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Marathon man

Ortiz saves Sox and extends series with hit in 14th

No, Doug Mientkiewicz said, he wasn't the first Red Sox player to reach David Ortiz after another swing of Ortiz's big bat once again brought deliverance, and another day, to a season that refuses to end, bookend wins of historic length over the New York Yankees in a span of less than 24 hours.

"I ran out there," Mientkiewicz said, "but I had to get Johnny's hair out of my face."

Johnny Damon's hair will flow at least one more night, and the Red Sox will be in the Yankees' faces for at least another game, after Ortiz ended the longest game in postseason history with a 14th-inning single off Esteban Loaiza, the seventh Yankee pitcher of the night, giving the Sox a 5-4 win in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The victory came on the same day that Ortiz's walkoff home run (at 1:22 yesterday morning) had beaten the Bombers in Game 4, and it staved off elimination for the second straight game.

"Every time you just say, almost in the back of your head, gosh, it's physically impossible for him to do it again," Mientkiewicz said of Ortiz's winning hit, his third of this postseason, these two against the Yankees joining his walkoff 10th-inning home run that eliminated Anaheim in the Division Series. "It's just not that easy. To continually do it night in and night out, it's ridiculous. It's a freak of nature."

The Sox, the 26th team to fall behind, 3-0, in the postseason, are attempting to become the first to overcome that deficit to win the series. Sox manager Terry Francona said Curt Schilling, despite a torn tendon in his right ankle, will start Game 6 tonight in Yankee Stadium, wearing a Bill Buckner-like black boot specially designed for the ace. Can the Sox do the unthinkable?

"We're in the same position as last year," said Sox owner John W. Henry, noting that the Sox trailed, three games to two, when they returned to New York in the ALCS last year, "and we came awfully close. But the odds are still against us."

Of Paul Revere, JFK, and Ortiz, where does Ortiz rank in New England's affections?

"It's not even close," Henry replied.

Last night's game lasted 5 hours 49 minutes -- 47 minutes longer than the 5:02 the teams played the night before.

"It's Groundhog Day," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose team had won seven straight Game 5s and 11 of 13 since the start of the 1996 postseason, but fell on a night they left 18 runners on base and went 1 for 13 with runners in scoring position. "I'll take nominations and I might be in sort of a haze, but I think that was one of the greatest games ever played, if not the greatest," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein after a game that started with Pedro Martinez in danger of losing once again to the Bombers -- Derek Jeter's three-run, bases-clearing double in the sixth had given the Yanks a 4-2 lead -- but ended with six Sox relievers holding the Yankees scoreless for the final eight innings on five hits.

Tim Wakefield, who was supposed to have started Game 4 but instead has come out of the bullpen three times in this series, was credited with the win after holding the Yankees to one hit in the final three innings, and escaping a Yankee threat in the 13th that began with Gary Sheffield reaching on a third-strike Jason Varitek passed ball and ended with Ruben Sierra striking out on a full-count knuckleball with runners on second and third after two more passed balls.

"I just tried to keep us in the game as long as possible," said the gallant Wakefield. "I didn't know how many innings I would be able to go. After the second inning, they asked me how I felt and I said, `I'll give you what I got.' "

Ortiz, who had singled home the Sox' first run in the first inning, then homered in the eighth off Tom Gordon when the Sox erased a 4-2 deficit and sent the game into extra innings, ended a 10-pitch at-bat against Loaiza by lining a soft single well in front of center fielder Bernie Williams. The hit scored Damon, who is battling his worst slump of the season (2 for 24) but drew a one-out walk and took second on a full-count, two-out walk to Manny Ramirez, who has not driven in a run in five games of this ALCS, matching the longest stretch in which he has not knocked in a run this season.

"That was phenomenal, and one of the best at-bats I've ever seen to end it," Epstein said. "Loaiza was throwing nuclear stuff out there and locating. But David was so locked in, and to foul all those balls off the way he did and then to hit that ball to center was remarkable."

Mariano Rivera is widely considered history's greatest closer; in 65 postseason appearances, Rivera never had blown consecutive save opportunities, having converted 32 of 36 chances. Overall, his record in October was 7-1 with a ridiculous 0.80 ERA.

