Ortiz snaps slump to keep Red Sox alive

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 6, 2003

BOSTON - The Boston Red Sox decided not to bring Pedro Martinez back on short rest, opting to keep him fresh for a possible Game 5 against Oakland.

The Athletics went the other way, lining up Tim Hudson and Barry Zito to pitch on three days of rest even though the record of pitchers trying to do that has been dismal.

The time for strategy is over, nothing to do now but see how the plans work out when Martinez faces Zito in Oakland on Monday night in the decisive game of the best-of-five AL playoff series.

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''When we came back, it was just talk,'' Boston second baseman Todd Walker said Sunday after the Red Sox beat the A's 5-4 to avoid elimination for a second consecutive day. ''Now we've done it and we're going to a fifth game.''

And now they have their hitters going, too.

Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz snapped out of slumps just in time to save Boston's season as the Red Sox rallied from a 4-3 deficit in the eighth inning against closer Keith Foulke.

The teams then headed back to Oakland, where the A's won the first two games of the series and more regular-season games than anyone else in the league.

''This is the happiest I've ever been for a five-hour flight,'' Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar said. ''Usually at this time of year I'm barbecuing in the backyard with my boys and watching the playoffs. Now, they're watching me.''

It was the eighth consecutive elimination game Oakland has lost - the longest slump of its sort in major league history. Despite making the playoffs each of the last four seasons, the A's have yet to advance past the first round.

Zito will start on three days of rest for the first time in his career. The track record of other pitchers is not impressive: Since the divisional format was changed in 1995, starters coming back a day early in the playoffs are 6-18.

''I think we have the better team,'' said Tim Hudson, who started Game 4 on short rest but left after just one inning because of a strained muscle in his side. ''We have the best left-hander in the league.''

But Boston believes it has the best right-hander.

''It's all right,'' Hudson said, ''I'll take Barry Zito over Pedro Martinez any day.''

The Red Sox were equally confident, remembering their rally in the 1999 playoffs when they came back from a 2-0 deficit to beat Cleveland in the first round. Martinez also pitched Game 5 that year, coming out of the bullpen to throw six hitless innings.

''We've got the best pitcher on the planet going,'' Red Sox pitcher John Burkett said.

Ortiz and Ramirez had combined for just one hit in 25 at-bats - a power outage in the middle of the lineup that was largely responsible for putting Boston at the brink of elimination.

Ramirez singled twice Sunday. With Boston trailing 4-3 and two outs in the eighth, he followed Nomar Garciaparra's double with a ground single to left; Garciaparra went hard around third base, but coach Mike Cubbage held him up.

Ortiz was 0-for-16 in the series when he lined a double to deep right, turning Jermaine Dye around as the ball went over his head. Garciaparra and Ramirez scored to give Boston the lead.

''I couldn't think of a better time for that to happen, because the clock was running out there,'' Red Sox manager Grady Little said. ''That was a good time for them to bust loose.''

Scott Williamson pitched two perfect innings for the win, getting Erubiel Durazo to pop up to third base for the final out. For the third time in as many games at Fenway - the wild-card clincher, then Games 3 and 4 of the division series - the Red Sox poured out of the dugout to celebrate.

Two years ago, Oakland took a 2-0 lead over the New York Yankees before losing three in a row. If the A's blow it this year, there will be plenty of blame to go around - starting with the disappointing performances from two of their best pitchers.

Hudson, working on three days' rest, was cruising before he felt a twinge in his side at the end of the first. And Foulke, who led the AL with 43 saves during the regular season, took the loss after allowing two runs on three hits in the eighth.

Oakland also hurt itself on the bases and in the field - again.

With Bill Mueller on first and nobody out in the third, Jason Varitek hit a groundball up the middle and shortstop Miguel Tejada made a nice play to stop it and flip it to Mark Ellis. But with Mueller sliding hard into second, Ellis' throw came up short and got by Scott Hatteberg.

Varitek kicked the ball down the right-field line and catcher Adam Melhuse had to sprint toward the corner to get it. Varitek ran to third - and thought about going home until Eric Chavez realized the plate was uncovered and ran down the line.

Damon followed with a homer into the Boston bullpen to make it 2-1.

Jose Guillen singled to center leading off the fourth, but Damon threw him out trying to go to third on Melhuse's single.

After Hudson got hurt, Steve Sparks pitched four innings of two-hit ball, keeping the A's in the game long enough for Melhuse to tie it with a triple in the sixth. Dye followed with a home run that made it 4-2 and brought the A's out of the dugout for a tentative celebration.

Walker homered in the sixth, his third of the series, to make it 4-3.