Down, but not out
Red Sox ready to rally against Yankees
Posted: Friday October 15, 1999 09:22 PM
The Red Sox desperately need a quality start from Pedro Martinez against Roger Clemens on Saturday. AP
BOSTON (AP) -- The big sheet cake was set on a counter in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse. In red letters on the white frosting was the message: "Kill those Yankees."
A team photo was set into the top. Last year's. You could tell by looking at the player at the far left in the front row -- Mo Vaughn.
That was a reminder of what Boston had overcome, the loss of its top slugger to free agency. And that was just the start of a series of adversities.
The Red Sox had injuries to key players, came back from an 0-2 deficit to win the best-of-5 AL division series against Cleveland and now trail New York 2-0 in the best-of-7 AL Championship Series.
But they'll be home Saturday with baseball's best pitcher, Pedro Martinez, in a dream matchup against former Boston ace Roger Clemens.
"This is something I'll never forget," said Bret Saberhagen, Boston's scheduled starter in Game 4 Sunday.
The Red Sox will be surrounded by screaming, abusive fans who seem to share the sentiment expressed on the cake.
Reliever Rod Beck, with Boston less than two months, felt their fervor when they hooted Cleveland's slumping right fielder Manny Ramirez in the first round.
"It was almost like a religious experience when Ramirez was out there. He hadn't gotten any hits. [They chanted] 'Manny's hitless, Manny's hitless,'" Beck said Friday. "I was standing in the bullpen going, 'Oh my God.' And that was the Indians."
And these are the Yankees -- the hated Yankees as they are known to Red Sox fanatics.
Boston manager Jimy Williams wasn't getting his blood pressure up over his team's predicament against the defending champions.
He decided not to hold an off-day workout Friday but discussed the reasons for his team's resilience.
"Focus. Attitude. Will to win. Desire to want to play. Win this one game. Make it simple," he said. "This is about the way we focused from the outset of our first practice in spring training. We have bounced back."
The Red Sox lost closer Tom Gordon for most of the second half of the season and endured a series of late-season injuries.
Third baseman John Valentin missed nearly all of September with a knee injury, Martinez strained a back muscle in Game 1 against Cleveland, and Nomar Garciaparra hurt his right wrist when he was hit by a pitch with nine days left in the regular season.
After all those setbacks, the Red Sox are still playing.
"We have done it all year," Martinez said. "If we did it against Cleveland, we could do it against anybody."
Players who showed up Friday to talk with reporters wore casual street clothes, relaxed in chairs in front of their lockers and exuded a calm confidence.
"We have a unique group of guys that sets what happened yesterday behind them and focuses on today," catcher Jason Varitek said.
The Yankees edged the Red Sox on Wednesday and Thursday nights, 4-3 in 10 innings and 3-2, at Yankee Stadium where the home team got most of the breaks -- from an umpire's bad call to blasts by Boston's Troy O'Leary and Varitek that missed clearing the right-field fence by inches.
"I thought it had a chance to go out," O'Leary said. "When I got to second base [Yankees shortstop Derek] Jeter was saying the wind was blowing in."
Boston did speed its own demise. Beck allowed Bernie Williams' winning homer in Game 1, and the Red Sox left 13 runners on base in Game 2. Yet they almost won both.
"We haven't come up with the big hit," Varitek said, "but it can happen" Saturday.
"If the Yankees really beat us up and just dominated us we'd have second thoughts," Saberhagen said. "Having come back from 2-0 against Cleveland, we have a feeling we can do it again."
Last weekend in Fenway Park, the Red Sox beat Cleveland 9-3 and 23-7, forcing a fifth game that they won 12-8.
Valentin, hitless in his first 10 at-bats in the series, had two homers and seven RBIs in the 23-7 win. O'Leary, 2-for-17 to that point, hit a grand slam and three-run homer in the clinching victory.
Garciaparra played well after being sidelined for Game 3. And Martinez returned from his injury to finish Game 5 with six innings of hitless relief.
After overcoming all that and preseason forecasts that they had little chance to make the playoffs, the Red Sox are optimistic.
So what if they have to win four of five games to reach the World Series?
"We just go out there and we're not afraid. You know? We're not afraid," Valentin said. "It doesn't matter who you are. When you don't have any fear, you can go a long way."
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