This was the year. Manny Ramirez said so and everyone believed him, it seemed, even the oddmakers.
This was the year, the Sox maintained, even after they dropped the first two games of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees.
"We can change history," the message said on their clubhouse door. "Believe it."
Maybe only the Derek Lowes of the world recognized the inherent danger of buying into the October hype that the Sox would capture the franchise's first world championship in 86 years.
"Oddsmakers, schmoddsmakers," Lowe said on the eve of the series. "That means absolutely nothing."
So it was that Lowe, an uncharacteristic voice of reason whose days in Boston almost certainly are numbered, found himself carrying the franchise's imperiled hopes to the mound last night as the Sox trailed the Yankees, 3-0, in the best-of-seven series. Lowe knew the numbers as well as anyone: No team in baseball history had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, and 20 of the 25 teams that previously had seized a 3-0 lead swept Game 4.
But, wait. Make that 20 sweeps in 26 tries as the Sox staged a sensational come-from-behind victory, rallying from a 4-3 deficit in the ninth inning to force extras before David Ortiz struck a dramatic two-run homer in the 12th in a 6-4 thriller before a frenzied 34,826 at Fenway Park to save their season.
Ortiz went deep off the fifth Yankee pitcher, Paul Quantrill, after Ramirez singled leading off the inning.
Curtis Leskanic, who got the last out of the 11th with the bases loaded and held off the Yankees in the 12th, picked up the win.
"We're 3-1 right now, but you never know what can happen," said Ortiz. "We're going to continue trying to win. This is a team that never gives up. We've had a whole bunch of games coming behind like that."
After the longest game in ALCS history (5 hours, 2 minutes), baseball lives another day in Boston. No bubbly just yet for the Yankees in the musty little bandbox on Yawkey Way. Pedro Martinez goes in Game 5 tonight for the Sox in the Fens as he tries to send the series back to the Bronx with Curt Schilling poised to start Game 6.
Trailing, 4-3, in the ninth, Kevin Millar launched the ninth-inning rally to keep the Sox alive by drawing a leadoff walk off Rivera. He yielded to pinch runner Dave Roberts, who promptly stole second. One pitch later, Bill Mueller stunned Rivera for the second time this season, ripping a 93-mile-per-hour cutter up the middle to knock in Roberts, tie the score, and spoil Rivera's save opportunity (Mueller also clubbed a walkoff homer off Rivera in the July 24 classic at Fenway).
"Theres's not too many guys who can do that against Mariano," Leskanic said. "It was a huge lift for our ball club."
At that, Doug Mientkiewicz, pinch hitting for Mark Bellhorn, sacrificed Mueller to second before first baseman Tony Clark muffed a slow roller by Johnny Damon for an error, putting runners at the corners.
Rivera got a huge out by fanning Orlando Cabrera on three pitches, then walked Ramirez to load the bases. But Ortiz ended the threat by popping out to second, forcing extra innings.
The rally helped the Sox extend their last-gasp bid to spare themselves from spending the winter remembered as architects of one of the most stunning collapses in team history. They knew if their comeback bid failed the Sox brass would begin by the close of business today setting a course for 2005, a year likely of new faces and the same old dreams. Fifteen of the Sox, including franchise players Martinez and Jason Varitek, are eligible for free agency after the World Series.
The Sox needed Lowe at his best, and he turned out to be pretty darn good, allowing two runs on six hits before he was lifted for Mike Timlin with one out in the sixth inning and a runner on third with Boston leading, 3-2. Timlin was unable to hold the lead as the Yankees ended the sixth with a 4-3 lead, nine outs from capturing the pennant.
Keith Foulke stepped up, silencing the Yankees for 2 2/3 innings to help send the game into extras. Alan Embree pitched a scoreless 10th and handed off to Mike Myers with runners on first and second and two outs in the 11th. Myers walked Hideki Matsui to load the bases before Leskanic induced Bernie Williams to fly out. "It definitely gives us momentum," Foulke said. "This team doesn't get down. When we're in a hole, we don't give up. We're going to go out there and fight until there's no fight left."
Lowe pitched early in the game the way the Sox hoped he would, using his fastball aggressively on both sides of the plate and staying ahead of hitters. His only early breakdown came with two outs in third inning after Derek Jeter rifled a single off Mueller's glove at third. Lowe's next pitch was an 86-mile-per-hour fastball over the heart of the plate to Alex Rodriguez, who scorched it over the the Monster for a two-run shot and a 2-0 Yankee lead.
Other than a harmless, two-out single by Mueller in the second, the Sox were unable to apply any pressure against Yankees starter Orlando Hernandez until he walked Millar on four pitches leading off the fifth. Millar was forced out as Mueller reached on a fielder's choice. Then Mark Bellhorn, who was 1 for 13 in the series, kept things going by drawing a walk and moving Mueller to second.
Up came Damon, who slipped to 1 for 16 as he grounded to short for a fielder's choice, with Bellhorn forced at second and Mueller taking third with two outs. That left it to Cabrera, who delivered by shooting a fastball from Hernandez through the hole to right field, driving in Mueller to make it 2-1.
Cabrera's clutch hit put runners at first and second for Ramirez, who worked a walk to load the bases for Ortiz. Ortiz whistled a two-run single up the middle for Boston's second lead of the series, 3-2.
The first lead lasted only four pitches Saturday before Rodriguez homered off Bronson Arroyo to erase it. This time, Lowe retired the first batter in the sixth, Gary Sheffield, before Matsui lined a triple past Damon's reach in center. That prompted Francona to lift Lowe for Timlin, who surrendered a chopper to Williams that allowed Matsui to dash home with the tying run.
Moments later, Tony Clark hit a grounder just far enough to Bellhorn's left that it went off his glove. When Bellhorn fumbled the ball as he tried to recover, Clark had an RBI single to put the Yankees back on top, 4-3, setting the stage for the late heroics.
"Hopefully, we'll be known as the Cardiac Kids," said Damon. "Hopefully, we keep coming back."