "because he has eight pitches and I didn't know what I was going to get." Varitek wound up hitting a splitter to Jeter. The shortstop flipped it to Soriano for one out, and Soriano couldn't get it to first to beat the catcher/linebacker running down the line.

Millar scored on the play, providing the winning run.

But I'm not sure this has been said loudly enough: Jason Varitek sprinted down the line and disrupted a double play.

These are strange times in New England. Martinez is accused of inciting a baseball riot. He is charged by a 72-year-old man. Yankee pitchers are being investigated for allegedly assaulting a Fenway employee. The management of both teams continue to be skeptical of the other (the Yankees' president says the Sox have some lawlessness at home; the Sox' CEO says the Yankees need to have more complete information before they pass judgment). Rain has already postponed a game. And, for the Sox, a star pitcher has been born. Or reborn.

"You can talk about matchups and all the things on paper if you want," Millar said. "But the games are not played on paper. I don't care what the matchups say; that's all irrelevant."

The Sox are doing this despite a quiet ALCS from Nomar Garciaparra and a quiet postseason from batting champ Bill Mueller. They are two games from the World Series, even though the man who closed most of their games this season -- Byung Hyun Kim -- is not on the postseason roster.

You want to know what's really weird? If the game had been played Sunday, one of the visitors in the Sox clubhouse wouldn't have been able to make the game. Lawyer Milloy, the former Patriots safety, was hanging out with the team when the game was over. Sunday, Milloy was with his Buffalo Bills as they played the New York Jets. Tuesdays, though, are off days in the NFL. So Milloy could catch last night's game without worrying about heading to work in the morning.

"Did you see Lawyer?" asked Derek Lowe, today's starter. "I told him that he should come play baseball. In our game, they don't cut you when you become too good or too expensive. In our game, we ain't gonna cut you."

Lowe said that and laughed with his 4-year-old daughter in his arms. There wasn't a lot of laughter 48 hours earlier. But, in the previous 48 hours, a lot of people didn't have a good feeling about the series.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is holley@globe.com.

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