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Alan Embree and Jason Varitek prepare to embrace, while the rest of the Red Sox -- including winning pitcher Derek Lowe -- pour onto the field.
Alan Embree and Jason Varitek prepare to embrace, while the rest of the Red Sox -- including winning pitcher Derek Lowe -- pour onto the field. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

Miracle workers

Resurgent Red Sox storm into World Series, leaving stunned Yankees behind

NEW YORK -- Just like that, they shocked the nation.

Just as they pictured it, they changed the course of baseball history.

And just like a dream, they dashed generations of heartache for New Englanders who longed to witness the one glorious triumph they staged last night in the October chill by the Harlem River.

In the greatest postseason comeback since the birth of the national pastime, the Red Sox completed a magical surge from a 3-0 deficit in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series by stomping the Yankees, 10-3, in a do-or-die seventh game to capture their first pennant since 1986.

"How many times can you honestly say you have a chance to shock the world?" Kevin Millar said in the frothy celebration after the sensational finish. "It might happen once in your life or it may never happen. But we had that chance, and we did it. It's an amazing storybook."

Forget the fall foliage romps this weekend. The 100th World Series opens Saturday night at Fenway Park as the Sox face the Astros or Cardinals in the quixotic quest for their first world championship since 1918.

"We still have another hill to climb," Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said. "We don't want to forget that in the euphoria of the moment."

Thanks to a magnificent start on two days' rest by Derek Lowe and a big-bang attack led by Johnny Damon, series MVP David Ortiz, and Mark Bellhorn, the Sox became the first team in baseball history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. Four straight nights the champagne chilled in the Yankee clubhouse, and four straight nights the Sox dodged elimination, marking the first time in 14 years a Boston team beat the Pinstripers four times in as many days.

"How can this not be one of the greatest comebacks in the history of sports?" Sox principal owner John W. Henry said. "This team loves each other so much. They want to win so badly for one another and they wanted to win so badly for these fans. There's no way you can do this unless you have incredible heart."

The Sox won the franchise's 11th AL pennant in a wondrous twist in a journey that began 243 days earlier when they gathered for spring training to avenge last year's heartbreaking loss in Game 7 of the ALCS to the Yankees. But they also scored sweet revenge for forebears such as Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr, who lost the final two games of the 1949 season to the Yankees with the pennant on the line, and Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, who watched Bucky "Bleeping" Dent's home run ruin their chances for a division title in a one-game division playoff in 1978.

"There have been so many great Red Sox teams and players who would have tasted World Series champagne if it wasn't for the Yankees," general manager Theo Epstein said. "Guys in '49, '78, and us last year. Now that we've won, this is for them. We can put that behind us and move on to the World Series and take care of that."

A preschooler in 1978, Lowe looked like an ace last night as he whipsawed the Yankees over six innings, allowing only one run on one hit (RBI single by Derek Jeter), a walk, and a hit batsman, completing his personal comeback from exiled starter when the playoffs opened to team savior.

"Games like this make or break your so-called career," Lowe said. "I know a lot of people in Boston have been talking about this whole free agency thing and keep saying this is going to be your last game. Luckily, it's not going to be."

While Lowe all but silenced a Yankee juggernaut that exploded for 19 runs in humiliating the Sox in Game 3, Damon staged his own remarkable reversal of fortune. He entered the game batting .103 with one RBI in the first six games of the series, still burdened by his role in the first three losses. But nearly four months after he took Yankees righthander Javier Vazquez deep twice in a game in the Bronx June 29, Damon struck again, launching a grand slam off Vazquez in the second inning and a two-run shot off him in the fourth.

He described his resiliency as similar to the team's.

"We're so loosey-goosey," Damon said. "After we were down, 3-0, we didn't panic. We were joking about packing up our things, kind of playing devil's advocate by thinking of the worst things possible and making sure the good things happened."

The Yankees, who were 0-12 in postseason series after losing three straight games, pulled out all the stops trying to reverse the futility, even enlisting Dent to toss a ceremonial first pitch in the rematch of last year's historic showdown. But Dent was no Ortiz, who smashed a two-run homer off Yankees starter Kevin Brown in the first inning. And he was no Bellhorn, who added a solo shot off Tom Gordon in the eighth.

The Sox built such a whopping lead that they hardly blinked when Pedro Martinez, making his first relief appearance since his memorable performance in Game 5 of the 1999 Division Series against the Indians, surrendered two runs on three hits in the seventh inning.

With the ownership troika of Henry, Lucchino, and Tom Werner watching the winner-take-all finale from a box next to the team's dugout, the Sox became the first team to beat the Yankees in the final two games of a best-of-seven series in the Bronx since the Cardinals in 1926. (The Sox opened the '26 season with a lineup led by center fielder Ira Flagstead, third baseman Fred Haney, right fielder Si Rosenthal, and first baseman Phil Todt).

Heck, why not dedicate the victory to the '26 Sox as well? Every Sox team for a century has wanted a piece of the Yankees.

Long before the champagne corks popped last night in the visiting clubhouse in the bowels of The House That Ruth Built, the game appeared to take a bleak turn for the Sox within minutes of the first pitch. After Damon singled leading off the first inning and stole second, third base coach Dale Sveum waved him home on a single to left by Manny Ramirez, only for the Yankees to erase Damon on Jeter's relay from Hideki Matsui to Jorge Posada.

But no sooner did Damon dust himself off than Ortiz picked up Sveum by belting the next pitch from Brown (an 88-mile-per-hour fastball) into the right-field stands for a two-run shot, his third homer of the series and fourth of the postseason.

Lowe took the 2-0 lead and ran with it, retiring the Yankees in order quickly in the first to give the Sox another shot at Brown. And, boy, did they make the most of it.

Millar started a big rally for the second straight night, this time by lining a one-out single up the middle. Brown then did the Yankees no favors by issuing consecutive walks to Bill Mueller and Orlando Cabrera to load the bases for Damon, who was homerless in the postseason.

No longer. With Brown gone after his brief run of ineffectiveness, the Yankees summoned Vazquez, the former Expo the Sox had coveted in recent years. They liked Vazquez even more after Damon helped destroy the Empire by drilling Vazquez's first pitch into the right-field seats for the grand slam.

Damon's slam, which put the Sox up, 6-0, was only the second in postseason history for the Sox. Troy O'Leary hit the first in Game 5 of the 1999 Division Series in Cleveland.

The Yankees mustered their only run off Lowe after the sinkerballer grazed Miguel Cairo's arm with a pitch with one out in the third inning. After Cairo stole second, Jeter grounded a single to left to knock him in.

No problem. Damon followed a walk to Cabrera leading off the fourth inning by homering into the upper deck in right for two more runs, more than enough for the Sox to become the first time in 26 tries in postseason history to come all the way back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series.

But Bellhorn chipped in anyway with his solo homer in the eighth, stealing some momentum after the Yankees picked up their two runs against Martinez in the seventh.

With Martinez gone, Mike Timlin retired the Yankees in order in the eighth, and by the time Cabrera knocked in the final Sox run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth, the loudest noise in the park was a contingent of Boston partisans chanting, "Let's go, Red Sox."

Then Timlin and Alan Embree finished off the Yankees in the bottom of the inning, touching off a celebration for the ages on the storied lawn in the Bronx -- and across New England.

"It was a very close memory," Henry said of last year's loss in Game 7. "I think everyone who was here at that moment wanted to get back to the very same spot and do it again and do it right."

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