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Disaster relief by Contreras

NEW YORK -- Jose Contreras had a pretty simple, definitive response to an inquiry about his disastrous seventh inning last night.

"Two pitches," said the Yankees reliever through an interpreter, "and I complicated the game."

That's one way of putting it. Contreras, entrusted with protecting a two-run New York lead in the sixth and seventh innings, after which he could hand things over to Mariano Rivera, did not get the job done. The Red Sox roughed him up in the game-turning seventh, scoring three runs en route to a 9-6 victory in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.

Contreras was tagged with the loss, his first decision of the playoffs. But the loss was not nearly as shocking as the meltdown, which was one of the more surprising developments in a game full of them.

"I thought everything was great," Jason Giambi said. "We had that two-run lead and we had Contreras in there, who's been unbelievable."

He was -- until the fateful seventh. Contreras replaced starter Andy Pettitte to begin the sixth inning and struck out the side (while yielding a two-out walk to Johnny Damon). At that point, he had pitched 4 1/3 innings in the ALCS and allowed only two hits while fanning seven. The Yankees thought they had found a bridge between the starter and the closer.

That was Joe Torre's thinking, certainly. He got five adventurous innings from Pettitte and looked brilliant when he brought in Contreras for the sixth. Facing four lefties, the righthanded Contreras whiffed three of them.

"He came in for the first inning and he was fine," Torre said. "I thought his stuff was good. But in that second inning, it just looked like he tried to overthrow it."

Or, as Contreras said, "I felt fine. In the first inning, the pitches were breaking. In the second inning, the pitches stayed up."

Did they ever. Nomar Garciaparra got a slider that didn't slide and ripped it to left-center for a triple, scoring when Hideki Matsui air-mailed his throw into the third base box seats. Then Manny Ramirez jumped all over a fastball and hit it off the wall in center. He soon scored as well, as the next batter, David Ortiz, singled off the first base bag. Contreras did get Kevin Millar to fly to right, but he was chased by Bill Mueller, who singled to center.

The final Contreras breakdown: 41 pitches in 1 1/3 innings, four hits, three earned runs (he was responsible for Ortiz, who scored after his departure). His ERA went from 0.00 to 5.79.

"I'm very disappointed because Andy left the game with a two-run lead," Contreras said, "and it was my job to come in and hold it and I wasn't able to do the job."

Torre said he was as shocked as anyone to see the Red Sox tee off on the Cuban, whose signing over the winter prompted Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, who had unsuccessfully bid for Contreras, to label the Yankees "the Evil Empire."

"I was confident enough in Contreras, especially with the rest he had, to take him to the ninth," Torre said. "I felt pretty good about the way he was throwing the ball. As I said, it just wasn't meant to be. But because he had been so well rested, and from what we had seen from him, it was an easy decision for me to make at that point."

Contreras hopes Torre doesn't hesitate to make that move again if the need arises tonight in Game 7. "That is what I am hoping for," he said. "If the team needs me, I'll be there."

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