In a series full of surprises, now this: The Boston Red Sox will play again.
"It didn't surprise us. We've been doing this all year," Darren Lewis said.
The Red Sox avoided being swept by the Cleveland Indians with a 9-3 win today, only their second victory in their last 20 playoff games. They did it without injured AL batting champion Nomar Garciaparra and with more bad news on Pedro Martinez's sprained back muscle.
They hit like Cleveland, baseball's highest scoring team since 1950, scoring six runs in the seventh inning to cut the Indians' lead in the best-of-five division series to 2-1.
"We won 94 games this year without Nomar for a while, without Pedro for a while," said Lou Merloni, Garciaparra's replacement at shortstop. "It's just a testament to the guys we have here."
The seventh-inning runs were produced by two players who have struggled at the plate--John Valentin with a tiebreaking, two-run double, and Brian Daubach with a three-run homer. Merloni singled in the final run.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the strong performance from Ramon Martinez, Pedro's older brother, who pitched his first major league game in nearly 15 months Sept. 2.
"He threw strikes," Cleveland Manager Mike Hargrove said. "He kept his team in the game."
The Red Sox beat a team that was thinking sweep after its 11-1 domination of Boston in Game 2 at Jacobs Field.
Now they'll play another game in Fenway Park Sunday with the odds still stacked against them. Bartolo Colon, dominant in Cleveland's 3-2 Game 1 victory, faces Kent Mercker, who was 2-0 in just five starts after being acquired from St. Louis Aug. 24.
"It's the biggest game I've ever pitched in," Mercker said.
Colon will pitch for the first time this season on three days' rest.
"Is he going tomorrow?" Cleveland's David Justice said. "I feel a lot better."
The Red Sox ended their postseason futility streak at home, winning for the first time in eight games since a victory in Game 5 of the 1986 World Series. Their 1-18 stretch began in the next game when Bill Buckner's infamous error gave New York a comeback win two days before the Mets won the World Series.
That's something Boston hasn't done since 1918, and Cleveland since 1948 when it beat another Boston team, the Braves.
The Red Sox' chances got a boost from the hitting problems of four Indians. Justice, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez and Sandy Alomar were a combined 0 for 35 in the series until Lofton singled in the seventh off winning pitcher Derek Lowe and scored the run that tied it at 3.
Dave Burba had allowed one hit before leaving after four innings with tightness under his right forearm and a 1-0 lead. He said the problem surfaced about two weeks ago.
"What frustrated me is that I felt I let my team down," Burba said, "I felt I let the air out of the balloon."
Losing pitcher Jaret Wright replaced him and the game began slipping away as he allowed two runs in the fifth and Valentin's go-ahead homer in the sixth.
He allowed the first two runners in the seventh to reach base--walking Merloni and hitting Jason Varitek. Ricardo Rincon came in to pitch.
Lewis's sacrifice bunt attempt turned into a forceout at third, and Trot Nixon struck out. But Jose Offerman walked, loading the bases. Then Valentin, 0 for 10 before his homer and whose throwing error allowed the tying run to score in the seventh, doubled.
"When you play this game, you try to be at an even keel all the time," Valentin said. "When you make a mistake, now it's time that I have to atone for that mistake."
Daubach, who tailed off sharply late in the season, then homered.
Garciaparra missed the game with a bruised right wrist suffered Sept. 25 when he was hit by a pitch by Baltimore's Al Reyes. Garciaparra, 2 for 6 with a homer in the first two games, sat out after swinging in the batting cage.
Pedro Martinez's health check didn't go much better. He left the opener with a sprained muscle under his right shoulder blade after four innings.
He threw for the first time since then before today's game but stopped after about one minute when he felt discomfort. He planned to try again Sunday with hopes of starting a possible fifth game Monday.