King Kaufman's Sports Daily

In a pair of games for the ages, one nearly endless and the other nearly unseen, the Red Sox stay alive and the Astros get within a win of the World Series.

By Salon Staff
Published October 19, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

That was a couple of great baseball games they played Monday night. And that was just in Boston. They played a pretty good one in Houston too. It would take a Tolstoy to do it all justice, but he was watching football, the fool.

Fresh -- or maybe a better word would be bleary -- off a 12-inning, five-hour, two-minute marathon of a Game 4 that ended in the wee hours of Monday morning, the Red Sox and Yankees began Game 5 a little after 5 p.m. EDT Monday at Fenway Park. Five hours, 49 minutes later they'd played the longest postseason game in history, measured by the clock, and David Ortiz, whose position is designated game-winning hitter, was being mobbed after driving in the winning run for the second time in less than 24 hours.

The Red Sox bounce on and off the critical list more often than a young Liz Taylor, and they've now staved off elimination in extra innings on consecutive days. Once down 3-0 in the American League Championship Series, they've forced the series to a Game 6, optimistically scheduled for Tuesday night in a rainy New York.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch ... This fine country mostly missed a beautiful ballgame between the Astros and Cardinals, teams you might have heard about, at A Day With Orange Juice Is Like a Day Without Enron Field at Minute Maid Park. It started three hours after the Red Sox-Yankees tilt and almost beat it to the finish line, Jeff Kent ending it with a three-run rocket over the left field bleachers.

It was the third straight win for the Astros, who now lead the National League Championship series 3-2 after losing the first two to the Cardinals, who dominated the league and appeared ready to waltz across Texas and right into the World Series.

Except in Houston and St. Louis, this game appeared on a cable station called FX, which is best known for being unknown.

Brandon Backe of the Astros and Woody Williams of the Cardinals were the starting pitchers, as they had been in Game 1. In that game they both gave up four runs and were gone by the middle innings. In this one, while America watched the Sox and Yanks tumble into extra innings, they each allowed no runs and one hit, Williams over seven frames, Backe over eight.

Against the best lineup in the N.L., one that averaged well over five runs a game during the regular season, Backe took a perfect game into the fifth inning and a no-hitter into the sixth. The only hit he allowed was a single to right by Tony Womack. The only hit Williams allowed was a single to center by Jeff Bagwell in the first.

As you might expect, there was defense. There were running catches and sharp infield plays. Scott Rolen made a diving stop at third and threw out Bagwell from one knee. But the real highlights were provided by Carlos Beltran, who else.

In the seventh inning Beltran raced over to the left-center field gap and dived, flat out, to backhand a liner off the bat of Edgar Renteria. Cesar Cedeno lives! And then some, oh boy, and then some.

In the eighth Beltran one-upped himself, retreating on Reggie Sanders' mammoth drive to center field, a home run in 29 of the 30 big-league parks, and calmly backpedaling up the center field hill to catch it.

Are you following me? The center field hill! For some reason, there's a grassy knoll on the warning track in dead center field at the Juice Box, and not only did Beltran, his eyes on a titanic fly ball, navigate it to make the catch, not only did he not stumble, have his knees buckle, lose track of the ball as the ground beneath him began playing tricks, but he went up the damn hill backwards! And he appeared to do it with the same effort he'd employ in ambling three steps over to catch a batting-practice popup.

If there were a lake in center field, he'd have walked across it to make the catch.

The teams went to the ninth scoreless, with one hit apiece, and their closers, Houston's Brad Lidge and St. Louis' Jason Isringhausen, on the mound.

And while they were doing that ... the blimp had to leave Fenway's air space because it couldn't withstand the bombardment of prayers being sent up from the stands.

With Mike Mussina of the Yankees and Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox pitching, both teams scored early and then got nothing. The Sox pushed across two in the first on three singles and two walks. The Yanks got one back in the second on a Bernie Williams home run. And that was it for a while.

The two right-handers locked horns, allowing baserunners but no runs. In the sixth, the Yankees threatened just as Martinez, who had been throwing a lot of pitches, neared the magic 100-pitch mark. Much has been said and written about how Martinez's effectiveness drops off the table right around his 100th pitch, and Monday night he was right on schedule.

With one out Jorge Posada reached on a bouncer over the mound and Ruben Sierra lined a single to center. Martinez, clearly starting to labor, battled to strike out Tony Clark looking on a questionable 3-2 pitch low and away. Then, with his 98th pitch, he hit Miguel Cairo to load the bases and bring up Derek Jeter.

Pitch 99 was ball 1. Pitch 100 was strike 1 swinging. Pitch 101 was a double down the right-field line, clearing the bases -- 4-2 Yankees. Right on schedule.

Do you believe in clutch hitting? It's one of the hottest battlegrounds in the cold war between traditional baseball thinkers, who know it exists, and the new thinkers, the sabermetric community, the stathead crowd, who say there's no such thing, that there's no proof that anyone performs any differently over time in "clutch" situations -- which, by the way, how are we to define? -- than in any other.

If you're a believer in clutchness, you just knew that Derek Jeter, the new Mr. October, the 21st century's Mr. Clutch, would get a hit in the sixth inning Monday night. I do believe. I'm usually on the stathead side in traditional vs. neo baseball thinking arguments, but I think there is such a thing as guys coming through in the clutch.

