Thursday, October 14, 1999

Red Sox fans have seen this before




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEW YORK — There was the throw the catcher missed. There was the call the umpire blew. There were chances to break the game open early, and a 10th-inning rally that ended too soon. There were a dozen moments that could have made a difference, and an end to the accumulated anguish of 80 years.

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        But in the end, it was the same old story: Boston heartbreak at the hands of the New York Yankees. Some things never change.

        Bernie Williams' 10th-inning homer gave the defending World Champions a 4-3 victory in the first game of the American League Championship Series Wednesday night, but the Red Sox' list of regrets could have filled the Harvard library.

        They had Orlando Hernandez on the ropes, repeatedly, but failed to deliver the knockout punch. They had a chance to steal the game from the Yankees' ace behind a journeyman pitcher named Kent Mercker, but broke down in the bullpen. They had the Yankees' tying run thrown out at the plate in the seventh inning, but Boston catcher Jason Varitek left his mask on and lost sight of the ball. They had a promising rally underway in the top of the 10th inning, but umpire Rick Reed gave the Yankees a crucial out on what should have been a ghastly error.

        Then, as if there wasn't enough for Boston to brood about, up came Williams to deliver the death blow. The Yankee center fielder was a free agent last winter and the Red Sox nearly signed him to replace the power they lost with Mo Vaughn's departure. Not until Williams called the Yankees a day before Thanksgiving, and made his desire to stay put plain, did the deal go down that kept him in pinstripes.

        He took a called strike from Boston reliever Rod Beck and then smashed Beck's second pitch over the wall in straightaway center field. If this wasn't proof of The Curse Of The Bambino, it was certainly a curious set of coincidences.

        Asked how close he had come to joining the Red Sox, Williams said, “very close ... ”

        Jose Offerman had led off the Boston 10th with a single off the Yankees' Mariano Rivera. Since Rivera had not allowed a run in his last 30 relief appearances, this modest beginning represented a real breakthrough.

        Then John Valentin hit a sharp hopper to third base. The Yankees' Scott Brosius speared the ball and began what appeared to be an easy 5-4-3 double play.

        Except with Chuck Knoblauch at second base, nothing comes easy. Knoblauch dropped the throw before he attempted a relay throw — it was as plain as day, more plain, probably — and the boot should have given Boston runners at first base and second with no one out. Umpire Rick Reed inexplicably granted the Yankees the forceout at second.

        “I don't go out that often (to argue),” said Red Sox manager Jimy Williams. “But you've got to have some kind of possession of the ball, and in my opinion, he didn't have it.”

        Reed said he thought at the time that Knoblauch had held the ball long enough to get the out, but conceded after viewing the replay that he had botched the call.

        “I thought he had possession before he dropped the ball,” Reed said. “After we went in and looked at the tape we decided that wasn't the case. As an umpire, it was my job to get it right. I didn't. You feel bad about it. I feel awful.”

        Thus reprieved, Rivera retired Brian Daubach on a legitimate double play, ending the inning and affording Williams the opportunity to win the game.

        “I was trying to have a good at-bat, get on base at least,” Williams said. “I didn't think it was going to be gone. When it went, I was just — I was so surprised. It was unbelievable.”

        He shouldn't have been surprised. These things always seem to happen when Boston plays the Yankees. Williams' homer was not as dramatic as Bucky Dent's in 1978, nor was it as decisive since this was only Game 1 of the series, but it was the kind of ending sure to rob Massachusetts of a sound night's sleep.

        And Rick Reed joins a Boston list of villains that began being drawn up in 1920, when Harry Frazee sold Ruth to the Yankees.

        Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

       



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