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Cursed to First

In an Epic Comeback, Boston Stuns N.Y. to Win AL Pennant: Red Sox 10, Yankees 3

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 21, 2004; Page D01

NEW YORK, Oct. 20 -- The Boston Red Sox were not supposed to win this American League Championship Series, and certainly the discarded Derek Lowe was not supposed to win the deciding game, and of course the biggest hits weren't supposed to come from the slumping Johnny Damon.

Somehow, despite their cursed history, it all happened. The Red Sox, in perhaps the greatest series comeback in sports history, stunned New York, 10-3, at Yankee Stadium in Game 7 of the ALCS to advance to their first World Series since 1986. Boston, which lost the first three games of the ALCS, has the opportunity to win its first championship since 1918. They will play either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Houston Astros, who play Thursday night in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

The Red Sox defeat the Yankees, 10-3, to advance to the World Series for the first time since 1986. Boston is the first team to come back after losing the first three games of a series. (AP)

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"We just wanted to win and move on," Boston Manager Terry Francona said. "The only we way we could move on was to do it the way we did. We know how good they are. We found a way to win the game we were playing."

The Red Sox had waited an entire year for this rematch simply to avenge what has been 85 years of frustration and a secondary status to their hated rivals. Now a World Series title is four wins away.

No baseball team down three games to none in a seven-game series had even forced a seventh game. Boston became only the third team in professional sports to win a seven-game series after losing the first three. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs and the 1975 New York Islanders are the others.

"We've always respected their ball club," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "The fact is that when they get on a roll they can do what they did to us. We certainly never took them for granted, even when we were up 3-0."

To win the series, the Red Sox made consecutive late-inning comebacks against Mariano Rivera, the greatest postseason reliever of all time, in Games 4 and 5, that ended on extra-inning hits by David Ortiz, the ALCS's most valuable player. Ace Curt Schilling, with a stitched right ankle, pitched them to a win in Game 6. Damon, who entered Game 7 batting .103, led the rout in the deciding game with two home runs, including a grand slam, and six RBI. Lowe, not even in the rotation to start the series, pitching on two days rest, threw six innings, allowing one hit and one run for the win.

"First of all it was a historic event," Lowe said. "I know [Boston fans] are going to appreciate it. I hope the city appreciates how hard it was. This was the best team in baseball for a lot of years."

The Yankees simply could not handle Lowe, who began the postseason in the bullpen. It seemed likely Lowe, a free agent in the off-season, would end his tumultuous stay in Boston without lending a hand in its playoff run. On Wednesday, he even outdid Schilling, who allowed one run on four hits in seven innings on Tuesday.

"We were trying to get innings out of 'D,' " Francona said. "He just pitched two days ago. But he was so special tonight."

A more distinct contrast in personalities could not exist between the starting pitchers, the affable Lowe and the inscrutable Kevin Brown. Prior the game Lowe sat in the visiting dugout and joked with reporters that perhaps there had never been a worse starting pitcher in a Game 7 than himself. He carried a nervous energy, unable to sit still for long. Brown simply grimaced, always austere.

Brown was ineffective immediately, allowing a two-run home run by Ortiz in the first inning. He loaded the bases in the second with a single and two walks. Torre quickly emerged from the dugout and removed Brown from the game. Brown slowly walked toward the dugout and was not met by any of his teammates. He simply walked alone quietly into the clubhouse.

The Yankees called on Javier Vazquez, their second significant pitching addition this offseason, who also failed in his first year in New York. With the bases loaded, Vazquez had little room to breathe. Vazquez's first pitch was sent over the right field fence by Damon for a grand slam. Boston had a 6-0 lead after two innings. Brown, who pitched just 1 1/3 innings, was responsible for five of the runs.

Vazquez pitched a scoreless third inning, but allowed Damon's two-run home run in the fourth. All three Boston home runs were on the first pitch. Vazquez was pulled after walking Ortiz later in the inning. The first two Yankees pitchers combined to allow eight runs, six hits, eight walks in just 3 1/3 innings. Vazquez followed similar path to the bullpen as Brown, a slow and lonely trip into the clubhouse.

A win by the Red Sox in this series would not have seemed so surprising had it not come such a historic and unlikely manner. Boston entered the ALCS as the favored team, but was quickly overmatched by the Yankees in the first three games. The middle of the New York lineup, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui, were a combined 24 for 40 (.600) with 22 RBI. Those capable bats fell silent, hitting just .151 (8 for 53) in the last four games. This ALCS will be remembered as much for New York's collapse as it will be about Boston's resurgence.

"We know this team has endured a long time trying to do something like this," Ortiz said. "I feel so happy we've accomplished some thing of this magnitude. I remember the first game in Boston there was a lot of sad people. I think that affected me. Those people always thought we had a team to win the World Series. Now we're here."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company