In certain circles -- namely, the six-state region that bumps Canada on one side and New York on the other -- the news that Nomar Garciaparra wouldn’t be of any help to the Red Sox as they tried to stave off winter yesterday afternoon could have meant only one thing:
Wait till next millennium.
However, the Red Sox have made it an article of faith that they’re at their most dangerous when they’re most shorthanded.
Minus Garciaparra, who sat out because of his sore right wrist, the Sox extended summer for at least another day with a 9-3 swatting of the Cleveland Indians, who lead the best-of-five American League Division Series, 2-1, but couldn’t close out a team whose only certifiable superstars, Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez, were on unscheduled shore leave.
``That’s the beauty of this team,’’ said lefthander Kent Mercker, who will face Indians ace Bartolo Colon in Game 4 tonight instead of packing his golf clubs. ``You lose a guy like Pedro, you lose a guy like Nomar, the team rallies and scores nine runs.
``At this point of the year, if one guy is going to cost you a season, you probably wouldn’t be here in this position in the first place. That’s not taking anything away from Nomar. We’d love to have him in there. But we don’t have that luxury right now. And the guy who filled in did a tremendous job.’’
Garciaparra’s stand-in, Lou Merloni, jump-started two rallies, Ramon Martinez pitched gallantly for nearly six innings, and slugging John Valentin won a wrestling match with his evil twin, slinging John Valentin, overcoming his second ghastly throwing error in three games by delivering two big hits: a tie-breaking home run in the sixth inning and a tie-breaking two-run double in the seventh.
``It’s been a crazy year for me,’’ said Merloni, the Framingham Kid who figured his days with the Sox were numbered after two demotions to Pawtucket this summer. ``But it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.’’
Merloni had an idea Friday night that Garciaparra, his closest friend on the team, would be unable to play because of recurring pain in his wrist. ``He told me, `Get me through this game; I might have a chance tomorrow,’ ‘’ Merloni said. ``I told him, `Don’t worry about it; I’ll give you a chance to play again.’
``I’ll come ready to play [today]. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to play, but if he’s not able, I’ll try to put us back in Cleveland.’’
Rookie Brian Daubach, who had promised there was still a little magic left in the Belleville Basher, followed Valentin’s bases-loaded ground-rule double with a three-run home run to make the seventh a five-run inning, the biggest the Sox have enjoyed in the postseason since they scored six for Luis Tiant against the Big Red Machine in Game 1 of the 1975 World Series. Merloni would drive in the sixth run of the inning three batters later.
Daubach’s home run, which cleared the camera well in center field, came one pitch after he had clocked plate umpire Tim Welke in the head with a backswing.
Shaken by his contact with the umpire’s coconut, Daubach turned to on-deck hitter Mike Stanley. ``I said, `Settle down,’ ‘’ Stanley said. ``He said, `I guess I better swing.’ I said, `That might be a good idea.’ ‘’
Valentin, who was hitless in his first 10 postseason at-bats but drove center fielder Kenny Lofton to the track in the fourth, came up in the sixth and launched one that even Lofton couldn’t retrieve, a 409-foot home run into the triangle that gave the Sox a 3-2 lead. That came off Jaret Wright, pressed into action when Indians starter Dave Burba was forced out after four innings because of a strained forearm.
Then, in the very next Indians at-bat, in an uncanny imitation of his disastrous misplay in Game 1 -- same Sox pitcher (Derek Lowe), same Indians batter (Manny Ramirez) -- Valentin fielded a grounder and bounced another throw in the dirt, allowing Lofton to score the tying run.
Valentin inexplicably threw on the run when he had enough time to take a seat on a Jordan’s sofa. But he picked himself up off the floor in the bottom of the inning with his double off reliever Ricardo Rincon.
``This game pulls on your emotional strings, that’s for sure,’’ said Stanley. ``We were pulling for John, not that he needed to make up for anything. That was a huge boost for him.’’
As lifts go, however, it was tough to top the one the Sox received from Ramon Martinez, as calm as Pedro the Younger is passionate. Ramon the Elder gave up a run in the fourth on singles by Jim Thome and Harold Baines and a sacrifice fly by David Justice. He left to a standing ovation in the sixth, an ovation that would have been sweeter had he been able to hold onto a 2-1 lead. But the Indians pushed across the tying run before he left on a double by Robbie Alomar, an infield out, a walk, and a fielder’s choice.
Martinez, who struck out six and allowed just five hits while throwing 96 pitches, was saluted as much for his gallantry and grace as his excellence.
``He didn’t have his `A’ stuff, but he didn’t have to, because he’s so damn smart,’’ pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said.
Lowe, who struck out Thome on three pitches after Valentin’s error, a dramatic upgrade from the home run ball he threw Thome after Valentin’s misplay in Game 1, went 2 1/3 innings for the win.
Stanley was amused at the suggestion that the Sox required any emotional rescue because of Garciaparra’s absence. Pregame speeches? ``That’s not part of our team,’’ Stanley said. ``If somebody had done that, we probably would have looked at him funny: `Sit down, we know what to do.’ ‘’
That’s why they have yet to run out of tomorrows.