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  Sat, September 18, 2004


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Runnin' Red Sox close the gap
By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun


A pinch-runner stole a base in the the ninth inning last night at Yankee Stadium. He was wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform, which means that the four-on-four league has begun on Satan's Pond. We'll tell our grand kids about it, it was like seeing Wade Boggs called out on a strike three at Fenway, the same day he was charged with an error.

From the time they signed Pumpsie Green to make them the final team to be integrated in 1959, the gang from Boston has been slow and lumbering.

While the go-go St. Louis Cardinals used to score on a walk, a steal and a single, the Sox needed three singles, providing the runner touched third.

Speed was the reason for a two-run ninth, against none other than all-world closer Mariano Rivera, as Boston edged the Yankees 3-2 to climb to within 2 1/2 games of first place.

The speed game has never been that way in Boston.

Defence? Who cares. Speed? Well, they did get a few tickets on the Mass Pike on getaway days.

Their approach was wall ball: Hit it over the 37-foot high Green Monster or hit it off it.

Yet, there was Trot Nixon leading off with a walk against Rivera last night. Manager Terry Francona sent in pinch-runner Dave Roberts, obtained at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Right about then, Rivera's world began to unravel, two outs away from putting the Sox 4 1/2 games back in the race in the East. Roberts stole second as Jason Varitek struck out.

The Yanks, who had the outcome of the game by the throat in the fifth inning when John Olerud homered to put them up 2-1, were suddenly on shaky footing.

Facing pinch-hitter Kevin Millar, Rivera looked back at Roberts leading off second, not once, not twice, but three times before rushing his delivery to the plate.

Let's see. Is it easier to throw strikes looking at the catcher's mitt or the runner leading off second?

Then, with Yanks second baseman Miguel Cairo shaded toward second to keep Roberts close so he wouldn't steal his 35th base of the season, Orlando Cabrera dribbled a run-scoring single to shallow right, scoring Roberts easily.

Johnny Damon then dropped a catchable ball into shallow centre as Kenny Lofton misjudged the ball off the bat. Rivera showed a rare sign of emotion.

Rivera was not hit hard -- a walk, a hit batter, a ground ball with a seeing-eye dog escort to get through the infield and a bloop.

There isn't room for all of that in the standings.

Rivera has saved only 14 of 22 attempts against Boston. He has blown 14 against the rest of baseball.

So, 2 1/2 games. On Aug. 15, the Yanks led by 10 1/2 games. They play today and tomorrow and there's a three-game series at Fenway Park next weekend.

There is time. Hope always springs eternal in New England.

We've seen some amazing things at Yankee Stadium.

There was Reggie Jackson hitting three homers on three swings in the 1978 World Series; George Bell homering where they park the ambulances behind the fence in 1987; tribute to Joe DiMaggio after he died in 1999; bottom-of-the-ninth homers by Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez off Byung-Hyun Kim, a strike away from victory in the 2001 World Series on back-to-back nights.

Never ever did we think we'd see Tanyon Sturtze of Worcester, Mass., the former Jays starter and reliever leave to a standing ovation of 55, 128, including Jack Nicholson.

What's in store for this afternoon? Luke Prokopec coming out of the Yankees bullpen and throwing 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Boston nasties, as Sturtze did.

If Yanks GM Brian Cashman was told Orlando Hernandez, his best, would pitch three innings, he wouldn't like his chances. If he was told Rivera on the mound, he would have taken that.

But not on this night.