The New York Yankees began tonight's opening game of the American League Championship Series with a stumble. Shortstop Derek Jeter's wild throw fueled a two-run Boston rally in the first inning. Starting pitcher Orlando Hernandez allowed more runs in the opening two innings than he had in three previous postseason starts combined. And there was the normally efficient offense that stranded runners on third base four times in the first seven innings.
Perhaps the Yankees were doing nothing more than teasing their hated rivals because in the end, the bottom line was a familiar one.
Bernie Williams ended a long evening of missed opportunities for both teams by hitting reliever Rod Beck's second pitch of the 10th inning over the center field wall to give the Yankees a 4-3 victory in front of 57,181 fans who sat through occasionally heavy rains and a 3-hour 39-minute marathon of a game.
"Bernie comes up so large most of the time," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "I don't think this postseason is any different than other games. Bernie does great things."
The Yankees also had some luck. In the top of the 10th inning, Jose Offerman led off with a single against closer Mariano Rivera. John Valentin then hit a grounder to Yankees third baseman Scott Brosius, who flipped to second baseman Chuck Knoblauch for the force on Offerman.
Knoblauch dropped the ball, but umpire Rick Reed called Offerman out anyway, ruling that Knoblauch held the ball long enough for the out. Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams argued the call, and after the game, Reed admitted he had blown it.
"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."
Rivera then got Brian Daubach to hit into an inning-ending double play, and moments later, Bernie Williams ended a night when the Red Sox scored the first three runs of the game, then watched the Yankees chip away, finally tying it in the seventh when Derek Jeter singled and Brosius rammed into Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek.
Brosius, last year's World Series MVP, had a huge night. He hit a two-run home run in the second inning, tripled in the fourth and singled and scored on Jeter's hit in the seventh.
But as usual, it was pitching that won for the Yankees. Hernandez settled down after a bad start and finished with six shutout innings. Rivera allowed one base runner in two innings to get the victory.
The Red Sox, who trail the best-of-seven series 1-0, left six runners on base in the first four innings, but didn't get a runner into scoring position after the fourth. But the Yankees couldn't put it away until Beck tried to sneak a second straight fastball past Williams. He hit it to dead center and then watched as center fielder Darren Lewis chased it.
"I didn't think it was going to be gone," Williams said. "I figured he was going to play it off the fence. When it went, I was so surprised. I was trying to have a good at-bat and get on base at least. I have so many good guys hitting behind me that I was just trying to get on base."
He is no stranger to such situations. His 11th-inning home run ended Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles, and this season, he is hitting .363 with two home runs and seven RBI in four postseason games.
Until the 10th, Williams had only an infield single in four at-bats and had twice failed to deliver with Yankees in scoring position.
"I was due," he said. "I was just able to get a good pitch and turn on it. I was just looking for a pitch out over the plate. I definitely didn't want to pull out on the ball."
Beck was the fifth pitcher used by the Red Sox. Starter Kent Mercker lasted four innings, allowing eight base runners but only two runs. Four relievers followed, and in the 10th, Jimy Williams gave the ball to Beck.
"In the time he has been here, he has gotten left-handers out pretty good using his split-finger pitch," Williams said. "I'm not sure what pitch he threw to Bernie. But the guy has helped us win games from the time he joined us."
Mercker departed with a 3-2 lead after the fourth. The Yankees finally tied it in the seventh. Brosius led off the inning with his third hit of the game, a single. Knoblauch bunted Brosius into scoring position. Derek Jeter singled to shallow right, and Brosius was waved home by third-base coach Willie Randolph.
Trot Nixon's throw from right field beat Brosius to the plate, but an instant before Brosius collided with catcher Jason Varitek, Varitek dropped the ball.
"I don't know if he was expecting me to hit him," Brosius said. "I had nowhere to go. He was straddling the line and down pretty low. My only chance was to go over him. That was my only chance to get to the plate."
Brosius has struggled through a difficult season in which he dealt with his father's struggle with cancer and eventual death. His teammates praised him for continuing with a terrific work ethic and blue-collar approach even though he clearly was distracted at times.
Now with the brightest lights back on, Brosius and all the Yankees are again at their best.
"I love the postseason," Brosius said. "It's something you hope you get the opportunity to do. It's like everyday playing with your back to the wall. It's fun to go in and feel you have a lot of intensity."