Spirited Sox wear out Angels

BOSTON -- Once the champagne ran out Friday night, most of it sprayed or dumped, the Red Sox showed again how resourceful they could be. The players went through the beer as their primary weapon of mayhem, and then they began dumping ice water.

But the ice ran out, so the players then started hurling tubs of water at each other, Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez retreating to the trainer's room time and again for more ammunition. Some were ready, like Trot Nixon and Alan Embree, who prepared for the onslaught by donning swim goggles.

It's hard to imagine what the Red Sox would do if they won the World Series.

For now, they are the first team to advance to their league championship series, after David Ortiz slammed a 10th-inning two-run homer to beat Anaheim, 8-6, and complete a three-game sweep. "Our team is so good, top to bottom," said center fielder Johnny Damon. "This team is awesome."

Before Ortiz's home run and the Anaheim comeback that brought back the Angels from a 6-1 deficit, what the Red Sox did best is hit with patience. Kelvim Escobar, the Anaheim starter, pitched less than four innings but looked like he'd thrown 400, slumped capless against the visitors' bench after he was relieved. None of the Red Sox hitters really got to him, but each of them took little bites out of him.

Ninety-two bites in all, the number of pitches Escobar threw in just 3 1/3 innings. The Red Sox took pitches, fouled off others, forced Escobar to throw strikes in ball-strike counts favorable to them.

Boston did not score in the first inning, but Escobar needed 24 pitches to get through the frame; four of the five hitters who batted for the Red Sox in the inning saw five or more pitches. Kevin Millar led off the bottom of the second, and his plate appearance lasted seven pitches. The game was scoreless after two innings, but whereas Boston starter Bronson Arroyo had thrown only 29 pitches, Escobar needed 45. "We've got a lot of guys who go up there with a game plan," said Damon.

The Red Sox would score a run in the third, knocked out Escobar in the fourth, taking the 6-1 lead, continuing to go through tough at-bats -- the defining trait of their offense. In the three games in this series, the Red Sox hitters saw a total of 551 pitches, the Anaheim hitters saw 467 pitches.

Their patience was a factor in each of their three wins in this series. In Game 2, Anaheim right-hander Bartolo Colon became obsessed with the strike-zone interpretation of home plate umpire Jerry Meals, pausing on the mound between pitches, looking in at the Angels' dugout incredulously. But Meals's calls were an issue, in part, because of the patience of the Red Sox hitters: As the ball-strike counts went deeper, the importance for each pitch increased, heightening Colon's frustration.

The Boston hitters should continue to cause pitch-count problems against most other teams they might play in October -- except for the Minnesota Twins, who have strike-throwing machines in Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva, pitchers who would force the Red Sox to swing early in the count. None of the Yankees' starters have overwhelming stuff, and the only New York starter who pounds the strike zone is Jon Lieber.

And after Friday's night's games, it appears inevitable that the Red Sox will play the Yankees in the ALCS, and renew a rivalry that New York has dominated for more than three-quarters of a century. Boston has been haunted for years by the Yankees' ghosts -- Babe Ruth, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone. But for the first time, Boston has a ghost who haunts the Yankees: Curt Schilling.

He dominated them in three starts in the 2001 World Series, a defeat that marked the end of the Paul O'Neill-Tino Martinez dynasty. And the Yankees had a chance to get Schilling last fall, but their first preference was Javier Vazquez -- who was Boston's first choice internally, as well. But Montreal GM Omar Minaya told Red Sox GM Theo Epstein that he didn't have enough quality players to get Vazquez.

So the Yankees got Vazquez, and the Red Sox landed Schilling. The Curse of Curt, perhaps. He and the Red Sox are eight victories away from being able to pour champagne and beer and celebrate for the rest of their lives.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.