NEW YORK -- They were born just seven months apart, Manny Ramirez in the bustling Dominican capital of Santo Domingo, Pedro Martinez in the Manoguayabo neighborhood on the western edge of town. They each rose from humble beginnings to became fabulously successful, one by swinging a bat, the other by throwing a ball. But even now, after all they achieved in their parallel quests for glory, they still chase the same dream.
"The main goal for me before I leave this game," Ramirez said, "is to maybe get a ring."
Same for Martinez, which is why the Dominican superstars took special pride yesterday in leading the Red Sox to a 2-0 triumph over the Yankees in completing a crushing sweep of the defending American League champions before 55,338 in the Bronx. The three-game sweep was the first for the Sox over the Empire since Sept. 10-12, 1999, and it capped a rousing 10-day period in which the Sox won the first two series of a season against the Yankees for the first time since 1988.
"There's no doubt these are the people we've been behind," Martinez said through a team spokesman, "so it's nice to take advantage of these opportunities against them."
Ramirez helped to secure Boston's grip on first place in the AL East and widen the gap between the Sox and the Yankees in the division to 4 1/2 games by providing Martinez all the support he needed with a jolting, two-run homer off Javier Vazquez in the fourth inning of the series finale. Vazquez, who otherwise pitched brilliantly on just three days of rest, made the mistake of walking Mark Bellhorn leading off the inning and hanging a breaking ball to Ramirez.
Ramirez belted a memorable shot into the Sox bullpen for his 20th home run in the stadium, matching Rafael Palmeiro for the most by an active opposing player.
"I'm just lucky to have a lot of success here," he said.
Sure, and Pedro just got lucky, too? Not quite.
Martinez, who is seven months older than Ramirez, made his contribution in his first appearance in the Bronx since the devastating loss last October in the AL Championship Series. No blown leads this time. Instead, Martinez blanked the Yankees on four hits and a walk over seven innings before he handed off to Scott Williamson, who shined in the eighth and ninth for his first save of the season.
"I'm feeling better," said Martinez, who started slowly but suddenly is 3-1 with a 3.03 ERA. "I'm starting to get my groove."
Martinez, who fanned seven, allowed four runners to reach second or third base but clamped down each time in his signature fashion. He stranded Alex Rodriguez at second base by striking out Gary Sheffield to end the fourth inning. He left Jorge Posada at third and Ruben Sierra at second by getting his personal nemesis, Enrique Wilson, to pop out before he fanned Derek Jeter in the fifth. And after A-Rod doubled with one out in the sixth, Martinez induced Jason Giambi to ground out and Sheffield to foul out, as the Yankees went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
The Sox ace was so sharp that he retired the Yankees in order on seven pitches in the seventh inning, ending with a pitch count of 105. Manager Terry Francona said he would have allowed Martinez to go deeper in the inning, but there was no need. As Martinez left the field, Curt Schilling and Francona were the first to greet him in the dugout and congratulate him.
"I thought it took him a little while to really get sharp," Francona said, "but once he got going, man, it was impressive."
Motivation? Martinez hardly needed a return to the Bronx to inspire him. He does that plenty well on his own. And he has felt an extra push this season.
"Every start means a tremendous amount to that man," catcher Jason Varitek said. "Everybody's questioning him and worried about him, but you've got to believe in the man. He knows what to do. I believe in him and he believes in himself, so that's more than half the battle."
Martinez's teammates remain bemused by criticism of the ace.
"I laugh when people say he's losing it," Kevin Millar said. "This guy has three Cy Youngs. He knows his body. He knows how to pitch. That's why he's the best out there."
Williamson was pretty sharp himself. In fact, he was all but untouchable, as the Yankees failed to get a ball out of the infield against him as they went down in order in the eighth and ninth. Williamson filled in for Keith Foulke, who had thrown 30 pitches the day before and was one of several Sox players coping with upper respiratory problems.
A former closer for the Reds, Williamson said it felt good to return to the role, if only in a cameo. But he felt even better about the sweep.
"Obviously, if you can come into Yankee Stadium and sweep them in their own place," he said, "you definitely have done something."
Not that the Sox wanted to settle for less.
"A bunch of us rode the bus over today and we wouldn't have been happy unless we swept these guys," Johnny Damon said. "And that's exactly what happened."