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Knuckle sandwich

Wakefield rises to occasion as Sox KO Yankees

NEW YORK -- Uh-oh. Boston, we may have a problem.

The Red Sox lurched into wildly unfamiliar territory last night as they broke a yearlong pattern that worked as wonderfully for them as Gulden's on a Fenway Frank. Rather than backing themselves into a corner by losing an opener -- the sure-fire catalyst for their remarkable resiliency -- the Sox pioneered a new trail: They won, stunning the Yankees, 5-2, to seize Game 1 of the American League Championship Series before 56,281 in the Bronx.

In Tim Wakefield's finest hour since he twice outdueled Atlanta's Tom Glavine with complete-game gems for the Pirates in the National League Championship Series in his rookie season in 1992, the knuckleballer blanked the Yankees on two hits through six innings and rode a home run barrage by David Ortiz, Todd Walker, and Manny Ramirez to the highly unusual victory.

Now what? The Sox reached the threshold of postseason glory by losing openers as routinely as they rolled out of bed. Game 1 of spring training? Opening Day? The first game of the season against the Yankees? The first game after the All-Star break? The first two games of the AL Division Series against the A's?

They lost them all.

"I think we realized after getting down 0-2 [against Oakland] it's nice to get out front and kind of get yourself a little margin for error," said general manager Theo Epstein. "I'm just real proud of how they played a real solid all-around game. You can't ask for anything more out of Game 1, except to do it again in Game 2."

All the Sox need is three more of these weird wins to cakewalk into the World Series. Not bad, considering they are trying to become only the second AL wild-card team to reach the Big Show. The Angels became the first last year, and, well, everyone knows their championship story.

"It was just a perfect all-around game," Kevin Millar said. "We need to win four of them, but this is a big win to get on the track first."

Boss Steinbrenner, surrounded by his usual glitterati (Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Henry Kissinger, Donald Trump, et al), might have seen this shocker coming when his prized mascot, the bald eagle Challenger, became so unnerved by the thunderous roar of two F-18s in a pregame flyover that the bird all but pancaked in fear on the infield turf, failing to reach its target on the mound.

Bad omen for the Bombers. Yankees starter Mike Mussina was not quite as bad, though he turned in his third-shortest outing in 13 postseason starts, surrendering four of the five Sox runs, all on homers. Ortiz even snapped a career 0-for-20 funk against Mussina with his two-run blast.   Continued...

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