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Poll of umps says Walker hit the pole

NEW YORK -- Todd Walker wasn't sure if the ball was fair or foul. A homer -- or just a long strike? Did it hit the right-field pole? Had a fan interfered with it? Or had the dead hand of the Bambino reached out and swatted it away?

"My eyes are not that good," the Red Sox second baseman said last night, after smacking the postseason's most controversial home run off Yankee starter Mike Mussina to lead off the fifth inning and put his mates up, 3-0. "At some point, I knew it was close enough. I did not see the ball ricochet off the pole."

Walker, who's now hit four homers in six October games, can see well enough to crush anything near the middle of the plate. But he doesn't have 20/314 vision. So when he saw right field umpire Angel Hernandez signal foul, Walker wasn't quite sure what to do. Stand still? Turn back? Appeal to the Supreme Court?

"I don't know what kept me between the lines," said Walker. "I don't know what the ruling is if I had run back to the plate . . . I just stood there and luckily turned around to see that they were, in fact, calling it fair."

His comrades in the visiting dugout, who had a clear line of sight across the diamond to the right-field stands, never doubted it. "I didn't see exactly how it could be controversial at all," said manager Grady Little, who came out for a bit of clarification. "We felt it was fair all the way. On the way out, Tim McClelland saw it the same way. I didn't really understand the initial call, but that wasn't the first time I didn't understand a call."

The Yankees, who'd hoped that Mussina was settling down once he struck out the side after David Ortiz's two-run blast in the fourth, were hoping they hadn't seen what they feared they'd seen. But they weren't sure, either.

"A couple of my players said somebody reached out and touched it, or it hit the railing," said manager Joe Torre, who'd had an Aaron Boone shot overruled in New York's favor in Baltimore this season. "And when Tim McClelland tells me that three other umpires saw it the way he did, well, I've got to walk away because I'm overruled."

So it goes, so it has gone for Walker, who is having the autumn of his dreams after hitting just 13 homers during the regular season. The only other Sox player to hit four in the postseason is Nomar Garciaparra, who did it in 1999. How did Walker turn into an overnight slugger?

"I don't think I can explain it," Walker said. "I don't think I want to. I'm a contact hitter. I hit a lot of doubles, and if the wind is blowing right, it's going to go out of the park."

Everything set up nicely last night, as it did in Game 1 of the Oakland series, when Walker belted two homers when he was well ahead in the count. Last night, when he was up, 2-0, on Mussina, he figured he could see something he could drive.

"In the playoffs, pitchers are less likely to mess around on a 3-1 or 2-0 count," Walker reckoned. "They are more likely to throw a strike, and so they are more likely to split the plate than they are during the regular season."

All Walker knew was that he'd got a significant chunk of the ball and that it was heading down the line. "When I hit it, it was fair all the way," he said. "I thought I had enough of it so it wouldn't slice foul before it hit the pole, but when it got up there, I couldn't really tell."

The one man who was sure -- McClelland -- fortunately was the man with the authority to overrule Hernandez. When he made the call, the Yankees didn't feel they had the evidence to argue.

"It was one of those things," Torre shrugged. "It was close to the pole. Guys came out with replays. One said it looked like it did hit, one said it looked like it didn't hit. So I can't complain about that."

When Manny Ramirez stepped up three batters later and launched another rocket to right, no replays were necessary. It wasn't the Yankees' night. Maybe, unlike 1949 or 1978 or 1999, it won't be their season.

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