Yanks rebound, shove Red Sox to brink, 9-2; Pettitte keeps Boston under wraps; N.Y. scores six in ninth


BOSTON -- Say this for the New York Yankees: They can get back up after a beating.

Proving to be fast healers after Saturday's 12-run loss, the Yankees re-established control of the American League Championship Series last night by crafting a 9-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 before 33,586 at Fenway Park, whose frustration reached an ugly peak near the end.

Down 3-1 in the series, the Red Sox have been pushed to the brink of elimination. Orlando Hernandez can provide the final shove tonight and spare his club a return trip to the Bronx.

The Yankees broke open the game in the ninth, with a pinch-hit grand slam by Ricky Ledee completing a six-run uprising. It came on the heels of another botched call that went against Boston. And it left the Red Sox counting on journeyman Kent Mercker to extend their season.

Left-hander Andy Pettitte was given an assignment only a mercenary could love. He needed to silence a Boston offense that had churned out 45 runs in three home playoff games.

He had to solve Nomar Garciaparra, who was hitting .480 with four homers. He had to control John Valentin, whose postseason binge included four homers and 17 RBIs. He had to drain the enthusiasm from a crowd still giddy over Roger Clemens' flameout the day before.

To do all this, Pettitte simply had to maintain the same form that allowed him to go 9-4 with a 3.84 ERA in his last 15 starts of the regular season after struggling so badly in the first half that the Yankees were looking to move him.

They nudged him ahead in the fourth inning, scoring twice off Bret Saberhagen to wipe out a 2-1 deficit. Both runs were unearned. They left Saberhagen, who allowed five hits and struck out five in six innings, deserving of a better fate. They left Pettitte 2-0 in the playoffs this month.

"He was something," said manager Joe Torre. "This park is tough to pitch in, obviously. He got himself out of some jams by making some big pitches."

Said Pettitte: "I felt like I was in trouble every inning, or it seemed like trouble. The fans were really into it. It's kind of tough to control your emotions out there. But overall I felt great about it."

The Red Sox couldn't touch Pettitte after the third inning. He retired 13 of 15 batters before Jose Offerman reached on an infield hit with one out in the eighth.

The rest of the game was handed over to closer Mariano Rivera, who hadn't allowed a run in 36 2/3 consecutive innings dating to July 21 against Tampa Bay. His career postseason ERA was 0.44, with only two runs allowed in 41 innings.

Rivera ended the eighth by getting Valentin to hit into a disputed double play that will be replayed in Red Sox Nation for an eternity.

Valentin sent a checked-swing roller to Chuck Knoblauch, who missed the tag on Offerman before lobbing a throw to first. Offerman was called out by second base umpire Tim Tschida, bringing Red Sox manager Jimy Williams from the dugout as Garciaparra stood on the on-deck circle.

It was the second call to go against the Red Sox in this series, both involving Knoblauch. With the score tied in Game 1, umpire Rick Reed ruled that Knoblauch held onto a throw long enough for a forceout in the 10th inning that squelched a Boston rally. Replays showed he never had possession.

Last night's call weighed even more heavily when the Yankees erupted in the ninth, with Boston committing two more errors. And when Garciaparra was ruled out on a close play at first base, leading to Jimy Williams' ejection, fans began hurling objects from the stands.

Plate umpire Al Clark pulled the Yankees off the field, delaying the game eight minutes. New York's bullpen remained empty as Rivera got the last two outs.

Williams declined to appear in the interview room after the game, instead issuing a statement that read: "It's the first one to win four, and it's not over yet."

Like Reed, Tschida admitted he missed the call. "I got in the best position I could on that play," he said. "That play itself, when the second baseman comes into the baseline to field the ball and the runner's there, it's very difficult to get the angle you want without getting in the way.

"When I looked, I was looking through the runner. He made, in my judgment, very little effort to avoid being tagged and I called the play on reaction, the reaction of the runner and the reaction of the fielder.

"It appeared to me as though [Knoblauch] got him. I couldn't get in position where I could see any daylight between the glove and the runner. The only position I got to ever see that daylight came when I got to the dressing room and saw it on television."

Torre called the conduct of Red Sox fans "disgraceful." He also was angered by a member of ballpark security yelling at his players in the dugout, which led to reliever Jeff Nelson needing to be restrained.

"The sad part about it is you have a ballclub, the Boston Red Sox, who have busted their [rear ends] all year to play and give this city something to be proud of, and I think it's inexcusable," Torre said.

"To have people throw stuff, that's disgraceful. I know it's not an indication of Boston."

Pettitte hadn't pitched since Oct. 7 against Texas. Starting Game 2 of the Division Series, he limited the Rangers to one run over 7 1/3 innings in a 3-1 victory.

Saberhagen would have embraced that kind of success. He had been getting squeezed since the regular season ended, going 0-1 with a 27.00 ERA in two playoff starts. Most recently, he lasted only one inning in Game 5 of the Division Series, allowing five runs but escaping without a decision in Boston's 12-8 win over Cleveland.

He got through the first inning in much cleaner fashion last night, retiring three straight after a leadoff single by Knoblauch. But with one out in the second and a portion of the crowd chanting "Just say no," Darryl Strawberry yanked a homer that hit near the top of the foul pole in right.

As the ball caromed onto the field, hitting coach Chris Chambliss shouted, "Just say yes, baby. Just say yes."

It was the seventh career LCS homer for Strawberry, third on the all-time list behind George Brett (nine) and Steve Garvey (eight). It also was his first since Game 5 of the 1996 ALCS in Baltimore.

Torre didn't get much of a feel for the lead that Strawberry provided. It was gone in a flash. Butch Huskey doubled to left with one out in the second and lumbered home on a single by Troy O'Leary.

Boston put another runner in scoring position in the third when former Oriole Damon Buford grounded a single to center and stole second. Again, the Red Sox cashed in, this time on another roller up the middle by Offerman.

Valentin nearly upped the lead to 3-1 when he doubled off the Green Monster. But center fielder Bernie Williams, backing up the play, got to the ball quickly and fired a strike to shortstop Derek Jeter, whose throw to the plate cut down Offerman.

Playoffs today

AL Championship Series

Game 5

New York (Hernandez 18-9) at Boston (Mercker 2-0), 8: 15 p.m., chs. 45, 5

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