NEW YORK -- Sunday night the Red Sox were three outs from being swept from the playoffs by the hated Yankees. They had lost a playoff game at Fenway Park by the humiliating score of 19-8 Saturday night and some members of their loyal Nation felt betrayed and abandoned.
That was just a few long days, sleepless nights, and extra innings ago. But now the 2004 Boston Red Sox -- the wildest of wild-card entries -- are just one victory from hardball heaven and the greatest baseball comeback story ever told.
Led by Curt Schilling's seven innings of four-hit pitching and Mark Bellhorn's three-run homer, the Red Sox beat the Yankees again last night, 4-2, to square their American League Championship Series at 3-3. Tonight at Yankee Stadium they will attempt to conquer the Evil Empire on enemy soil. They will try to become the first team in big league annals to recover from a 3-0 deficit, busting ghosts that have haunted them in this venerable baseball theater for more than three-quarters of a century.
In that spirit, Derek Lowe is tentatively scheduled to get the start for Boston. With the Red Sox it's always about redemption and history, and with the exception of Tim Wakefield (who also could get the ball), no Sox pitcher embodies both elements more than Lowe. Yankees manager Joe Torre said he had both elements more than Wakefield.
It would be fitting, almost fictitious, if it came down to yet another seventh game (could we have a Game of the Century two years in a row?) after all that has happened in the last 12 months, not to mention the 100 years of bare-knuckle brawls and front-office squalls that preceded last October's stunning Yankee comeback against Boston.
The Sox responded to their awful 2003 autumn in New York by trading for Schilling during Thanksgiving break. At his introductory press conference, Schilling said, "I guess I hate the Yankees now," and when he arrived in Fort Myers he'd already circled an April date on which he figured would be his first regular season start against the Yankees. Then he did a car ad in which he said he was going to Boston to "break an 86-year-old curse."
Everything went according to plan. Schilling won 21 games, more than anyone in baseball. He won his only start in the first round against the Angels. But then he was routed for six runs in three innings in Game 1 against the Yankees, and the Sox announced that he needed surgery to repair a dislocated tendon in his right ankle.
The Red Sox and Schilling were done, it seemed. More buzzard luck for Boston.
But then the fearless Franconamen rallied late in Games 4 and 5, winning both in extra innings on hits by Senor October, David Ortiz. They were perhaps the two most spectacular back-to-back postseason games in baseball history and put the Sox back in contention. Meanwhile, Schilling tried a couple of bullpen sessions with a specially fitted shoe and announced that he was ready to pitch Game 6.
And he did. And he was spectacular.
The big righty sent a message to all of the Yankees in the first inning. With one out and nobody aboard, Schilling threw a pitch that zipped past the handsome head of Alex Rodriguez, subject of so much offseason haggling involving these ancient rivals. It was a two-seamer telegram. There would be no 19 runs, no 22 hits for the Yankees in this game. No more swinging from the heels without fear of consequence. New sheriff on the mound. All that.
Schilling retired the first eight Yankees he faced. Miguel Cairo broke up the streak with a two-out, ground-rule double to left-center in the third but Schilling got Derek Jeter on an easy fly ball.
His teammates got him all the runs he needed in the next innings. Kevin Millar hit a two-out double to left, took third on a wild pitch, then scored when Jason Varitek cracked a single to center on a 3-and-2 pitch after fouling off several two-strike pitches.
Orlando Cabrera also single, and second baseman Mark Bellhorn, a goat for much of the series, followed with an opposite-field three-run homer to left off Jon Lieber. Bellhorn initially was stooped at second because left field umpire Jim Joyce didn't see the ball bounce off the tummy of a fan in the front row. After Francona protested and the umps convened, Bellhorn was told to complete his tour of the bases, and the Sox led, 4-0.
Schilling gave up a couple of hits to start the fourth, but retired Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, and Jorge Posada without allowing a ball out of the infield. He got the side in order in the fifth, notching a pair of strikeouts.
The Sox ace had retired 10 consecutive batters when Williams finally broke up the shutout, driving a 3-and-1 pitch into the upper deck in right with one out and nobody aboard in the seventh. Schilling retired the next two batters and went to the bench. He was done. He threw 99 pitches, 67 for strikes, and issued no walks.
Bronson Arroyo came on to pitch the eighth and gave up a quick run on a double by Cairo and an RBI single by Jeter. A bizarre play followed when Rodriguez bounced a ball between first and the mound. Arroyo fielded it and went to make the tag, but A-Rod slapped the ball out of the pitcher's hand. As the first base umpire gave the safe sign, the ball rolled down the left-field line, and Jeter circled the bases.
After another Francona protest, the umpires convened again, and again the ruling went in Boston's favor. Rodriguez was ruled out on interference, and Jeter was returned to first base. Arroyo then got Sheffield to pop to Varitek to end the crazy eighth.