Yankees cool off Sox; Williams' home run in 10th gives N.Y. series opener, 4-3; Rivera shuts down Boston; Red Sox let Hernandez off hook, blow 3-0 lead


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 their first-ever postseason game 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 very intriguing best-of-seven series.

The Yankees finally prevailed, scoring a dramatic 4-3 victory on a 10th-inning home run by Bernie Williams, but the pitching-weary Red Sox served notice that they will not be treated lightly.

It took a three-hit performance by 1998 World Series MVP Scott Brosius just to keep them in the game. It took one big swing by the Yankees' perennial postseason hero -- Williams -- to keep the defending world champions undefeated in this postseason.

Williams greeted Red Sox reliever 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.

The Red Sox gave the Yankees all they could handle during the regular season, winning the season series decisively and keeping the pressure on them through much of September.

So, why not now?

The Red Sox had pummeled the Cleveland Indians pitching staff on the way back from a 2-0 deficit in the Division Series, 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," declared manager Jimy 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 spectacular 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 on an RBI infield single by Offerman in the second as Hernandez continued to court disaster, but Hernandez 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, giving up only a two-run home run to 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.

It might have been one of those signature postseason defensive performances, but Garciaparra also made two errors, throwing the ball away on a force play earlier in the third inning and bobbling a ground ball to waste an important out during the Yankees game-tying rally in the seventh.

Meanwhile, it was another signature postseason performance for Brosius, who was the MVP 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 leadoff single.

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 delayed only long enough to put some drying material on the infield before the Yankees came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth.

Starting slowly

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

10/7 Pedro Martinez Indians 4 0 L, 3-2

Tot. 19 17 3-3

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