BOSTON, OCT. 4 -- Author Stephen King was among the patrons at Fenway Park Wednesday night, as he often is throughout the baseball season. The Boston Red Sox, after all, are quite an inspiration for horrific tales.

And, indeed, another chilling twist seemed about to beset the Red Sox Wednesday as they battled their burdensome past, the distant Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox all at once. The witching hour was on its way to a slightly early arrival when, at 10:36 p.m., much of New England gasped and braced for another excruciating, tormenting baseball failing.

The Red Sox were one strike from clinching the American League East title, but the crack of Ozzie Guillen's bat turned Fenway's roars of expectant glee into shudders of pending doom. The White Sox' shortstop had beaten the Red Sox with an 11th-inning single the night before, and -- with two Chicago runners aboard in a game the White Sox trailed, 3-1, in the ninth inning -- this solidly struck line drive toward the right field corner threatened to deal Boston's playoff chances a potential death blow.

Guillen said later that he thought he had at least a game-tying double -- and perhaps a go-ahead home run. Pinch runner Rodney McCray lowered his head as he took off from first base, intent upon scoring.

"I wasn't worrying about it being caught," McCray said. "There was no chance of that in my mind. I just wanted to make sure I scored when the ball fell in."

Tom Brunansky saw matters unfolding otherwise. The Boston right fielder already had been the centerpiece of the Red Sox' push toward the East Division title the season's last week, and he insisted as everyone crowed around his locker into the early-morning hours of today that he knew all along he'd catch the ball.

He raced toward the foul line, seemingly on his way at the instant of impact between bat and ball. He dived kamikaze-style as he reached the warning track, and a final lunge even as he slid across the ground allowed him to catch the ball.

"That's what no one noticed," he said. "I had to squirm a little bit on the dirt and get my arm out a little farther. I'll probably need shoulder surgery for that one. It'd be worth it, though."

The play prompted immediate bedlam in Fenway. Guillen stood between first and second base and looked toward right field disbelievingly. The Red Sox rushed the field in celebration, and a few fans managed to break through the line of mounted police to join them.

In Baltimore, the second-place Blue Jays looked toward Memorial Stadium's Diamond Vision screen and saw their season collapse. Like many onlookers here, Toronto's players wondered whether Brunansky had dropped the ball, for he jumped up immediately afterward and pursued something a few feet from him.

It was only his dislodged cap that he was after. By Brunansky's account, first-base umpire Tim McClelland ran toward him, wanting to see the ball. "The way I was running and chasing after my hat, maybe he thought it had popped out of my glove," Brunansky said.

"But I was yelling, 'Timmy, I've got the ball. I've got the ball!' " He wanted to see it, so I just gave it to him."

McClelland later noticed that the memento had been unceremoniously discarded in a laundry basket in the umpires' dressing room. So he took the ball to Boston's raucous postgame clubhouse and returned it to Brunansky. "This is a keeper, all right," Brunansky said.

So too is 1990 for the Red Sox. In 72 years of championship-free baseball and numerous late-season collapses, rarely have they been called overachievers. Yet that's what they were this season.

They couldn't hit homers or steal bases, so they couldn't score many runs. They had to rely on the less-than-accomplished trio of Tom Bolton, Dana Kiecker and Greg Harris for three-fifths of their starting rotation. Their bullpen was suspect, and dubiously timed injuries plagued them all year.

But they persevered and prospered, partly because the AL East was so forgiving (Boston finished 88-74, two games ahead of Toronto) -- but also because their resolve never was extinguished.