BOSTON, Oct. 17 -- The loyalty of Boston Red Sox fans this season was never more tested than in the ninth inning of what appeared to be the deciding Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Sunday night.
With New York Yankees' closer Mariano Rivera on the mound and a one-run deficit, the beloved Red Sox were as good as done. New York would sweep away the Red Sox on the way to a 40th World Series appearance and fans would, for the 86th consecutive season, finish the year without a championship.
Red Sox fans, hardly rewarded for their faith, will know the Red Sox did not go out passively, beating the Yankees, 6-4, in 12 innings at Fenway Park in the longest game in ALCS history -- it lasted five hours two minutes. The Red Sox rallied against Rivera in the ninth, then scored the winning runs against Paul Quantrill in the 12th on a two-run home run by David Ortiz to extend this best-of-seven-series to a fifth game, Monday in Boston.
Pedro Martinez will start against Mike Mussina in Game 5, and Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said that Curt Schilling would start if there's a Game 6.
If the Red Sox season ends in the next few days, the obituary will say they fought hard to the end and a heroic 2 2/3 scoreless innings appearance by closer Keith Foulke on Sunday allowed them to save face. Foulke entered the game in the seventh and held the Yankees scoreless, allowing the comeback. Boston's bullpen, which had given up 13 earned runs in a humiliating, 19-8 loss on Saturday, gave up just one run in 6 2/3 innings on Sunday.
The ninth began with Rivera's walk to Kevin Millar. Pinch runner Dave Roberts stole second and then scored on a single by Bill Mueller to tie the game at 4. It was only Rivera's fourth blown save in the postseason.
A pitching duel between starters Derek Lowe and Orlando Hernandez had seemed unlikely. The two had combined to throw one inning in postseason play. Lowe hadn't started a game since Oct. 3 and had pitched only one inning of relief, in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
Entering the ALCS, Lowe had openly voiced a displeasure about his undefined role. An inconsistent season had sent him into the bullpen for the playoffs, but there was doubt as to when he could come into the game. He bristled on the bench in Game 1 when Curt Schilling exited the game after only three innings, yet Lowe was never asked to warm up to pitch in relief.
Hernandez faced a similar period of inactivity, though it was for a different reason. Hernandez, 8-2 with a 3.30 ERA in the regular season, was New York's best starter toward the end of the season but an exhausted shoulder forced him to miss the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins. Hernandez, a mid-season call up, last started on Oct. 1 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
If there had been an advantage to Hernandez's absence from the majors in the past year and a half, it was that Red Sox hitters seemed unprepared to face the 56 mph curveballs that slowly danced into Jorge Posada's glove. Hernandez had pitched only three innings against the Red Sox this season, not enough for Boston hitters to learn a pattern.
He held Boston to only one hit through the first four innings, but fatigue figured to be a factor in the middle innings. El Duque walked three batters in Boston's three-run fifth inning. Ortiz's single to center drove in two runs and gave the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. Hernandez labored through the inning, throwing his 95th pitch of the game on a pitch that struck out Jason Varitek for the third out. Hernandez exited after the fifth, and was followed by Tanyon Sturtze.
It perhaps would have pained an entire Red Sox Nation that one of their own, Sturtze -- from Worcester, Mass. -- almost helped end Boston's season. He provided two innings of spotless relief, handing the ball to Rivera in the eighth. With a Boston accent that drips like New England clam chowder, Sturtze not too long ago was one of those Boston fans who painfully sat in the stands at Fenway Park and watched another season end without luster.
Lowe had survived a two-run home run by Alex Rodriguez that had given New York a 2-0 lead. Lowe started the sixth with a one-run lead and ground out by Gary Sheffield. But Hideki Matsui followed with a triple to deep center field.
Immediately, Boston Manager Terry Francona, with Mike Timlin warming up in the bullpen, stepped out of the dugout to remove Lowe from the game. Almost instantly, Lowe directed a tantrum at his manager. He turned away as Francona approached the mound and began to head toward the dugout before the manager's arrival. The move was unpopular with the Fenway Park crowd, who jeered Francona as he returned to the dugout after the pitching change. Francona, playing the percentages , knew the following hitter, Bernie Williams, was only 3 for 21 against Timlin while he batted .353 against Lowe. Francona could hardly be blamed for how the Yankees regained the lead. Three infield hits scored two New York runs. As thousands of Red Sox fans know, in this rivalry the percentages never fall in Boston's favor. For at least one game they did.