There was no mistaking winter’s chill.
There were overcoats in the stands, heaters in the dugout, and an unspoken dread on Yawkey Way that this sweet, splendid summer was about to end for the Olde Towne Team.
Those deepest fears were realized last night, when Orlando Hernandez plunged an icepick deep into the heart of Red Sox Nation and the New York Yankees put this Sox century into cold storage with a 6-1 win that closed out this American League Championship Series, four games to one.
The Yankees, in whose long shadow the Sox have labored since what seems like the dawn of memory but dates only to the sale of Babe Ruth 79 years ago, broke out the champagne (nonalcoholic, out of sensitivity to recovering alcoholic Darryl Strawberry) after winning their 36th American League pennant.
``We wanted to finish it here,’’ said shortstop Derek Jeter, whose first-inning, two-run home run off Kent Mercker gave the Yankees a lead they never relinquished.
``We didn’t want to give them any life or any confidence.’’
Hernandez, voted ALCS Most Valuable Player, threw seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out nine, before giving up a leadoff home run to Jason Varitek and a double to Nomar Garciaparra to open the eighth. Hernandez was closing in on 140 pitches when manager Joe Torre replaced him with lefthander Mike Stanton.
While the Yankees made their pitching change, Pedro Martinez sent a huge charge through the sellout crowd of 33,589 by sprinting out to the bullpen to warm up, in the event of a Sox comeback that never materialized. The Sox loaded the bases after Garciaparra’s double, but Yankees reliever Ramiro Mendoza struck out Scott Hatteberg and retired Trot Nixon on a foul popup to end the threat.
Hope then evaporated in the ninth when Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer off Tom Gordon.
The Sox committed another pair of costly errors, leaving them with the unwanted legacy of being the most error-prone team in LCS history. Ten E’s spell nothing but heartbreak for a team that exceeded all expectations by winning 98 games in ‘99, including four in postseason.
``Defense carried us a lot this year, and our pitching did such a good job,’’ Garciaparra said. ``That just happens.
``We had our opportunities, and we didn’t capitalize. Am I going to go back and regret anything? No need to do that. Are you kidding me?
``No need to do anything. There’s nothing for us to hang our heads about. Disappointed? Of course. Any year we don’t win the World Series, I’m disappointed. But I’m not going to hang my head.’’
The Yankees, who won each of the first two games in the Bronx by a single run, outscored the Sox, 15-3, in the final two games after suffering their worst loss ever in the postseason, the 13-1 beating Martinez and the Sox inflicted on Roger Clemens. But the Bombers’ last two wins were hardly as one-sided as they sound. The 9-2 win in Game 4 was a one-run game until the ninth, and Game 5 was 2-1 until the seventh.
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who on Sunday night savaged the reputation of Sox manager Jimy Williams by saying he ``incited’’ spectators to hurl debris on the field, causing an eight-minute stoppage, last night paid tribute to the Sox.
``Boston was great,’’ said the Boss. ``They played hard. They were 13, 14 games behind us last year [actually, 22]. Here they are right now, right with us. They did an incredible job.’’
The Sons of Jimy Williams were unable to keep alive their long shot hopes of a fairy-tale finish by the brothers Martinez, who were lined up to pitch Games 6 and 7 in New York.
Despite some impassioned cheerleading by Pedro the Younger, the Sox could not solve another son of the tropics, Cuban defector Hernandez, who set a personal postseason best with nine strikeouts, including the side in the seventh, and remains unbeaten in five postseason starts. The Sox did no better than a draw against El Duque in Game 1, when they battled him to a 3-3 draw through eight innings, only to fall in 10 innings on Bernie Williams’s walkoff home run off Rod Beck.
The difference in the series, Torre said, was the starting pitching.
``Our starting pitching was phenomenal, all but Roger’s game,’’ Torre said. ``Our starting pitching shut down the Red Sox.
``Let me tell you something about the Red Sox. This is as tough a team that we’ve had to play since I’ve been here. I picked Toronto in August when it looked like, you know, with the injuries and everything, but they just wouldn’t go away.’’
Jeter’s home run accounted for the only runs scored by either team until the seventh, when first baseman Stanley failed to glove Garciaparra’s rising throw after fielding Jeter’s grounder, the ball skipping off leather and into the Sox dugout for a two-base error. Paul O’Neill singled to right, with Jeter halting at third after a last-second stop sign by third base coach Willie Randolph.
Williams replaced Derek Lowe with lefthander Rheal Cormier, who loaded the bases by walking Bernie Williams on a full count. Chili Davis followed with a ground ball just to the left of Jose Offerman, who bobbled the ball as Jeter scored to make it 3-0. Tino Martinez’s single made it 4-0 before Cormier struck out Posada and Shane Spencer to end the inning.
``We could have gotten some key hits here or there to eradicate those [errors],’’ said Stanley. ``Those wouldn’t have been the big issue.’’
The umpires’ calls that went against the Sox in Games 1 and 4 also should not be seen as the fulcrum on which a pennant turned, Stanley said.
``Umpires didn’t lose this series, you know,’’ Stanley said. ``They’re human, they’re going to make mistakes. I can’t be angry.’’
Asked to account for the difference between the teams, Stanley said: ``I’m not going to answer that question. They beat us, bottom line.’’