Few people outside of New England believed Boston had a chance tonight against the New York Yankees with what appeared to be a pitching mismatch in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. The Yankees trotted out their most dependable starter, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, but Kent Mercker got the call for the Red Sox by default--no other starting pitcher was rested enough to pitch.
And yet the Red Sox nursed a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh. It looked as if they could win when few thought they could, even on a night when Hernandez got stronger and stronger over eight innings. A big chance to win against their best in their house. But then disaster struck--for the first time.
It would strike again.
Boston's chances began slipping away when catcher Jason Varitek dropped a throw from the outfield, giving the Yankees the tying run in a 3-3 game. Scott Brosius looked to be a sure out on the strong throw from right fielder Trot Nixon, but Varitek inexplicably missed the ball.
Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams said after the game that Varitek told him the ball took a bad hop--but in front of his locker a sad Varitek said it didn't, and that it was his fault. But he couldn't quite explain what happened on the critical play.
"I can't say it was a bad hop," Varitek said. "The ball started up the [third base] line and then tailed back. I just handcuffed myself somehow with the ball. I was in position to make the play, and didn't."
More bad luck for Boston came in the top of the 10th inning. The Yankees received a big break when second base umpire Rick Reed ruled that Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch held a throw from third base long enough for a force out that proved to snuff a budding rally when the next batter, Brian Daubach, grounded into an inning-ending double play.
"I thought he had possession before he dropped the ball," Reed said. "After we went in and looked at the tape, we decided that wasn't the case. As an umpire, it was my job to get it right. I didn't. I feel awful."
Said Williams: "In my mind he didn't have any possession of the ball."
So now it came to be that Williams needed one more pitcher, Boston's fifth of the game, for the bottom of the 10th. Williams had few options. He went to Rod Beck.
Beck came out of the bullpen to throw strike one to Bernie Williams. Then Beck made a terrible mistake.
"I've gotten Bernie out an inside fast ball," Beck said later.
But this time Beck's pitch stayed out over the plate. A mistake. Williams made the ball disappear over the center field fence.
"Had I gotten the ball in, it might have been a different outcome," Beck said. "You can't make a mistake to Bernie Williams."
Said Boston's Jimy Williams of Beck: "He's done well for us since he's come over [from the Chicago Cubs]. I believe in him. I really believe it was the right thing to do to bring him in."
"Fortunately, this is a seven-game series," said Beck.
"We stole one tonight," admitted the Yankees' Derek Jeter.
And Bernie Williams?
He accepted victory humbly. "We're very fortunate," he said.