Hours after jetting back from a funeral for relatives in Panama,
baseball's greatest closer stopped the surging Boston Red Sox, who
had cut an eight-run deficit to one.
Rivera got Kevin Millar to pop out to strand the tying run at
third base in the eighth inning, then finished out a thrilling 10-7
win for the Yankees in Tuesday night's opener of the AL
"It was tough, leaving my family there," the soft-spoken
Rivera said. "My fans and my teammates helped me out big time. ...
That was something special."
On a night that generated the kind of excitement expected from
these great rivals, Mike Mussina was perfect through six innings
before Mark Bellhorn doubled on a drive that hit the left-field
wall on a hop with one out in the seventh. Bernie Williams drove in
three runs, including a two-run double in the eighth that gave
Rivera some breathing room.
"It took a lot for him to go out there tonight," Yankees
captain Derek Jeter said. "He's the most mentally tough person
I've ever played with."
For much of the night it seemed like a laugher, with the Yankees
ahead 6-0 by the third and 8-0 in the sixth.
"It was like it was too good to be true," New York manager Joe
But after Bellhorn's hit on Mussina's 86th pitch, the stubbly
faced pitcher's huge curveball quickly became hittable.
David Ortiz made it 8-7 with a two-run triple in the eighth off
Tom Gordon, who would have been the Yankees' closer had Rivera not
returned. That's when the crowd got up to welcome Rivera, perhaps
the biggest factor in New York's six AL pennants and four World
Series titles since 1996.
"Turns out, we really needed him," Mussina said. "I'm sure
glad he came back. I know it was tough for him. I know it's been an
emotional few days."
Rivera had returned to his native country Sunday after two
relatives were electrocuted in the swimming pool of his home, and
arrived back at the ballpark in the second inning after a private
plane arranged by the Yankees took him to Teterboro Airport in New
"My teammates needed me there," Rivera said. "When I went to
the bullpen in the fifth inning, I was ready."
Given a huge ovation by the sellout crowd of 56,135, he fell
behind 2-1 to Millar, who popped out on the next pitch.
"What he did tonight was phenomenal with all the tragedy he's
been through," Millar said.
Varitek and Orlando Cabrera made the ninth interesting, too,
singling with one out. Bill Mueller, whose two-run homer off Rivera
beat the Yankees at Fenway Park on July 24, hit a comebacker that Rivera turned into a game-ending double play, Jeter, Alex Rodriguez gave Rivera hearty hugs. First baseman John Olerud gave him the ball following his 31st postseason save.
"Each game is going to be an emotional roller-coaster," Torre
Mussina, assuming the ace role on a rotation that's struggled,
had come within a strike of a perfect game at Fenway Park on Sept.
2, 2001, before pinch-hitter Carl Everett singled. Mussina ended
New York's streak of losses in four straight playoff openers,
striking out eight and allowing four runs and four hits in 6 2-3
innings. He struck out the top of the order -- all looking -- in the
fourth inning, part of a streak of five straight strikeouts, tying
the LCS record.
"You start thinking about how this guy might be going through
something special here," Williams said.
Matsui's first-inning double drove in New York's first run, and
his three-run double in the third made him 5-for-9 against Schilling. Matsui added a run-scoring single in the seventh off Tim Wakefield, who also allowed a solo homer to Kenny Lofton. It was Wakefield who gave up Aaron Boone's 11th-inning that ended the epic Game 7 last year.
Schilling, who led the major leagues with 21 wins, look the loss
-- he had been 6-0 in nine postseason starts since 1993, never
allowing more than two earned runs. His right ankle, which he first
injured in September, was injected Tuesday with a painkiller, and
he had trouble pushing off the pitching rubber and hitting the
targets set by Varitek, his catcher.
"If I can't go out there with something better than that, I'm
not going back out there," Schilling said.
Doubles by Gary Sheffield and Matsui followed by Williams'
single made it 2-0 in the first. With the bases loaded in the
third, Matsui lined a pitch off the right-field wall to clear the
bases. Sheffield was so pumped up after he slid across the plate
that he smacked Rodriguez's back so hard that A-Rod's helmet was
Right away, the fans started taunting the Red Sox with chants of
"Who's your daddy?" and "1918," a reminder of the last year
Boston won the World Series.
Matsui tied a record for RBIs shared by Paul Blair, Don Baylor, John Valentin, Bret Boone and Adam Kennedy. ... Varitek set a Red Sox record for postseason homers with eight, one more than Nomar Garciaparra. ... Johnny Damon struck out four times. ... Schilling's start was his shortest since July 18, 2001, when his outing for Arizona at San Diego was cut short by a power failure after he pitched two innings.