In one of the most electrifying moments in the history of a ballpark that's almost older than household electricity, slugger David Ortiz last night propelled the wild-and-crazy Red Sox into the American League Championship Series with a 10th-inning, first-pitch, two-out, two-run, walkoff homer into the seats above Fenway Park's left-field wall.
Ortiz's mighty clout, struck under Friday night lights at 8:21, beat the Anaheim Angels, 8-6, completed a three-game Division Series sweep, and vaulted the Sox into an ALCS matchup against either the Minnesota Twins or the (gulp) New York Yankees beginning Tuesday.
The Carlton Fisk-like Monster Mash also triggered yet another Delta-house, champagne-soaked celebration in the Boston locker room, in the stands (Sox players came back out to spray those who lingered), and the streets around ancient Fenway Park. Two more series like this and the raggedy Red Sox can party like it's 1918.
''He just made a mistake," said Ortiz, asked about the pitch he hit off Angels lefthander Jarrod Washburn. ''He gave me a slider that was up. Kind of high. I was looking for a pitch in the strike zone. They were pitching me good in the whole series. They were trying to make sure to give me a pitch away. I was just trying to lock myself in and see a pitch that I could hit." Ortiz was still wearing his glare-preventive eyeblack when he stepped to the plate 4 hours 11 minutes after the game started. Darkness had fallen around Fenway and so had the mood in the stands after the Angels bounced back from a 6-1 deficit with five runs in the top of the seventh inning. Vladimir Guerrero's grand slam off reliever Mike Timlin tied the game and threw a scare into Red Sox Nation. No Boston team had ever blown a lead of more than five runs in a postseason game.
But after ace reliever Francisco Rodriguez fanned Manny Ramirez for the second out of the 10th, Angels manager Mike Scioscia summoned Game 1 starter Washburn. Ortiz turned on the first pitch and drove a shot into the second row of the Monster Seats.
The Boston dugout emptied while the bear-like Ortiz, who wears his baggy pants down to his shoetops, circled the bases. After pinch runner Pokey Reese crossed the plate, Ortiz lumbered around third and was engulfed by his teammates at home plate. While the sad Angels filed off the Fenway lawn, "Dirty Water" blared out of the PA system and champagne on ice was wheeled into the Boston clubhouse. The celebration was hardly brief. Kevin Millar and winning pitcher Derek Lowe led a parade of Sox back onto the field, where they sprayed fans in the lower-box seats. Almost an hour after the game, Trot Nixon and Gabe Kapler rewarded the stragglers, grabbing a microphone and thanking fans on behalf of their teammates. It seemed no one wanted to go home.
The Sox will start the ALCS either at Minnesota's Metrodome or Yankee Stadium. Curt Schilling is ready to pitch Game 1, with Pedro Martinez set for Game 2.
Few expected the Red Sox to win their opening series in straight sets. Playing on the road, the Sox beat the Angels, 9-3 and 8-3, in the first two games. When Boston bolted to a 6-1 lead in the fifth inning yesterday, it looked as if the first round might be a little too easy. The Fenway crowd was relatively quiet as Sox starter Bronson Arroyo cruised into the seventh. But Sox manager Terry Francona lifted the young righthander after a leadoff walk, and before the inning was over, the game was tied and it looked as if they might all be back at Fenway today for Game 4.
But Sox closer Keith Foulke pitched 1 2/3 innings of shutout relief and the much-maligned Lowe made his first relief appearance of the season in the 10th. Lowe put runners on first and third with two outs, but got series goat Chone Figgins to ground out on a nice play by shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
Johnny Damon led off the bottom of the 10th with a single and was erased on a bunt by Mark Bellhorn. Reese ran for Bellhorn. After Rodriguez fanned Ramirez with yet another offering from his bag of unhittable pitches, Scioscia decided that Rodriguez was tired and elected to have lefthander Washburn face Ortiz.
"Frankie was actually in a high pitch count ," said Scioscia. "I think he was getting tired. We thought at that point it was much better to get Wash up there matched up against Ortiz."
It turned out to be a bad move by a good manager. And instant Fenway folklore. Fisk in 1975. Ortiz in 2004.
So now the Red Sox go to New York or Minnesota, carrying the hardball hopes of a title-started Nation. Last year they were within five outs of a trip to the World Series. This time, they pledge to finish the job.