NEW YORK -- This was never supposed to be easy. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been fighting tooth and nail for most of the century, so why would the first postseason meeting between the two be any different?
They played through the rain. They played through the night. They played into extra innings in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, seemingly intent on squeezing every ounce of intrigue out of this intriguing best-of-seven series.
The Yankees finally prevailed, scoring a dramatic 4-3 victory on a 10th-inning home run by perennial postseason hero Bernie Williams that bore an eerie resemblance to Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles.
Williams greeted Red Sox closer Rod Beck with a leadoff line drive over the center-field fence for his 11th career postseason home run. He has done it so many times that the sellout crowd of 57,181 hardly seemed surprised. Orioles fans shouldn't be -- he did exactly the same thing against Orioles closer Randy Myers in the 11th inning of Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS.
"Bernie does big things," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "I wasn't sure the ball was out until I looked at [Red Sox outfielder] Darren Lewis. When he turned on it, I knew it was out.
"The thing that surprised me was, first pitch bang game over. The way the game was going, I was thinking about who was going to pitch the next inning."
It actually was the second pitch, but who's counting. The Yankees again seem destined to return to the World Series, just as they were three years ago when Williams hit that sudden-death home run in the notorious Jeffrey Maier game.
"I was just trying to have a good at-bat, get on base at least," said Williams. "I'm the first guy starting off an inning, and we've got so many good guys hitting behind me that I was just trying to have a good at-bat and get on base."
There was one other big similarity between last night's game and the Game 1 victory over the Orioles in 1996. Both games turned on a controversial umpiring call that later was refuted by the umpire himself.
Remember how umpire Rich Garcia eventually admitted that he made the wrong call on the Derek Jeter home run that was snatched away from Tony Tarasco in the right-field corner?
Well, last night, the Red Sox would have had two runners on and no one out against Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in the top of the 10th if umpire Rick Reed had ruled that Chuck Knoblauch bobbled the throw on a force play at second base.
Reed called Jose Offerman out at second base, ruling that Knoblauch dropped the ball on the transfer as he was attempting to turn a double play, but admitted afterward that he got the call wrong. The inning ended moments later on a double play.
"I thought he had possession before 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. I didn't. You feel bad about that. I feel awful."
Williams argued the call, but did not make a major scene. He said afterward that he felt that Knoblauch had failed to get possession of the ball, but characterized it as "a difference of opinion" with the umpire.
What a deflating evening for the Red Sox, who had arrived on a roll after winning three straight to upset the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series. They had pummeled the Indians' pitching staff on the way back from a 2-0 deficit, scoring 44 runs in a span of just 21 innings, but there was some question whether they would have anything left after that emotionally draining five-game playoff.
"We are not tired," said Williams each time someone brought up the subject, and he apparently meant it.
The Boston hitters picked up right where they left off in Cleveland, scoring two runs in the first inning against Yankees starter Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and adding another in the second.
Jose Offerman led off the game with a single to center and the Red Sox got on the board when shortstop Derek Jeter's attempt to make a difficult force play deteriorated into a run-scoring, three-base error. Jeter had gone deep into the hole to field a bouncer by John Valentin, only to wheel around and bounce the ball into right field. By the time somebody picked it up, Offerman had crossed home plate and Valentin was standing at third.
Designated hitter Brian Daubach followed with an RBI single and it looked like the Red Sox were poised to continue their unprecedented offensive onslaught. They would increase their lead to three runs on an RBI infield single by Offerman in the second as Hernandez continued to court disaster, but "El Duque" finally settled down and started to pitch the way he did in the Division Series opener against the Texas Rangers.
Red Sox starter Kent Mercker, who was the first to admit on Tuesday that he got the Game 1 start by default, tiptoed through the Yankees lineup for four innings, allowing only a two-run home run to Scott Brosius in the second, but giving up enough hard-hit balls to keep the Boston bullpen on full alert and All-Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra at full extension.
Garciaparra made a leaping catch to rob Chili Davis of a run-scoring hit in the first inning, then made an almost identical play to steal a hit from Tino Martinez with a runner in scoring position in the third.
"That just goes with the kind of player this kid is," said Williams, ignoring that Garciaparra also made two errors. "He comes to play and gives you everything he's got."
It was another signature postseason performance for Brosius, who was the unsung hero of the 1998 season as well as the Most Valuable Player of last year's World Series. He got credit for a triple in his second at-bat when his soft fly ball to left bounced past a diving Trot Nixon and into the right-field corner, then set up the Yankees' third run with a lead-off single.
"Brosius has had a lot of big hits for us," said Torre. "I mean, we didn't know a year ago what kind of player we were getting, seeing him the limited number of games when he played at Oakland. But he showed us a year ago in the spring that he was pretty impressive and then came up big for us in the postseason last year."
There was a steady drizzle falling on Yankee Stadium by the time Brosius crashed through Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek to score the tying run on a one-out single by Jeter, but the game was delayed only long enough to put down some drying material on the infield before the Yankees came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.
The Red Sox were able to eliminate Cleveland in the Division Series without their starters lasting longer than 5 2/3 innings, and that trend continued last night in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series in New York. How Boston's starters have fared in the postseason:
Date Name Opponent IP R Res.
10/13 Kent Mercker Yankees 4 2 L, 4-3
10/11 Bret Saberhagen Indians 1 5 W, 12-8
10/10 Kent Mercker Indians 1 2/3 2 W, 23-7
10/9 Ramon Martinez Indians 5 2/3 2 W, 9-3
10/7 Bret Saberhagen Indians 2 2/3 6 L, 11-1
10/6 Pedro Martinez Indians 4 0 L, 3-2
Tot. 19 17 3-3
AL Championship Series
Boston (R. Martinez 2-1) at N.Y. Yankees (Cone 12-9), 8: 17 p.m., chs. 45, 5