I think the fact that no stat can prove clutch hitting's existence doesn't mean clutch hitting doesn't exist, it just means the right stat hasn't been invented yet. This is a religious belief. You can't argue me out of it.

Here was Fox announcer Joe Buck as Jeter stepped to the plate: "To this point this is the biggest at-bat of the night. And for the Yankees they have one of the most clutch postseason performers in their franchise history at the plate, Derek Jeter -- who does not have an RBI this series."

Here was me: "He's about to have some."

If you believe in clutch hitting you just knew Jeter would get a hit, and if you find yourself in a does-clutch-exist argument soon you'll probably point to that three-run double. And if you don't believe, you'll counter, "Yes, and if Jeter had made the third out, you'd have quickly forgotten about it, filing away only the clutcherrific Jeter's big hits in your memory banks."

And of course you'd be right. Who will ever remember that David Ortiz, game-winner extraordinaire, not only struck out as the winning run in the 10th inning, but got himself thrown out as the winning run on an inexplicable steal attempt in the 12th? How clutch was all that?

This is why they have stools in bars, so we can be comfortable while we argue about these things.

And this one too: What was Red Sox manager Terry Francona thinking at this point? The wheels were coming off for Martinez. With all the copious numbers showing how Martinez falls apart after 100 pitches, Francona had watched Martinez approach and then pass 100 while giving up two singles, a hit batsman and a three-run double. With Jeter at third -- he'd taken a base on the throw home -- Martinez hit Alex Rodriguez. And then Francona got someone up in the bullpen.

Through all that damage, he didn't even have anybody warming up! "He may not be much past the sixth, but he'll get you to the sixth almost every time ... The key with Martinez is knowing when to get him out of there." I wrote that last Thursday. If I know it, why don't the highly paid people running the Red Sox know it?

Not to complain, though. The Yankees rally merely set up the Boston comeback. Ortiz homered off Tom Gordon to lead off the eighth -- clutch! -- and then the Sox got the tying run on a walk, a single and a sacrifice fly, the last by Jason Varitek off of Mariano Rivera, who came into the game just in time to pick up his second blown save in as many nights.

The Yankees rallied in the ninth. With two outs and Sierra on first Clark hit a double into the right field corner, but it bounced into the stands, holding Sierra, who would have scored had the ball stayed in play, at third, where he died when Cairo grounded out. In the Sox ninth the slumping Johnny Damon walked to lead off but was caught stealing, and Boston went quietly after that.

And so it went into extra innings again, pitcher after already-exhausted pitcher trotting in from the bullpen to paste up zeros. After Rivera came Felix Heredia, Paul Quantrill and Esteban Loaiza, the midseason trade who had been awful in pinstripes. He would take the loss in his best outing as a Yankee.

For the Red Sox Martinez had been followed by Mike Timlin and Keith Foulke. In extra innings it was Bronson Arroyo, Mike Myers, Alan Embree and Tim Wakefield. The six relievers' combined line: eight innings, no runs, four hits, three walks, 10 strikeouts.

The Sox got a one-out double from Doug Mientkiewicz in the 10th, but he was left at third. They got singles from Bill Mueller and Mark Bellhorn to lead off the 11th, but the benighted Damon popped up a bunt, and then Loaiza came in and got Orlando Cabrera to hit into a double play.

In the 12th Ortiz led off with a walk and then -- where's he going!? -- tried to steal second. He was thrown out even though Yankees catcher Posada's throw nearly flew into center field. Shades of Babe Ruth making the last out of the 1926 World Series, though even Ruth was a better base-stealer than Ortiz.

And then the Sox had a white-knuckler of a 13th in the field with knuckleballer Wakefield on the mound. With Varitek catching, rather than Doug Mirabelli as usual, every pitch was an adventure. Gary Sheffield struck out but reached base on a passed ball. Two outs, an intentional walk and two more passed balls later, the Yankees had men on second and third with Sierra at bat. Wakefield struck him out. The Yankees left 18 men on base.

Just as the last drop of blood had fallen from the last forehead in Fenway Park, the Red Sox won the game. Damon walked with one out in the 14th and one out later Manny Ramirez did the same. Ortiz then broke his bat on a soft single to center, Damon racing home from second for the win.

And then: Quick, America, let's go to Houston!

Just in time for the ninth inning. After the Cards went quietly Beltran -- there's that man again -- led off the Astros' half with a single. After Bagwell flied out, Beltran stole second without a throw, and the Cardinals intentionally walked Lance Berkman, who already had two strikes on him.

That brought up Kent, who hit Isringhausen's first pitch off the back wall behind the left-field seats, just below the railroad train. Thanks for dropping in, everybody.

The NLCS has a day off before Game 6 Wednesday in St. Louis, Matt Morris for the Cardinals, Pete Munro for the Astros, unless manager Phil Garner decides to bring Roger Clemens back on short rest, which I think would be a bad idea. A fully rested Clemens would come in pretty handy for Game 7 if the Cardinals tie the series.

The ALCS used its travel day for Game 5 because Friday's rainout pushed the three Boston games back a day. They'll go right back at it Tuesday in New York, Jon Lieber, so good in Game 2 for the Yanks, against Curt Schilling, who'll use a new brace he and the Sox hope will stabilize his injured right ankle. If the Red Sox win, they'll be the first team ever to force a Game 7 after losing the first three games of a best-of-seven.

Don't miss it, America.

Previous column: Sox, Astros start winning

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