Posted: Thursday October 14, 1999 01:32 AM
BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- If the Boston Red Sox are indeed battling a curse, the New York Yankees have no problem taking full advantage of it.
Minutes after a controversial call went the Yankees' way, Bernie Williams homered in the bottom of the 10th inning to give New York a 4-3 victory in the opener of the American League Championship Series.
Williams, who nearly signed as a free agent with Boston last November before deciding to stay in the Bronx, led off the 10th by blasting the second pitch from Rod Beck (0-1) over the center-field fence, giving the Yankees their 11th straight postseason victory.
The Yankees can tie their own major league record for consecutive postseason wins in Game Two on Thursday night.
Jose Offerman singled off Mariano Rivera in the top of the 10th before John Valentin hit a ground ball to third baseman Scott Brosius. His throw to second base was dropped by Chuck Knoblauch, but umpire Rick Reed called Offerman out on the force play.
"I thought he had possession before he dropped the ball," Reed said. "After we went in and looked at the tape, we decided that wasn't the case. As an umpire, it was my job to get it right and I didn't. We feel bad about it. I feel awful."
Brian Daubach hit into a double play to end the inning, setting the stage for Williams, who hit his 11th career postseason homer.
It was the second "walk-off" postseason homer for Williams, who did it in Game One of the 1996 ALCS against Baltimore. That homer also followed a disputed call as Derek Jeter was awarded a home run after a 12-year-old fan reached over the right-field wall and caught a fly ball.
"I got a pitch that started inside and came back over the middle of the plate," Williams said. "I got a good swing and the ball carried real well. It's great to win a game like this."
"A bad pitch in a bad situation. No excuses," Beck added.
Brosius, the 1998 World Series MVP who struggled this season, had three hits, including a two-run homer in the second inning, and scored the tying run in the seventh on a single by Jeter.
"I just love the postseason. As a player you just hope to get the opportunity to do so," Brosius said. "If you go out there and hit well, you appreciate it that much more."
Rivera (1-0) pitched two scoreless innings and has not allowed a run in his last 31 appearances, including three in the postseason. Rivera replaced Orlando Hernandez, who settled down after a shaky start and threw eight solid innings.
The Red Sox, without a World Series title since 1918, came to New York after a thrilling Division Series in which they rallied from a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Cleveland Indians in five games.
Red Sox manager Jimy Williams swore his team was not tired and it seemed that way as Boston jumped to an early 3-0 lead. But the bullpen, particularly Derek Lowe and Beck, could not hold a one-run lead and the Red Sox suffered yet another loss to their most hated rivals.
All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra made two errors but had a pair of key defensive plays to keep the game tight. The inability of Boston to make another allowed the Yankees to tie it in the seventh. Brosius singled off Lowe, was sacrificed by Knoblauch and came home on a single to right field by Jeter.
The throw from right fielder Nixon was in plenty of time to get Brosius, but catcher Jason Varitek could not hold the ball.
"The ball started up the line and skipped a bit, so it handcuffed me and the ball came out," Varitek said. "I think we understand there is tomorrow. It's disappointing but we have to put it behind us."
The Red Sox jumped on Hernandez for two runs in the first with the help of a miscue by Jeter. Offerman singled to open the game before Valentin hit a grounder that Jeter fielded deep in the hole. But his throw sailed past Knoblauch and into right field to bring home a run.
Brian Daubach made it 2-0 with an RBI single to right field.
Offerman increased the lead in the second with an infield single that scored Darren Lewis, who walked, stole second and went to third on a single by Nixon.
The Yankees cut the deficit to 3-2 in the second on a two-run homer by Brosius off Kent Mercker that followed Shane Spencer's two-out single.
With its pitching staff depleted by the five-game series against Cleveland, Boston turned to Mercker, who pitched four functional innings, allowing two runs and six hits. He was chosen almost by default after lasting only 1 2/3 innings on Sunday.
Mercker worked out of trouble three times, twice on leaping catches by Garciaparra and again on tremendous hustle by second baseman Offerman.
The Yankees put runners on first and third with one out in the first before Mercker got Bernie Williams on a weak ground ball and Chili Davis on a liner to Garciaparra.
New York wasted a leadoff double by Jeter in the third. Garciaparra used every inch of his 6-foot frame to rob Tino Martinez of a single for the final out.
In the fourth, right fielder Nixon tried to make a diving catch on Brosius' fly ball down the line. The ball skipped past Nixon as he crashed into the wall. But Offerman raced down the line, retrieving the ball and holding Brosius to a triple. Brosius was stranded there when Jeter grounded into a force play.
Hernandez, who pitched eight shutout innings in Game One of the Division Series against Texas, allowed all three runs and seven hits over eight innings with two walks and four strikeouts. Hernandez retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced.
"We got them just where we want them I guess," Garciaparra joked. "Nobody in this locker room is about to panic. We played their ace, battled them hard. I don't think there is anybody in this room that is about to hang their head."
Right fielder Paul O'Neill was in the starting lineup for New York despite a fractured right rib and was 1-for-5.