But the Sox got to Rivera in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4, on Bill Mueller's RBI single after Dave Roberts stole second, and again last night, when Rivera was brought into a nigh-inescapable situation in the bottom of the eighth. Gordon, who already had allowed Ortiz's homer to make it 4-3, put runners on the corners when he walked Kevin Millar and Trot Nixon hit a run-and-hit single to center, sending pinch runner Roberts to third. Rivera gave up a sacrifice fly to Varitek, who hit a ball deep enough to center field, and the score was tied.

The Yankees, who had never lost consecutive October games in which Rivera pitched, now were in danger of doing so. The peril increased in the bottom of the ninth when Damon beat out an infield hit, on a bat-shattering roller to second. Damon, as Roberts had done the night before, attempted to steal on the next pitch, but Yankee catcher Jorge Posada made a perfect throw, nailing him.

Through nine innings, the Yankees left 14 men on base and were 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. The most glaring failure came in the eighth, when the Yankees, up, 4-2, blew a great chance after Miguel Cairo's leadoff double off reliever Mike Timlin and Jeter's sacrifice bunt. Alex Rodriguez went down swinging against Timlin, and after a walk to Gary Sheffield, Terry Francona brought in Keith Foulke, who had thrown 50 pitches in working 2 2/3 innings in Game 4. Foulke retired hot-hitting Hideki Matsui on a liner to left, keeping it close for the Sox to rally in the bottom of the inning.

The Sox had gone 19 up, 19 down against Mike Mussina in Game 1 before Mark Bellhorn's double with one out in the seventh spoiled the bid for perfection. Last night, they made Mussina uncomfortable from the outset, as first-inning singles by Orlando Cabrera, Ramirez, and Ortiz brought home one run, and a bases-loaded, two-out walk to Varitek, batting righthanded against Mussina, made it 2-0.

The Yankees answered in the top of the second when Bernie Williams hit Martinez's first pitch of the inning into the right-field seats to make it 2-1.

Both teams wasted chances in the third. The Yankees put runners on first and third with two out when Sheffield walked and Matsui singled him to third, but Martinez struck out Williams on a 93-mile-an-hour fastball.

The Sox had runners at first and second on a base hit by Ramirez and a one-out error by Jeter, who booted Millar's ground ball, but Mussina struck out Nixon and Varitek on a total of six pitches.

In the fourth, the Yankees had two on and no outs after a single by Posada and a walk to Sierra, but Martinez whiffed Tony Clark, Cairo flied to right, and Jeter tapped out to first.

The Yankees finally broke through against Martinez in the sixth, with the kind of good fortune that last month led Martinez to suggest that the Yankees were his "daddy." With one out, Posada hit a chopper over Martinez's head for a base hit, the ball seeming to veer away from a charging Cabrera. Sierra then lined a single to center -- Posada stopping at second while the Yankee bench screamed at him to take third on the weak-armed Damon. Martinez caught Clark looking at a full-count cutter for the second out, but hit Cairo in the front shoulder with a 1-and-0 fastball, loading the bases. Up came Jeter, who had been dreadful (0 for 3, two whiffs, an error) to that point. He sliced a ball that landed just inside the right-field line for a double that cleared the bases, Cairo beating Nixon's throw and Varitek's tag.

When Martinez then hit A-Rod in the elbow with a pitch, many in the crowd of 35,120 -- mindful that Martinez's pitch count had eclipsed 100 -- yelled for Francona to lift the Dominican ace (a couple of spectators practically leaned into the dugout to make their case). Francona, hands in the pockets of his jacket, was unmoved, even as Martinez walked Sheffield to load the bases. His faith in Martinez was rewarded -- barely -- as Nixon made a sliding catch of Matsui's screamer.

Bellhorn's double to open the seventh was the end for Mussina. Torre went to Worcester's Tanyon Sturtze, the 6-foot-5-inch righthander. Sturtze retired Damon on a pop to short but walked Cabrera in a nine-pitch at-bat.

Torre went to the pen again for Gordon to face Ramirez. Ramirez could not deliver, grounding into an around-the-horn double play despite a bone-crushing attempt by Cabrera to break it up with a hard slide into Cairo.

But leading off the eighth Ortiz, who is making a case for being Boston's greatest October performer of all time, homered into the Monster seats to cut the lead to 4-3. It was only a hint of what was to come. 

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