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On the Diamond

Sox fans believed till the bitter end

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Posted: Tuesday October 19, 1999 02:42 AM


By Jamie MacDonald, CNN/SI

BOSTON -- For historians' sake, let the record show that the carriage built for baseball's Cinderella of the century turned into a pumpkin eight minutes late.

Working a comeback and milking the crowd in the late innings of Game 5, the Red Sox officially stopped walking down the comeback trail at 12:08 a.m.ET Tuesday. But about a half hour earlier, Fenway Park was an electric place of activity, noise and optimistic celebration.

Boston appeared dead and buried, and the crowd -- a much more tentative bunch than in Games 3 and 4 -- had been further subdued by New York's two-run seventh. Even the PA system blared a telling tune -- The Boss' "Cover Me."

This was where the fun began. The following chain of events brought a sustained cheer from the crowd that would not wane until near midnight:

  • Jason Varitek, who struck out twice and flied out to right in his first two at bats, knocked a 1-1 pitch into the bleachers behind the bullpens. The crowd reacted as though the leadoff bomb was a walk-off bomb. No matter; hope was alive.

  • Nomar's double on the next pitch from Orlando Hernandez sent El Duque to the showers and the Fenway faithful into a tizzy. A chorus of boos rained down on reliever (and former Red Sox pitcher) Mike Stanton.

  • Pedro Martinez, who seemingly can do no wrong in this town, jogged out to the bullpen as Stanton warmed upon the mound. The crowd, all 33,589 of them, stood or jumped or cheered or any combination thereof for a solid 12 minutes.

  • Troy O'Leary worked a walk after falling behind in the count.

  • Jeff Nelson came in to pitch, while the Fenway DJ again dusted off something old-school for the crowd, which at this point was lapping up very tune. The loud, off-key version of "Eye of the Tiger" brought out one of the most frightening realities of the night -- that so many people know every single word of that song. Shirts were coming off, and fans were dancing in the aisles.

  • Butch Huskey, pinch-hitting for Brian Daubauch, walked on six pitches off Alan Watson, who had relieved Nelson.

    With each of these moments, the Fenway crowd roared a bit louder, found better ways to release the Yankees suck energy and otherwise did a little more to distance itself from the events that had left such a bad mark on Game 4.

    But reality was coming in the name of Remiro Mendoza. Joe Torre says he's the guy who comes in and shuts everything down, stops the bleeding, so to speak. It was no different Monday night. Mendoza struck out pinch-hitter Scott Hatteberg on a 3-2 pitch and got No. 9 hitter Trot Nixon to foul out to third.

    Inning over, threat over, three outs away from Boston's season ending. The time was 12:08 a.m. here in the East, but as far as any Red Sox fan is concerned, neither the time, nor the day, nor the year make much difference anymore. The most commonly known increment of time in this town is that which is measured from disappointment to disappointment.

    From might to mock

    Not so far off in the right-field distance, lit windows in the Prudential building still spelled the words G-O S-O-X, even after their season-ending loss to the Yankees. So the same encouraging sign that trumpeted a revival for the Sox in the 1999 ALCS on Saturday night now hovers almost mockingly at Fenway's tenants, as in Go Away, Sox.

    In search of a quick finish

    OK, so the actions of Red Sox fans after Game 4 prompted Boston's mayor, Thomas Menino, to apologize for their behavior. Now -- poor form of the Fenway faithful aside -- can we get on with the American League Championship Series?

    Umm, no. Apparently not entirely.

    Before Game 5, Jeff Nelson, who found himself in the middle of the mayhem when he tried to charge at a ballpark employee, held court with members of the press. The Yankees reliever began by saying he was hoping for a New York sweep.

    "I think there are two reasons I hope they lose," Nelson said of the Red Sox. "One, I don't want to see [retaliation] in New York ... and I also think that no one here wants to face Pedro in Game 6 or Game 7. So let's wrap it up tonight and forget about the whole thing until next year."

    Nelson can hope all he wants for people in the Bronx to treat the Red Sox with respect, but admits that may be difficult to do in the future.

    "Nobody's a dummy here," Nelson said. "If they're going to retaliate, they're going to do it. It's not like I'm egging anyone on. They're New Yorkers."

    More evening court

    Sandy Alderson also played "meet the press" a few hours before Game 5 to talk about (what else?) umpiring in the ALCS, which really has given the profession a bad name in the last week.

    Alderson said that Chuck Knoblauch's two would-be errors and Nomar Garciaparra's apparent legging out of an infield hit have come during critical times.

    "The postseason is a harsh historian," Alderson said. "These kinds of mistakes are not often forgotten by baseball fans ... I think that's a strong incentive for every umpire to get the call right."

    But Alderson stopped short of buying into the dreaded, almost heretical baseball phrase -- instant replay.

    "I think it's something that we would like to stay away from. On the other hand ... some of the plays that happen in the postseason remain indelible. And you like to make sure those are right.

    "I'm not sitting here saying that baseball is in favor of instant replay. It's not. On the other hand, we have to look at a number of different ways to ensure that the frequency of these controversial calls is reduced as much as humanly possible. And we've got some ideas about that going into next season, none of which at the moment include instant replay."

    From the weather center

    Morning and early afternoon clouds gave way to sunshine around 4:30 p.m. ET, but it didn't help the temperatures here, which continued to fall right up until game time. Figure temperatures on being in the low 40s with a significant impact made by gusty winds.

    Because of the temperatures, only one member of the Red Sox went without a long sleeve shirt for warmups -- Trot Nixon -- while several Boston players donned the knit hats you're used to seeing Pedro Martinez wear in the dugout.

    The Yankees, with the exception of Game 5 starter Orlando Hernandez, were also affected by the chilly climes, but only Jorge Posada made much of it. The Yankees catcher performed an ugly, five-minute ripoff of Riverdance on the third-base side of the diamond.

    El Duque, on the other hand, appeared at about 5:55 p.m. to sit in the Yankees dugout. He was wearing only sliding pants, navy blue mesh shorts, his Yankees warmup jacket, sanitary socks and his flipflops with the interlocking N-Y. He sat arms-crossed and nodded his cleanly shaven head to the two songs playing over the PA system during his cameo.

    Old friends

    Former Red Sox manager Don Zimmer, minding his own business in the Yankee dugout a few hours before game time, was startled by the sudden appearance of a baseball at his feet. It was tossed in his direction by former Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice, who was throwing some impromptu batting practice.

    Zim waved him off before being asked by Rice if he bet on the No. 2 and No. 4 races. Laughing, Zimmer answered the question with, "Nope, the Nos. 1, 3 and 5."

    Good luck

    Julia Ruth Stevens, Babe Ruth's stepdaughter, is rooting for the Red Sox.

    "I think they deserve a break," she said. "Believe me, I am 100 percent for the Red Sox."

    Line of the day

    When told of George Steinbrenner's comments regarding the Yankees boss voting for him as the AL Manager of the Year, Jimy Williams told reporters:

    "When Georgie Porgie speaks, I don't listen."

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