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Red Sox and Yankees First Among Equals

Boston's 5-3 victory over New York leaves teams tied for the AL East lead with two games left, and one ahead of Cleveland in the wild-card race.

October 01, 2005|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — It was with a mounting sense of destiny that the New York Yankees returned on Friday night to Fenway Park, where only last October they had handed the baseball to Mariano Rivera with a three-game lead to protect in the American League championship series.

They'd been playing their way back to this series ever since, to another chance to put away the Boston Red Sox, to find the outs that had never come, to kill the rally that had made the Red Sox champions.

A cool fall evening, the third-to-last of the regular season, brought not disparity to the American League East playoff race, however, but equality.

The Red Sox methodically beat the Yankees, 5-3, to draw themselves into a tie atop the division; both teams are 94-66. They'll play again today and Sunday, then check themselves against the Cleveland Indians, 13th-inning losers Friday night and a game behind the East leaders in the wild-card standings.

It was Johnny Damon, who scored the first and third runs against the Yankees, who stood in the postgame clubhouse and observed, "We've got three Game 7s here, and probably a fourth," meaning a potential tiebreaker Monday at Yankee Stadium.

Framed that way, the Red Sox have won five of those in a row, starting with Game 4 of the ALCS, picking up again in game 160 of this regular season.

"You never know about these two teams," said Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, the MVP candidate who drove in a run in the first inning and scored one in Boston's three-run sixth. "A lot of history. But history been changin' lately."

So it is.

With each big game they win, the Red Sox push Bucky Dent a bit further from their own previously pathetic history, and Aaron Boone gets a little hazier. And the Yankees become less the hunted and more the half-downed game. They'll have Randy Johnson on the mound today, and the Yankees hope to answer David Wells, the former Yankee who pitched seven sturdy innings Friday night for his 15th win.

George Steinbrenner for a decade chased Johnson, finally put him in pinstripes, and now will cross his arms beneath that white turtleneck and see if the Big Unit can pitch the Yankees to the brink of their eighth consecutive division title.

Johnson is 4-0 in five starts against the Red Sox this season, 12-6 in his career, but his ERA at Fenway is nearly five, and the Yankees might need better than that.

"The ballclub has bounced back so often," Yankee Manager Joe Torre said. "We need to do that [today]."

The Yankees had their chance in the first inning, when they loaded the bases with one out against Wells, who had not yet found umpire Mark Wegner's strike zone. Wells walked two batters and hit another, then allowed a run-scoring single to Hideki Matsui. Jorge Posada struck out, however, the first of his three consecutive fruitless at-bats with runners in scoring position, and Ruben Sierra flied to right field.

From there, Wells began looping curveballs for strikes and mis-hits, the Yankees did not coax another runner to second base until the sixth inning, and the Red Sox scored the next five runs. Jason Varitek homered to start the second inning against rookie right-hander Chien-Ming Wang and, aided by Yankee first baseman Jason Giambi's throwing error, two of Boston's three sixth-inning runs were unearned.

Wells allowed a two-run home run to Derek Jeter before finishing the seventh, then watched three Red Sox relievers -- Chad Bradford, Mike Myers and Mike Timlin -- protect the two-run lead.

"I had it working tonight," Wells said. "Had a little help, obviously."

Yankees Alex Rodriguez, Giambi and Gary Sheffield combined for one single, and the bottom four hitters in the lineup contributed only two singles.

It was, then, with some symbolism that Ortiz danced afterward in the clubhouse to the song "Killing Me Softly," having seen Wells beat the Yankees with curveballs. Two days earlier, after a 7-5 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, Ortiz had cast a finger at the pitching staff, saying aloud for the local press, "We have to figure something out, bro."

On Friday, he called it "a two-game season."

"You got a guy who can hold them down like D. Wells did tonight," he said, "and you're going to see the results."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Playoff scenarios

All sorts of Major League playoff scenarios were possible going into this weekend. A look at what happens if there are ties after Sunday's games:

Note: Head-to-head records are used only when two teams have already clinched playoff spots; they are not used to determine which teams are in and out of the playoffs.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

The East and wild-card spots were still open, with the New York Yankees (94-66), Boston (94-66) and Cleveland (93-67) each having a chance to reach the playoffs. The possibilities:

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