Shortstop has four hits in win

Updated: October 16, 2003, 1:34 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- When Nomar Garciaparra came back to the dugout after a costly fourth-inning error, he didn't need to be told how to make up for it.

"You could see it in his eyes that he wasn't going to let that be the difference in the game," infielder Lou Merloni said. "We had a lot of guys in there really just struggling. Great, great hitters -- they were pressing. ... But great players respond."

Garciaparra picked the perfect moment to snap out of his slump, atoning for his fielding error with four hits Wednesday as Boston beat the New York Yankees 9-6 to avoid elimination and force the AL Championship Series to a decisive seventh game.

"A superstar in a slump is still a superstar," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said in the clubhouse after the game. "We knew he would break out of it in a big way, and he did -- just in time."

Garciaparra was in the chase for a third AL batting title with a .326 average on Aug. 30 before he went into a six-week slump. The Red Sox managed to survive his .170 September average, and they even held on while he went without an RBI in the first nine games of the playoffs.

The theories about his struggles were nothing short of wacky: Maybe he was worried about his upcoming wedding to soccer star Mia Hamm; maybe it was because he hadn't joined in the team-bonding spirit and shaved his head.

As the slump continued through the playoffs, manager Grady Little remained confident that Garciaparra would come around. He refused to drop him from the No. 3 spot in the batting order, saying it was just a matter of time before he snapped out of it.

When Garciaparra flubbed Karim Garcia's grounder in the fourth inning, though, it seemed that Boston had run out of time. Alfonso Soriano followed with a two-run double that gave the Yankees a 5-4 lead, chased John Burkett and forced the Red Sox to turn the game over to their shaky bullpen.

But Garciaparra singled in the fifth and added a "little-league homer" in the seventh, tripling and scoring when left fielder Hideki Matsui's throw sailed into the stands. The Red Sox scored twice more in the inning to take a 7-6 lead they never relinquished.

"This guy is capable of doing this any day he steps on the field," said Little, who was a Boston bench coach in 1999 when Garciaparra had four hits in the 1999 ALCS against the Yankees. "You know it's going to happen sooner or later, and tonight it happened."

Garciaparra, who was hitless in 11 at-bats coming into the game, also singled to lead off the eighth for his fourth hit as Boston, which had one of the most potent offenses in baseball history during the season, broke out with playoff highs of 16 hits and nine runs. Garciaparra, Kevin Millar and regular-season batting champ Bill Mueller had just seven hits in the series coming into the game, and nine more on Tuesday.

"We've been waiting ever since the playoffs started to get the line moving, get some baserunners, get some base hits in an inning," Little said. "They started coming right there."

Just one day earlier, Little was peppered with questions about whether he would drop his slumping shortstop in the batting order. Garciaparra had just two hits in the first five games of the ALCS, and he was batting just .205 in the playoffs overall.

He didn't record his first RBI of the 2003 postseason until Tuesday, and it came on a groundout.

"He's one of the biggest reasons we're here," Boston pitcher Derek Lowe said. "It would be foolish if we got down on him."

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press