Red Sox must feel all torn up


NEW YORK -- Getting his initials mixed up, Red Sox manager Jimy Williams referred to the American League Championship Series as the ACL instead of the ALCS before Game 2 last night at Yankee Stadium.

Williams is infamous for botching names, and this was a good one even by his standards. The ACL is a knee ligament, the anterior cruciate ligament. You don't win it, you tear it up.

By the time Williams figures out the right name for the series, it might be over.

The Yankees have a 2-0 lead after coming from behind for the second straight night to beat the Sox last night, and at this point, you have to wonder if the Sox will ever win a game, much less the whole ACL, er, the whole ALCS.

With their back-to-back one-run wins, the Yankees now have won 12 straight postseason games dating back to last October. Their last loss was in Game 3 of the 1998 ALCS, to the Indians. Since then, the Indians have lost three, the Padres have lost four, the Rangers have lost three and now the Sox have lost two.

You might hate the Yankees with all your heart, but as Butch said to Sundance about the posse chasing them, "These guys are good."

They overcame a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 Wednesday night, and they were trailing 2-1 going into the bottom of the seventh last night before rising to the occasion again with a two-run rally that gave them a 3-2 lead. Their bullpen then got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the eighth with Ramiro Mendoza getting the last two outs, and closer Mariano Rivera made it through a shaky ninth to lock up the win.

Rallies, bloop hits, strong relief pitching, unshakable faith -- it's a powerful combination threatening to suffocate the Sox, who competed brilliantly in these first two games but came away with nothing.

Sure, the Yankees' 12-game winning streak could end when Boston ace Pedro Martinez starts in Game 3 tomorrow at Fenway Park against the Yankees' Roger Clemens, but betting against the Yankees in any postseason game is a risk at this point.

They aren't nearly as dominating as they were a year ago, but their confidence in crisis situations is downright stunning. Some player always come through, usually a different player than the one who came through the night before.

It was Orlando Hernandez and Bernie Williams in Game 1, and last night it was David Cone pitching seven strong innings, Chuck Knoblauch and Paul O'Neill delivering key hits and Mendoza and Rivera slamming the door at the end.

The Sox will probably chalk it up to the famed "Curse of the Bambino," as always. Two Sox hits came within inches of leaving the park for home runs, but ended up as doubles. That could have made the difference.

It's never dull with the Sox, that's for sure.

But they're in trouble after two devastatingly close losses.

If the Yankees had a perceived weakness going into the playoffs, it was their pitching. That might sound strange considering that they had the league's second-lowest ERA during the season, but starters such as Cone, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte all had below-par seasons, raising doubts about their ability to dominate in the playoffs.

But the Yankees had allowed only four runs in four postseason games going into last night, pretty much ending that debate.

"I knew we were better than we were pitching in the second half of the season," Torre said. "We were walking too many guys. That's unusual for our club."

Making his first appearance of the '99 playoffs, Cone picked right up where the others had left off last night, shutting out the Red Sox through the first four innings despite allowing six batters to reach base.

With two outs and runners in scoring position in each of the first three innings, he got the out he needed to end the inning.

"I think he [Cone] will be fine," Torre had said before the game. "Having not pitched for 10 or 11 days, I'm not sure how he'll start. But I have confidence that he'll get it going."

He was out of trouble with two out and a runner on first in the top of the fifth, oddly enough, when the Red Sox finally broke through. Nomar Garciaparra lined a breaking ball down the left field line that cleared the fence for a home run, putting the Sox in front for the first time, 2-1.

Cone pitched two more scoreless innings before being pulled.

Pedro Martinez's brother, Ramon, protected the lead into the seventh, when the Yankees finally broke through against him. With two outs and a runner on second, Knoblauch lined a double into left field to score the tying run. One batter later, O'Neill's bloop single off Rheal Cormier gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead.

The Sox left three runners on base in the eighth and two runners on base in the ninth, ending the game with a total ot 13 left on base.

"It's amazing," Cone said, "you have to feel pretty lucky."

Good, too.

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