In a time-honored tradition, the Red Sox and Cleveland Indians staged an epic duel into the wee hours last night at Fenway Park.
The Indians won, 13-6, in 11 innings, and tied the American League Championship Series at one game apiece.
On a weekend when New England's unbeaten football teams inspire dreams of BCS title games and Super Bowls, the Red Sox reminded us that the World Series march comes first.
The game was billed as a pitcher's duel between Curt Schilling, one of the best postseason pitchers in history (9-2 lifetime), and Cleveland's 19-game winner, Fausto Carmona. Both were lifted before the end of the fifth.
Schilling, who hadn't pitched in the playoffs at Fenway since October 2004 when he was bleeding into his right sock, was bleeding base hits last night. He gave up nine hits (two homers) in 4 2/3 innings. It was the beat-down folks have feared since he lost his fastball and found a new way to pitch. The finesse game worked fine against the Angels a week ago, but the Indians were not fooled.
Carmona, meanwhile, was equally ineffective. The 23-year-old Dominican fell behind most batters, walking five and giving up four runs in four-plus innings. His bullpen provided little relief.
Former Sox Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Lonborg's toss came 40 years and one day after his start in the seventh game of the World Series against the Cardinals at Fenway Park.
The Indians bled Schilling for a run in the first on doubles by Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez. It looked like Boston might answer immediately, but Carmona got Manny Ramírez to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to end the first. The righty needed 21 pitches to get through the frame.
The Sox broke through with three runs off Carmona in a 39-pitch third inning. After David Ortiz bounced a single off the glove of the Cleveland ace (the record-tying 10th straight time Ortiz reached base in the postseason) Ramírez walked with the bases loaded for the third time in the series to push home the first run. When Mike Lowell blooped a single to right on a 1-2 pitch, the Sox led, 3-1.
Schilling gave the lead back a few minutes later, surrendering a three-run homer to Cleveland shortstop Jhonny Peralta in the fourth. Peralta's shot banged off the back wall of the triangle in center, the sixth hit in four innings against Boston's 40-year old righty. It was clear neither starter was going to be around at the finish.
When Sizemore made it 5-3 with a one-out solo homer in the fifth, Sox pitching coach John Farrell visited the mound. Schilling was allowed to stay in the game for a couple more hits, then gave way to Manny Delcarman, who got out of the inning.
Ramírez tied it, 5-5, with a two-run shot into the Red Sox bullpen on an 0-2 pitch from overmatched Indian rookie Rafael Perez in the fifth. It was Manny's third homer of this October, his 23d career postseason blast, a major league record. Lowell was next and he put the Sox ahead with a solo shot off the Sports Authority sign over the Monster Seats. There was bedlam at Fenway as Ramírez and Lowell each answered curtain calls.
Delcarmen was unable to hold the lead. The West Roxbury native walked Peralta to start the sixth. Peralta took third on a single and scored on a ground out to make it 6-6. Hideki Okajima came on, loaded the bases, and escaped when Travis Hafner lined to second. It was going to be a battle of bullpens and a test of wills.
The Red Sox, Indians, and sleep-deprived fans get tonight off. The series resumes tomorrow night at Jacobs Field in Cleveland.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.