8 straight pitches give Red Sox lead
NEW YORK -- A bullpen that's been a headache all season for the New York Yankees let them down at the worst time.
In a game with 28 hits, the Boston Red Sox stretched the AL Championship Series to a Game 7 on eight straight pitches out of the strike zone, four that were thrown there on purpose and four that were not.
Manager Joe Torre ordered an intentional walk to Jason Varitek to load the bases with two out in the seventh inning. Reliever Felix Heredia then missed the strike zone with his next four pitches, walking Johnny Damon and forcing home the go-ahead run in a game the Red Sox won 9-6.
There were a number of factors that figured in Torre's decision. Varitek had homered earlier. Torre didn't want to give him a swing against a left-hander, especially after Heredia had just struck out lefty-swinging Trot Nixon.
"It's not an easy decision to make," Torre said, "but the way Varitek has been swinging the bat, especially right-handed, it was one I felt I had to do and then just live with the results."
Catcher Jorge Posada was disappointed with the way Heredia worked on Damon.
"He walked on four pitches," Posada said. "There's not much you can do right now. There's a lot you want to accomplish about being more patient and selective. We got wild."
Trailing 6-4 and running out of innings to prolong their season, Boston rallied against the Yankees' shaky middle relievers, who weren't able to hand over the lead to reliable closer Mariano Rivera.
The comeback started against Jose Contreras, the Cuban defector whose signing with New York in December prompted Red Sox president Larry Lucchino to call the Yankees the "Evil Empire."
"The wind was not a factor," Matsui said through an interpreter. "When I threw the ball, it was already off to the right. When the ball hit off the wall, I looked and saw the runner
off second base. I thought I would be able to get him at third base. It was a mistake on my part."
A wild pitch put runners on second and third. Needing a sacrifice fly to take the lead, Nixon instead struck out for the second out.
After the intentional walk to Varitek, lefty-swinging Damon came up.
He missed the first two games of the series after coming out of the final game of the division playoff against Oakland with a concussion. He had three hits in his first game back but nothing since.
Heredia went to work. He missed badly on his first two pitches, came closer on the third and then completed the walk with an eighth straight ball.
Ortiz trotted home with the go-ahead run and the Red Sox clung tenaciously to the lead the rest of the way, surviving Yankee threats in the seventh and eighth.
Boston got some insurance when Torre went to another lefty in the ninth. Gabe White came in to face Nixon and gave up a two-run homer that made it 9-6.
Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press
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