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Little things meant a lot in this nail-biter

NEW YORK -- A night later, it still had everyone buzzing. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said the 14-inning, 5-4 victory over New York in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series might have been the greatest baseball game ever played. (He might not have made that statement had the ending been different, but we'll cut him some slack. It was an exciting game.)

"You're on the edge of your seat too much and the emotions are up and down, being so close to winning, being so close to losing, trying to figure out how you're going to win," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona.

Everyone will remember David Ortiz's two big hits, the eighth-inning homer to cut the Yankees' lead to 4-3 and the broken-bat single to win it in the 14th. But here are some other tidbits from that 5-hour-49-minute epic that you may have simply overlooked, or that bear revisiting because of their impact on the outcome.

* A slide: We saw it many times on instant replay, and it was a doozy. Miguel Cairo of the Yankees scored all the way from first base on Derek Jeter's two-out, bases-loaded double in the sixth. He did it with a headfirst slide, just catching a sliver of the plate with his left hand. "It was a gutsy call by Luis [Sojo, third base coach] and a credit to Cairo for running hard," said Yankees bench coach Willie Randolph. "He never broke stride. [Jason] Varitek can be an imposing figure back there and I tell my guys that I'd prefer you go into him and knock him [over]. I think a slide like that is the only time that I'd like to see my guy sliding head first. It still is dangerous." The run Cairo scored was the last one of the game for the Yankees.

* A Pitch: There were a lot of them, 471, but here's one that was indisputably huge. The Yankees, leading, 4-2, had Cairo on third base in the eighth inning with Alex Rodriguez at the plate. All the Yankees needed was a sacrifice fly to make it 5-2. A-Rod has had his troubles this season with runners in scoring position, hitting a lusty .248 and an even lustier .206 with two outs. But he didn't even need a hit, and there was only one out. And Mike Timlin struck him out anyway. "I was just trying to pop him up," Timlin said. "That's all I wanted. I threw him a couple of high fastballs and he missed them." A-Rod's postgame offering: "I'd like to have that one back."

* A Pest: Dave Roberts had a big role in Boston's Game 4 win Sunday, scoring the tying run. In Game 5, he again pinch-ran for Kevin Millar and his mere presence on the basepaths had Tom Gordon totally flustered. Gordon was so preoccupied with Roberts that he gave up a meatball to Trot Nixon, who slapped it into center. Roberts went to third and scored moments later on Varitek's sacrifice fly to tie the game at 4-4. "You just want to try and change things out there," Roberts said. "You want him to think about you, to throw over, to step off. It gets him out of his comfort zone. And if I can do that, then it gives us an advantage."

* A Break (for Boston): "A game of inches" might be the biggest cliche in sports. But anyone who saw Tony Clark's ground-rule double in the ninth would not dispute that tired truism. The ball bounced and kicked into the stands. Had one hardball stitcher in Hispaniola added one more loop to that ball, it would have stayed in the park and Ruben Sierra would have scored from first base and the series might be over. Instead, Clark got a double, Sierra had to stay at third, and Cairo fouled out to end the inning. Said Clark, "It was bad placement on my part."

* A Bunt: Well, sort of. Johnny Damon tried to sacrifice in the 11th inning with no outs and runners on first and second. He popped it up in front of home and both runners, seeing that the ball was going to be caught, returned to their respective bases. But what if Jorge Posada had allowed the ball to drop? He could have picked it up and gotten a double play. Did that cross Posada's mind? "It did. I did think about it," he said. "But in front of the plate in Fenway, especially, it's a little choppy. And we've got to get an out there." Conveniently for New York, Orlando Cabrera then did bounce into an inning-ending double play. But on the Damon play, reliever Paul Quantrill slipped and turned an ankle and had to leave the game. "He just kind of tripped," Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said. "The trainers told me after the game that he should be fine, that it was no big deal."

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