NEW YORK -- Chalk it up to the "Curse of the Bambino" if you want, but the Boston Red Sox have their hands plenty full with the modern-day players who inhabit Yankee Stadium.
The Red Sox hung tough for two nights, but the defending world champion New York Yankees had the last word each time, going up two games in the American League Championship Series with last night's 3-2 victory.
Name your unlikely hero.
Rusty right-hander David Cone delivered a gutsy, seven-inning, seven-hit performance and matched his postseason high with nine strikeouts on the way to his seventh victory in 10 career postseason decisions.
Struggling second baseman Chuck Knoblauch delivered a clutch two-out double off Red Sox starter Ramon Martinez to tie the game in the seventh inning.
And injured right fielder Paul O'Neill, playing with a fractured rib, brought home the decisive run in the same inning with a looping single to left field.
The Red Sox had hoped to get out of the Bronx with one victory and head back to Boston with a chance to take control of the series at Fenway Park, but the Yankees rallied from behind in both games to guarantee that the best-of-seven series will come back to New York if they don't take care of business in Boston.
It probably was no consolation that the Red Sox were right there again last night. They loaded the bases with one out in the eighth and had the tying run on third in the ninth against closer Mariano Rivera, but the Yankees would not give in.
Rivera finally struck out former Oriole Damon Buford and the Yankees were halfway to the World Series.
What a duel. Red Sox starter Ramon Martinez had come back from rotator cuff surgery to help the Red Sox down the stretch, but no one could have expected him to be a go-to pitcher in the postseason.
Cone made national headlines when he pitched a perfect game in May, but his performances declined dramatically in the aftermath. He had gone winless in eight straight starts before defeating the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in his final start of the regular season.
Martinez made one start in the division series and pitched well against the Texas Rangers. Nobody knew what to expect from Cone. He had not thrown a competitive pitch since he faced the Devil Rays on Oct. 2, so there was some question whether he would be sharp enough to keep the Red Sox from rolling out the kind of thunder that carried them past the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.
The Red Sox managed only three runs in the ALCS opener on Wednesday night, but they still came into last night's game with 47 runs in their previous 30 innings.
Cone came in with the knowledge that if he wasn't sharp, the Yankees would be in serious danger of falling behind in the best-of-seven series when they face presumptive Cy Young Award-winner Pedro Martinez on Saturday at Fenway Park.
"I relish these situations," Cone said Wednesday.
The veteran right-hander struggled to find his rhythm in the first inning, but he held the Red Sox scoreless through the fourth and quickly dispelled concern about the 11-day layoff. He had, after all, pitched much better during the regular season on five or more days rest (2.50 ERA) than on the normal four days (4.93).
Martinez may have been sharper from the outset, but blinked first and served up a long, bases-empty home run to Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez in the bottom of the fourth.
The slim lead would not last long. Cone made a similar mistake in the top of the fifth and Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra yanked it into the left field bleachers with a runner aboard to give Boston the lead.
It apparently is going to be that kind of nip-and-tuck, tit-for-tat kind of series. Garciaparra has experienced the full spectrum of playoff experience during the first two games. He made two spectacular defensive plays in Game 1, but also made two errors and went hitless in four at-bats.
He did not make any highlight-reel plays last night, but his third home run of this postseason would have been enough to get the Red Sox out of Yankee Stadium with a split if Martinez and the tired Boston bullpen could have gotten through a few more innings.
The Yankees never go quietly. Martinez walked Ricky Ledee to lead off the bottom of the seventh and New York manager Joe Torre played fundamental, home-field baseball, ordering Scott Brosius to lay down a sacrifice bunt to push the tying run into scoring position.
One out later, second baseman Chuck Knoblauch lined a double into the left field corner to tie the game and O'Neill followed with a soft single off reliever Rheal Cormier to put the Yankees on top.
Playoffs today NL Championship Series Game 3
Atlanta (Glavine 14-11) at New York (Leiter 13-12), 8: 12 p.m., chs. 11, 4