Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Knuckleballer confounds the Yankees

CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES Relying on baseball's most mysterious pitch, Tim Wakefield beat Mike Mussina for the second time in their AL series

AP , BOSTON AND CHICAGO

Alfonso Soriano, right, waits with the ball to tag out Trot Nixon of the Red Sox as he tries to steal second base during the third inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park in Boston, Monday.

PHOTO: AP

American LeagueNo fists, just knucklers.

Tim Wakefield and the Boston Red Sox won this duel with a baffling knuckleball pitch that floated and fluttered past the New York Yankees in a 3-2 win Monday night that knotted the American League championship series at two games apiece.

Todd Walker and Trot Nixon hit solo homers for Boston's struggling offense, and pinch-hitter Jason Varitek had a key RBI grounder in the seventh, speeding to first to just avoid an inning-ending double play.

Most significantly, there were no more fights between the old foes.

"I think it was kind of good to let everybody calm down," Nixon said. "I think we all disrespected the game the other night.''

After a one-day break caused by a rainout, there was none of the brawling that marred Game 3 on Saturday. Relying on baseball's most mysterious pitch, Wakefield beat Mike Mussina for the second time in the series, which now must return to Yankee Stadium later this week.

"Being rained out yesterday got everybody cooled down," Wakefield said.

Until the ninth, New York's only run came home on Derek Jeter's fifth-inning double that hit third base. But after Scott Williamson struck out Nick Johnson leading off the ninth, pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra closed New York within a run with a homer, ending a streak of 19 1-3 shutout innings for Boston's much-maligned bullpen.

Williamson, who had relieved Mike Timlin to start the inning, then struck out David Dellucci and Alfonso Soriano to earn the save.

"It was nice to have a nice clean game for baseball fans," Varitek said.

The series continues at Fenway Park on Tuesday, originally a travel day. David Wells pitches for New York against Derek Lowe in Game 5.

After Sunday's rainout, fans had a festive time on the warm autumn night, booing Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, who screamed Saturday at Pedro Martinez after the Boston pitcher hit Karim Garcia with a pitch. Posada went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, leaving seven runners on base.

They also chanted "We want Nelson," a reference to New York reliever Jeff Nelson, involved in Saturday's ninth-inning bullpen scuffle. Nelson entered to boos in the eighth just after Felix Heredia hit Walker in the shoulder. There was no hint of trouble on this one -- Walker went directly to first base and said he wasn't upset.

Still, there was at least one dispute -- but even then, it was resolved quickly and civilly.

After Nelson's first pitch, Boston manager Grady Little came out to talk to the umpires, who then checked the pitcher's belt and glove. But they didn't find anything against the rules.

"We had some indication that we saw a little something out there," Little said. "We didn't know."

Nelson didn't mind, saying it probably was in retaliation for New York asking umpires to check Timlin in the opener.

"His ball moves a lot, my ball moves a lot. It didn't bother me," Nelson said.

There was extra security in the Yankees bullpen following the Game 3 fight that involved a member of Boston's grounds crew. There was a police officer stationed there from the start of the game Monday and no grounds crew personnel.

But the focus in this one was on the starters.

Wakefield improved to 4-0 in League Championship Series play -- he went 2-0 for Pittsburgh in 1992 against Atlanta. His eight strikeouts matched his season high, and he allowed just five hits.

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