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Red Sox Set Stage for Game 7 Drama

October 16, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — This one's for Babe, for Bucky and for Buckner. And, if you have even the slightest interest in American culture, this one's for you.

The most famous team in American sport stares down its bitter rival tonight, with each side deploying a legendary pitcher. For the New York Yankees, Roger Clemens. For the Boston Red Sox, Pedro Martinez.

The American League extends its invitation to the World Series to the victor. Tonight, for the decisive game of the league's championship series, America stops.

"I don't think there is a person in the United States that isn't going to know the Sox and Yankees are playing Game 7 with Pedro and Clemens," Boston first baseman Kevin Millar said after a 9-6 Red Sox victory Wednesday.

The Red Sox, nine outs away from the end of their season, rallied for three runs in the seventh inning and two more in the ninth, forcing Game 7 with a victory that stunned the Yankee Stadium crowd of 56,277 into silence.

Boston blew a 4-1 lead but roared back behind a revival of its powerful offense. The Red Sox ripped 16 hits, including home runs from Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek and a game-tying single from David Ortiz in the seventh inning. Later in the inning, Yankee reliever Felix Heredia walked Johnny Damon with the bases loaded, forcing home the decisive run.

So tonight, in a matchup that thrills participants as much as home viewers, Fox presents a duel for the ages.

"Pedro and Rocket," New York shortstop Derek Jeter said. "It doesn't get any better."

The stage for tonight's game is Yankee Stadium, otherwise known as The House That Ruth Built. Babe Ruth emerged as the most celebrated player in baseball history after the Red Sox sold him to the Yankees in 1920, and New England folklore holds that the "Curse of the Bambino" has prevented Boston from winning since then.

The Yankees have won 26 World Series championships since then, including one in 1978 after Bucky Dent broke Boston hearts with a home run to win a sudden-death playoff game between the teams. The Red Sox have not won since 1918 and have not qualified for the World Series since 1986, when a routine ground ball trickled helplessly through Bill Buckner's legs and forced a Game 7, which the Red Sox lost.

Even Americans who do not follow sports know Martinez. In that video clip played and replayed across the land, he's that guy who shoved the senior citizen coach to the ground last Saturday, in a Game 3 that included Martinez and Clemens trading pitches perceived as beanballs, an unsportsmanlike slide, benches clearing, two New York players fighting with a Boston groundskeeper and a total of $90,000 assessed in fines.

Tonight's rematch should include none of the above. In a winner-take-all game, no one can afford to lose his head, not that Yankee fans won't try their loudest to provoke Martinez.

"This is the biggest game of Pedro's career, in front of 60,000 fans who will be booing him to death," said Damon, Boston's center fielder. "It's going to be great."

Said Boston reliever Alan Embree: "You have a dream matchup, Roger vs. Pedro. You have kids who live out that sort of thing, playing in the backyard and using their names."

Martinez did just that back home in the Dominican Republic, he said, imagining himself as Nolan Ryan, Bret Saberhagen or Mario Soto. In his dreams, though, he pitched in the World Series, and now he can pitch himself and his team into one.

"I've got to wait for the game," Martinez said. "Maybe I'll feel nerves then."

So might Clemens, who has pledged to retire and thus could pitch for the final time tonight. He relayed a four-word comment through a Yankee spokesman: "I'll be here tomorrow."

After the Red Sox lost Game 5, Martinez told Boston Manager Grady Little he could pitch Wednesday, on short rest. Little said thanks but no thanks, since the Red Sox still would need to win Game 7 to advance.

So Martinez walked the clubhouse before the game, wishing good luck to some of the same hitters who refused to defend his perilously high and tight pitch after Game 3. He will pitch again tonight, against Clemens.

"It's great for the fans," Boston General Manager Theo Epstein said. "After Game 3, everyone wanted a good, clean, well-played series, with Game 7 and Pedro and Roger one more time."

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