Red Sox knuckle down

Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2003

BOSTON No fists, just knucklers.

Tim Wakefield and the Boston Red Sox won this duel with a baffling pitch that floated and fluttered past the New York Yankees in a 3-2 win Monday night that knotted the AL championship series at two games apiece.

Todd Walker and Trot Nixon hit solo homers for Boston's struggling offense, and pinch-hitter Jason Varitek had a key RBI grounder in the seventh, speeding to first to just avoid an inning-ending double play.

Most significantly, there were no more fights between the old foes.

''I think it was kind of good to let everybody calm down,'' Nixon said. ''I think we all disrespected the game the other night.''

After a one-day break caused by a rainout, there was none of the brawling that marred Game 3 on Saturday. Relying on baseball's most mysterious pitch, Wakefield beat Mike Mussina for the second time in the series, which now must return to Yankee Stadium later this week.

''Being rained out yesterday got everybody cooled down,'' Wakefield said.

Until the ninth, New York's only run came home on Derek Jeter's fifth-inning double that hit third base. But after Scott Williamson struck out Nick Johnson leading off the ninth, pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra closed New York within a run with a homer, ending a streak of 19 1-3 shutout innings for Boston's much-maligned bullpen.

Williamson, who had relieved Mike Timlin to start the inning, then struck out David Dellucci and Alfonso Soriano to earn the save.

''It was nice to have a nice clean game for baseball fans,'' Varitek said.

The series continues at Fenway Park on Tuesday, originally a travel day. David Wells pitches for New York against Derek Lowe in Game 5.

After Sunday's rainout, fans had a festive time on the warm autumn night, booing Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who screamed Saturday at Pedro Martinez after the Boston pitcher hit Karim Garcia with a pitch. Posada went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, leaving seven runners on base.

They also chanted ''We want Nelson,'' a reference to New York reliever Jeff Nelson, involved in Saturday's ninth-inning bullpen scuffle. Nelson entered to boos in the eighth just after Felix Heredia hit Walker in the shoulder. There was no hint of trouble on this one Walker went directly to first base and said he wasn't upset.

Still, there was at least one dispute but even then, it was resolved quickly and civilly.

After Nelson's first pitch, Boston manager Grady Little came out to talk to the umpires, who then checked the pitcher's belt and glove. But they didn't find anything against the rules.

''We had some indication that we saw a little something out there,'' Little said. ''We didn't know.''

Nelson didn't mind, saying it probably was in retaliation for New York asking umpires to check Timlin in the opener.

''His ball moves a lot, my ball moves a lot. It didn't bother me,'' Nelson said.

There was extra security in the Yankees bullpen following the Game 3 fight that involved a member of Boston's grounds crew. There was a police officer stationed there from the start of the game Monday and no grounds crew personnel.

But the focus in this one was on the starters. Wakefield improved to 4-0 in LCS play he went 2-0 for Pittsburgh in 1992 against Atlanta. His eight strikeouts matched his season high, and he allowed just five hits.

''I think it had a little more depth tonight,'' Wakefield said. ''It was moving quite a bit in New York, but it didn't have as much depth as it did today.''

While the Yankees had runners in four of the first five innings, Wakefield pitched out of trouble, holding New York to 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving the bases loaded in the fifth, when Posada ended the inning with a flyout. Wakefield then struck out the side in the sixth and retired the side in the seventh on four pitches.

''He's very unpredictable,'' Posada said. ''It's a pitch that he never knows what it's going to do. The catcher doesn't know what it's going to do.''

While Boston's staff has been led by Martinez in recent years, Wakefield has taken the lead against New York.

''Outstanding,'' Martinez said. ''He's our ace right now.''

Wakefield threw 11 of 20 pitches for balls in the first. After Soriano walked leading off and Jeter singled, Jason Giambi hit a scorcher to first that was caught by Kevin Millar, who doubled up Jeter. After a walk to Bernie Williams, Posada took a called third strike.

''I got lucky enough that Kevin Millar was standing on the right spot,'' Wakefield said.

Boston's offense, which led the major leagues during the regular season, has not scored more than five runs in any postseason game. But the Red Sox made due with Walker's homer leading off the fourth, Nixon's starting the fifth and Varitek's RBI in the seventh.

Walker's homer was his fifth of the season, a record for Boston players.

''I'm more focused now than I've ever been in my life because you're battling every at-bat, and more specifically, every pitch,'' Walker said.

Varitek just 2-for-36 against Mussina didn't hit the ball as far, but his run made the difference. With one out in the seventh and the bases loaded following an intentional walk to Bill Mueller, he grounded to Jeter, who made a nice pickup at shortstop. Jeter threw to Soriano for the force, but Varitek just legged it out.

''I thought that was the most important play of the game,'' Little said.

Mussina has allowed five homers in the two starts against Boston, is 0-3 in this year's playoffs and is winless in his last six postseason starts. He looked frustrated after the game.

''I can only control 60 feet, 6 inches,'' he said, staring down. ''That's it. I'm doing my job the best I can. Other stuff has to be attended to by other people, not me.''

Notes: Singer Michael Bolton had a long pause during the national anthem when he apparently lost his place after ''ramparts we watched.'' He resumed, and the fans sang the last few lines with him. When he concluded, some fans booed. ... Nomar Garciaparra and John Valentin each hit four homers for the Red Sox in 1999.

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