Beck latest chapter in long story


NEW YORK -- As Rod Beck walked off the field Wednesday night, you could sense all of New England making space for him in Boston Red Sox history, that everlasting hell inhabited by the likes of Bill Buckner, Mike Torrez and the man who sold Babe Ruth.

"That's quite an honor now, isn't it?" Beck said, bristling at the suggestion.

If you didn't know about Boston vs. New York, the longest-running and most one-sided rivalry in sports, you do now. Game 1 of the American League Championship Series was 100 years in a nutshell.

From Harry Frazee's $120,000 sale of Ruth to the Yankees in 1920 to the pitch that Yankee Bucky Dent hit off Torrez to beat Boston in a one-game playoff in 1978 to the ground ball between Buckner's legs against the Mets in the 1986 World Series

And now, Beck's pitch to Bernie Williams, a fastball that went out faster than it came in and broke a 3-3 tie in the 10th inning.

"No one feels worse than I do," said Beck, the former San Francisco Giants relief ace who came to Boston from the Chicago Cubs late this season. "It was a bad pitch -- and a bad time for a bad pitch."

It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. And, unless you're a Yankees fan, a more undeserving victim than the Red Sox. It was a brutal ending to what had begun as a beautiful night.

Only Beck's teammates can save him now, and that seems less likely than ever. Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez can't go until Game 3, at which time he will draw Roger Clemens as his opponent. In Game 2 last night, the Red Sox sent Ramon Martinez, Pedro's older and lesser brother, against David Cone and 57,000 bloodthirsty Yankees fans.

"Hey, old man," some punk yelled at an elderly Red Sox fan on their way out of the stadium Wednesday night, "your team ain't going to the World Series again."

The poor guy, wearing a Red Sox cap and jacket, became a fan in 1967, just in time to see them lose the World Series in seven games to St. Louis. Many others have twice the time invested, but 32 years is plenty, and another span that long seems on the way.

Beck's post-game performance was far more impressive than that which preceded it. He stood at his locker in front of all the note pads, microphones and camera lights and answered every question, as anybody who knows him knew he would.

It was reminiscent of the scene in September 1997, with the Giants, when manager Dusty Baker finally went to Roberto Hernandez over Beck in a save situation. It had been a long time coming, but that didn't make it any less difficult for Beck or the reporters who approached him that night.

"Are you available?" one asked. "No," Beck replied, "I'm married." He then proceeded to answer every question.

A guy like that clearly deserved better than what he got on this night, although it's hard to say how good his stuff was. Beck threw only two pitches, the first an inside fastball for a strike. The second was meant to go to the same place. Instead it went over the center-field fence.

The Red Sox had been expected to lose this game anyway -- so much, in fact, that a betting man would have needed to wager $220 just to win $100. In the end, though, being as close to victory as they were only made it more heartbreaking.

Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez was pitching for the Yankees, a 17-game winner, against Kent Mercker, a longtime disappointment who didn't make it out of the second inning in his previous start. Boston manager Jimy Williams had only one other option, Pat Rapp, and he didn't need to check with the Giants to make the right call on that one.

The Yankee Stadium crowd could sense the kill. Just before game time, Dent's homer was shown on the big-screen TV beyond center field, inspiring a tremendous roar. The Red Sox would like to do something similar at Fenway Park, if only they could find something, maybe live footage of the Mayflower landing.

And yet, the Red Sox took the crowd right out of the game, scoring two runs in the first inning and another in the second to lead 3-0. The first-inning uprising was aided by an error on Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who along with his Boston counterpart, Nomar Garciaparra, provides one of the many subplots of this rich series.

The headliner, of course, comes tomorrow when Clemens, the former Red Sox ace and traitor, faces Pedro Martinez, the current Red Sox ace and savior.

Jeter and Garciaparra, though, are like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Incidentally, when Williams batted .406 in 1941, the last player to do so, DiMaggio hit in 56 consecutive games and won the league's Most Valuable Player Award. Damn Yankees.

Garciaparra was brilliant Wednesday night despite hitting only long and hard outs. He kept two runs from scoring in the first inning with a leaping catch of Chili Davis' line drive, and he repeated the feat in the third inning to hold the score at 3-2.

But it was a single by Jeter in the seventh inning that tied the score. Scott Brosius should have been out at the plate, but Boston catcher Jason Varitek dropped a perfect one-hop strike from right fielder Trot Nixon. Where everywhere else that would be seen as an error, New Englanders will see that as The Curse, as they will the entire 10th inning.

But a curse is where you find it.

"Which train to the stadium?" I asked a transit cop at the subway station on my way to the game.

"Take this one, get off at Queens Plaza, then take the 7," he said.

Arriving at Queens Plaza, I asked another transit cop, "Which way to Yankee Stadium?"

"From here?" he said, busting out in laughter and informing me that I was on my way to Shea, home of the Mets.

The possibility of a Subway Series -- the hope of every New Yorker -- is diminishing. But nothing like the hopes of New Englanders.

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