It didn't take anything so drastic as driving a stake through Manny Ramirez's heart, but to the Texas Rangers, who brought an end to the Red Sox' 10-game winning streak here, it almost felt like that's what was needed to put the Sox in the loss column. "Especially in Boston," said Doug Brocail, the Rangers' 37-year-old reliever who has pulled off the baseball equivalent of coming back from the dead -- pitching again after having two operations on his elbow and missing two complete seasons -- and yesterday registered four big outs after the Sox had whittled a seven-run deficit to two before falling, 8-6.
"It's not like you're pitching in front of a dead crowd here," Brocail said. "The crowd here brings you to another level, especially with the Red Sox as hot as they are."
Leave it to one of Larry Lucchino's fellow alums from Princeton, rookie pitcher Chris Young, to play a big role in braking the Sox' run toward the top of the American League East, holding Boston to a run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings. Big, as in 6 feet 10 inches -- he's Randy Johnson without the scraggly hair, relying on his 94-mile-an-hour fastball with a few changeups mixed in to register his first major league win.
"He's mature, tough," Rangers manager Buck Showalter said of Young, who was an All-Ivy League basketball player, scoring a career-best 30 points against Harvard and 20 in an NCAA Tournament game against Kansas.
"Good body language. Big body language. I appreciated him walking to the bottom of the mound when I came out there," said Showalter, who is a foot shorter.
Young, the first Princeton product to start a major league game since Dave Sisler pitched for the Washington Senators 43 years ago, knew of the Sox CEO's Ivy League pedigree. "He came and spoke to one of my classes my senior year," said Young, a political science major who finished his degree in four years even though he was drafted after his junior year by Pittsburgh and signed with the Pirates. "A lot of what he talked about had to do with financing major league stadiums. I know he was connected with Camden Yards. A very bright guy."
When it was suggested to Young that Lucchino probably wasn't too happy that his club was done in by a former Tiger, Young said, "Come on, his team just won 10 of its last 11."
The game appeared well in hand for the Rangers, especially after Mike Young's three-run homer made it 8-1 in the top of the seventh -- until Jeff Nelson made his first appearance in a game here since last October's bullpen brawl during the ALCS. Nelson no longer wears a Yankee uniform, but still has charges pending against him in connection with a fight in which he participated along with another ex-Yankee, Karim Garcia, and a Fenway Park groundskeeper, Paul Williams, who remains on the Sox payroll in another capacity. All three men still face charges, but it was Nelson who heard the catcalls yesterday.
He walked the first batter he faced, Kevin Millar, after replacing Chris Young after a two-out walk to David Ortiz in the sixth, but got out of the inning when Orlando Cabrera bounced into a force play. The boos, however, became gleeful in the seventh, when he walked the bases loaded, then gave way to Ron Mahay, who gave up Mark Bellhorn's grand slam and a solo shot to Ortiz before Brocail restored order.
Nelson, who was on the disabled list when the Rangers visited earlier this season, insisted he was unaffected by the booing. He lamented, however, the reasons he is a marked man in Boston, and blamed what he believes was slanted media coverage of the brawl, one in which Williams was taken to the hospital with injuries he said he sustained in the fight.
"Look, this is a great place," he said. "I love coming here. The fans, the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is great. The atmosphere here is fine. I don't mind it.
"It's just unfortunate that I'll only be remembered for this. It's tough because you've always got to think about it now. As much as I've done in my career, it's a shame, because people will only remember that one incident. That's what you're labeled now and that's the hardest part to ever get over, because they say, `There's the guy who was in that incident, that stuff in the bullpen.' They don't remember what you did as a pitcher, and it's not like I was a scrub. I was used all the time."
Nelson believes there's a simple reason the incident escalated to the point it did, with criminal charges levied. It was the "NY" on his cap. That wouldn't have happened, he said, if he had been pitching for the Mariners or the Rangers.
"All they see is the NY," he said. "It's a shame. I have a family. I do a lot of charitable things. My dad is a cop, a retired Maryland state policeman. I've been in the game 13 years. I'm not some rookie or a thug or a guy with a history of yelling at fans. I've yelled at some umpires, sure. But other than that, I haven't done anything at all.
"But I'm forced to pay for it because of the NY, not because of the person."
The courts ultimately will assign blame. In the meantime, Nelson said, he has not heard anything from the Sox. "The only thing that night, John Henry came out and said, `We're supporting our people.' That's a joke, too. I'm not a bad guy. If I had a history of doing that, fine, but I don't. I didn't hear anything from them, no `I'm sorry it happened.' Do you think if I was a Mariner or a Ranger when that happened, that they would have made this big a deal of it? Absolutely not.
"Will it ever go away? Who knows?"
Some things may be eternal. The Sox' winning streak? Over. Nelson should be so lucky.