NEW YORK -- Baseball players become heroes only if they risk their lives for noble causes, like Ted Williams in the Korean War.
So don't even think about hailing Curt Schilling and the amazin' Red Sox as heroes. But whatever you call them, make it special because Terry Francona's band of history-defying rogues last night reached the threshold of the unfathomable.
Rising from the ashes of an ankle injury that will require surgery within 48 hours of his season ending, Schilling carried his teammates with him as the Sox stunned the Yankees, 4-2, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series last night and became the first team in baseball history to surge back from an 0-3 deficit in a best-of-seven series and force a Game 7.
"We just did something that has never been done," Schilling said. "It's not over yet by any stretch."
They may not be heroes, but Boston's boys of October remarkably continued their quest to "change history" and play another night. Derek Lowe was the projected starter for Game 7 tonight as the Sox bid for their first World Series berth in 18 years.
"We have a chance to shock the United States of America," Kevin Millar said.
Cancel Wednesday night Bingo. It's winner-take-all tonight in the Bronx.
While Schilling did what he failed to do in Game 1 -- "make 55,000 people from New York shut up" at Yankee Stadium -- the often-ridiculed Mark Bellhorn scored a giant measure of redemption by slugging a three-run homer off Jon Lieber in the fourth inning to give the Sox all the runs they needed to advance to Game 7.
"It's my first time being involved in something like this," said Bellhorn, who was hitting .143 (3 for 21) in the series when he stepped to the plate. "Sometimes you try too hard, but my teammates kept pumping me up. For me to do something like this, it's pretty big for me."
Schilling, pitching with a shot of the painkiller Marcaine after he underwent a minor surgical procedure Monday on the dislocated tendon in his right ankle, manhandled the Yankees for seven innings, allowing a lone run on four hits, including a solo homer by Bernie Williams. Schilling lacked his overpowering fastball but his command was superb in his 99-pitch work of magic. He walked none and struck out four before he handed off to Bronson Arroyo, who allowed a run in the eighth before Keith Foulke survived a scare in the ninth.
"It was definitely inspiring," Johnny Damon said of Schilling's comeback. "He had someone looking down on him so he could go seven innings, and he knows it. He's very proud."
Foulke, who already had pitched four times in the series and was appearing in his third game in as many nights, walked two batters to bring the winning run to the plate with two outs before he fanned old friend Tony Clark to complete the sensational comeback.
Schilling to Foulke: Just as the Sox pictured it last winter when they acquired the two stars to try to improve on last year's finish, five outs shy of a trip to the World Series.
"The fact that [Schilling] went so deep made the eighth easier for Bronson and we got to Foulke where we didn't have to extend him more than one inning," Francona said. "It gives us a chance to have some guys fresher [tonight]."
And all the game took was 3 hours and 50 minutes, a sprint by the marathon standards of the previous three.
In the history of Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL, 230 teams have fallen behind, 3-0, in a best-of-seven series, and only two hockey teams -- the '42 Maple Leafs and '75 Islanders -- have come back and won.
But none of the 25 baseball teams that failed were anything like the '04 Sox, a self-described "bunch of idiots" who rebounded from one of the worst embarrassments in postseason history (a 19-8 pounding in Game 3) to push the Yankees to the limit. The Sox did it with pitching, timely hitting, and an infield that has not committed an error in eight postseason games.
Arroyo momentarily was charged with an error when things got ugly in the Bronx with the Sox leading, 4-2, five outs from victory. After Derek Jeter singled home Miguel Cairo, who had doubled with one out in the eighth inning, Alex Rodriguez rolled a dribbler toward first base. Arroyo fielded the ball and tried to tag Rodriguez, who slapped at Arroyo's glove and sent the ball hurtling into foul territory, allowing Jeter to race home.
First base ump Randy Marsh initially ruled Rodriguez safe, which would have meant the Yankees had a runner on second, one out, and a 4-3 score. But after Francona protested, the umpires powwowed and reversed the ruling, calling Rodriguez out for interference. Jeter returned to first with two outs. The decision sent the crowd into an angry frenzy, as spectators pelted the field with balls, plastic bottles, and beer cups, briefly prompting the Sox to retreat to their dugout as venerable PA announcer Bob Sheppard appealed for order. Once peace was restored, Arroyo got Gary Sheffield to pop out to snuff the threat.
But the crowd continued to clamor, prompting police to line the first and third base lines and the area near the Sox dugout where team executives were seated with officers in riot-control gear -- another dark, memorable image in the ancient rivalry.
As for Schilling, he picked the time of his life to post his first career win in Yankee Stadium (he was 0-2 with a 7.11 ERA in four previous appearances). And Lieber was no match for him, as Damon set the tone for the Sox offense by waging a 10-pitch struggle leading off the game. Though Damon fanned, he signaled that the Sox would challenge Lieber, unlike Game 2, when they went quietly as Lieber tossed only 82 pitches over seven-plus innings. They forced him to throw 124 in 7 1/3 innings last night.
Millar got things started against Lieber in the fourth inning doubling to the base of the wall in the left-field corner. Lieber responded by getting ahead of Varitek, 0-and-2, before he wild-pitched Millar to third and found himself in a mighty struggle with Varitek. The 10-pitch at-bat ended with Varitek rifling a single to center to knock in Millar with the game's first run.
Unlike Varitek, Orlando Cabrera wasted no time causing some damage, looping the first pitch he saw from Lieber for a single to left, moving Varitek to second. That cleared the way for Bellhorn, who conked a long drive to left that initially was ruled a double because of fan interference.
After protests from the Sox while Bellhorn paused at second, the umpiring crew convened and concluded -- as replays clearly showed -- that the ball cleared the wall for a three-run home run. The ball bounced off a fan back onto the field, making it a difficult call. But the umps ultimately made the correct ruling, giving Schilling a crucial 4-0 advantage.
With the season on the line, Schilling made the best of it. After Rodriguez and Sheffield hit consecutive singles to open the bottom of the fourth, Schilling mowed down the next three dangerous batters -- Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams, and Posada -- without letting the ball out of the infield.
Nor could the Yankees reach the outfield in the fifth as Schilling blew away Ruben Sierra and Clark on strikes before Cairo grounded to short. And even though Rodriguez managed to fly out to right in the sixth, the Yankees nonetheless went down in order against Schilling before Williams struck the consolation homer in the seventh.