AL all square

Posted: Friday, October 10, 2003

NEW YORK Andy Pettitte and Nick Johnson showed the Boston Red Sox the grit that makes the New York Yankees so tough in October.

Pettitte fought off early struggles to hold down Boston's bashing batters, and the slumping Johnson hit a go-ahead, two-run homer that powered New York to a 6-2 victory Thursday night and tied the AL championship series.

Seven of Boston's first nine batters reached base, but the Red Sox failed to score after loading the bases in the first and got only one run in the opening two innings despite having six hits.

''It really was a struggle for me all night,'' Pettitte said. ''I had to make a lot of big pitches tonight. I was very fortunate tonight to get through the first two innings.''

New York, coming off a 5-2 loss in the opener, went ahead on Johnson's two-run homer in the second off Derek Lowe and opened a 4-1 lead by the fifth.

Pettitte made it stand up, tying Tom Glavine for second on the all-time list with his 12th postseason win, one behind John Smoltz.

''He really came up big when they were on the bases and made some tough pitches when he was behind in the count,'' said Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who added a two-run double in the seventh off Scott Sauerbeck.

Jose Contreras pitched 1 1-3 innings and Mariano Rivera got the final three outs, combining with Pettitte to hold the Red Sox to four hits over the final seven innings.

''The game was determined in the first two innings,'' Boston manager Grady Little said. ''He got into a rhythm, and the rest was history.''

The best-of-seven series resumes Saturday in Fenway Park, where former Red Sox great Roger Clemens pitches in Boston for the final time, opposed by current Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez.

Yankee Stadium fans serenaded Boston with chants of ''We want Pedro'' and ''1918'' during the ninth, a reminder of how long it's been since the Red Sox last won the World Series.

Pettitte has often been the Yankees' October savior, called on to pick up his team when their postseason push was on the verge of spinning out of control. After New York lost the first-round opener to Minnesota, the 31-year-old left-hander pitched them to victory in Game 2, starting a run of three straight wins that put the Yankees back in the ALCS after a one-year absence.

He struggled mightily at the start against Boston, falling behind in the count to five of his first six batters. Gabe Kapler singled leading off but was caught stealing by Posada as Bill Mueller struck out. Boston then loaded the bases on singles by Nomar Garciappara and Manny Ramirez (his fifth straight hit), and a walk to David Ortiz. But Pettitte got out of trouble when Kevin Millar popped out.

Jason Varitek doubled leading off the second, and scored on singles by Trot Nixon and Damian Jackson. Then, after pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre visited the mound, Kapler bounced into a double play and Mueller grounded out. That started a run in which Pettitte retired 10 of 11 batters, challenging and beating the best offense in the major leagues with high fastballs and cutters that moved across the outside corner.

Pettitte, starting on six days' rest, came out after 118 pitches, allowing two runs and nine hits over 6 2-3 innings.

''After those first two innings, I didn't even want to ask Mel what his pitch count was,'' Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Contreras relieved with a runner on first and got Garciaparra to pop out on his first pitch. When Boston lost out to the Yankees in the bidding for Contreras in December, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino called New York the ''Evil Empire,'' causing a new round of Northeast sniping between the rivals.

Johnson, meanwhile, woke up a New York offense that was flustered a night earlier by Tim Wakefield's knuckleballs. After Posada walked leading off the second and Hideki Matsui hit into a forceout, Johnson hit a long drive over the right-field wall.

''He's got a great sinker,'' Johnson said. ''I was looking for a pitch down the middle, I got a little cutter and put a swing on it.''

Johnson had been in a 1-for-33 slump dating to the regular season, which included a 1-for-16 (.063) skid in the playoffs. He also had been 2-for-14 against Lowe, whose relief performance at Oakland on Monday night preserved a lead and got Boston to the ALCS.

Bernie Williams had an RBI single for the Yankees in the third, then hit a double in the fifth and scored on a single by Matsui for a 4-1 lead. Varitek hit a solo homer for Boston in the sixth.

Notes: There were four marriage proposals announced on the scoreboard and public-address system in the middle of the fifth inning. ... Varitek's homer was his fifth in the postseason, including his third this year. ... Jackson started at second in place of Todd Walker to improve defense, and dropped a liner by Posada in the third, loading the bases with one out. But Lowe got out of the jam without allowing more runs. ... Boston CF Johnny Damon, still sidelined by a concussion sustained Monday, hopes to return Saturday.

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