If Dave Mellor, keeper of the greensward at Fenway Park, could have found a way that would not have torn up his precious turf, it would have been fitting for the 36,533 fans present last night to emulate the pregame ritual observed by the bullpens of the Red Sox and Yankees.
Sox relievers formed a receiving line for Curt Schilling as he finished his warm-ups and emerged from the pen, offering high-fives and encouragement as he headed for his evening appointment with Roger Clemens, who encountered a similar conga line from the Yankees relievers, Schilling and Clemens nearly crossing paths as they headed to their respective dugouts.
The show of respect was richly deserved on a night that should have been cast in sepia tones, the 40-year-old Schilling and 45-year-old Clemens doing a reasonable impression of their duel in the desert six years ago. The stakes were higher then - it was Game 7 of the 2001 World Series between the Rocket's Yankees and Schill's Arizona Diamondbacks - and the arms stronger, but last night there was no dilution of the heart and will that drove both men to embrace the game's biggest stage.
This time, the Yankees prevailed, Derek Jeter breaking Schilling's heart, 4-3, with a three-run home run in the eighth inning, when Schilling was one strike away from preserving a 1-1 tie. Instead, the Yankees took the rubber game of this three-game set to keep Boston's magic number for clinching its first divisional title since 1995 at 9.
"Tonight boiled down to two mistakes," a subdued Schilling said. "I started the inning off in the eighth by striking out [Melky] Cabrera on a 3-and-2 split, a great one, and then I overthrow one to [Jason] Giambi, and overthrow one to Derek . . . I miss horribly in the most crucial situation of the game."
There was little chance of the Sox clubhouse dissolving in melancholy, however, not on a night in which an abashed Daisuke Matsuzaka donned a lime-green Teletubby outfit to wear to Toronto as part of the annual rookie hazing ritual. His translator, Masa Hoshino, got to be a purple Teletubby, and there was no telling what Hideki Okajima would be wearing, though his translator, Jeff Yamaguchi, was the choice to wear an Evel Knievel jumpsuit and Jacoby Ellsbury had a fluffy dress hanging in his locker.
"We keep playing like this," said catcher Jason Varitek, mindful of Boston's 4 1/2-game lead with 12 games left, "we'll be OK.
"Curt was phenomenal. He did a great job. He was a pitch away from staying at 1-1."
The Sox hung in as Mike Lowell ended Yankee phenom Joba Chamberlain's scoreless streak with his 19th home run in the bottom of the eighth, and one more Yankee graybeard, 37-year-old closer Mariano Rivera, was touched for a run in the ninth on a walk to Varitek and Julio Lugo's two-out RBI double. Rivera hit Ellsbury in the left kneecap with his next pitch, putting runners on first and second for Dustin Pedroia. The rookie fought Rivera through an eight-pitch at-bat before drawing a full-count walk, bringing David Ortiz to the plate and Yankees manager Joe Torre to the mound.
Ortiz fouled back the first pitch, took two balls, then fouled another ball down the first base line. He swung at another cutter on the 2-and-2 delivery and lifted a soft fly to short center field, where Jeter ranged back to gather in the ball for the final out.
"Well, what else?" Torre said when asked what he thought of seeing Ortiz at the plate in that situation. "You figure, 'why not him,' at that point in time when he walked Varitek to start the inning, then hits the kid, and you keep hoping he gets the next guy out, and then the next guy is that mountain who comes up there and he had no place to go and we had no place to put him."
The shimmering senior moment provided by Clemens and Schilling was matched by the first of what promises to be many battles between two players who could be the face of their respective franchises in the future, Chamberlain of the Yankees and Ellsbury of the Sox.
Chamberlain, who turns 22 next Sunday, replaced Clemens at the start of the seventh and immediately gave up a double to Eric Hinske, a moment that took on an ominous hue when a spectator leaped over the first base railing and sprinted out to knock the cap off Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. . He was eventually hauled off by security officials, with criminal charges sure to follow. When play resumed, Coco Crisp bunted Hinske to third, but Chamberlain struck out Lugo on a pitch that registered 100 miles per hour on the ESPN gun.
That brought up Ellsbury, who had hit safely in his first 13 games since his call-up and scored the game's first run last night. Chamberlain started Ellsbury with a neck-high fastball that spun the slender rookie away. Ellsbury took a half-swing as he backed away from another pitch, fouling it off, then took a high slider for ball two. Chamberlain then shattered Ellsbury's bat with a 97-m.p.h. fastball, the result a harmless ground ball to first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz that ended the inning.
Then Jeter struck, and though Lowell homered with two out in the bottom of the eighth, ending Chamberlain's string of scoreless innings to start his career at 17, the Yankees headed out of town 4 1/2 games behind the Sox in the AL East, 2 1/2 ahead of the Tigers in the wild-card race.
The circumstances of last night's Schilling-Clemens showdown bore some striking similarities to what took place on a Sunday night six years earlier in Phoenix. Clemens, just as he did in 2001, departed before Schilling. Clemens went six innings in which he allowed one unearned run, scored in the first inning when Johnny Damon appeared to lose Ellsbury's liner in the lights, for an error, Ellsbury stole second, and after a walk to Ortiz, Lowell singled him home.
Schilling soldiered on into the eighth, the score tied, 1-1, just as it had been in Game 7, when Alfonso Soriano, now with the Cubs, hit a home run, Schilling departing with his head bowed, believing he would go home a loser.
The eighth inning once again would be a crucible for Schilling, who had allowed just Cano's home run to open the fifth to count against him.
Mientkiewicz, whose diving grab of Varitek's scorching ground ball in the first deprived the Sox of a more damaging rally against the Rocket, lined a one-out single, and Torre sent up strongman Giambi to pinch hit for catcher Jose Molina.
Schilling shattered Giambi's bat with a 2-and-1 pitch that crowded the slugger, Giambi fouling the ball off in self-defense. Giambi gathered himself and launched the next pitch to left field, the ball hitting the top of The Wall and missing being a home run by about a foot. Mientkiewicz advanced to third, and when Ellsbury's throw went back to the middle of the infield, Giambi took second uncontested.
Torre sent in a pinch runner, Bronson Sardinha, who only the day before had made his major league debut. With the infield in, Damon swung at Schilling's next delivery, and he, too, wound up holding splinters, the ball rolling to second baseman Pedroia, who flipped to first while the runners held.
That brought up Jeter, and as he has done countless times over his decorated career, he came through, launching a sloppy Schilling splitter to the back of the Monster Seats.
Mientkiewicz, whose defensive wizardry had helped the Sox win a World Series in 2004, was at the receiving end of praise from both clubhouses for his first-inning play.
"Mientkiewicz made the play of the game," Sox manager Terry Francona said. "He probably saved two [runs]."