10/15/2003 10:32 PM ET
Sox bullpen automatic, again
Magnificent relief work gives offense chance to rally
NEW YORK -- A bullpen that spent most of the regular season being ridiculed in the media and reconstructed by the front office has the Red Sox knocking on the door that leads to the World Series.
By Jim Street / MLB.com
Faced with another win-or-go-home situation when they arrived at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, the AL Wild Card team sent another SOS to the bullpen in the sixth inning, and a succession of relievers answered the call magnificently.
Left-hander Alan Embree and right-handers Todd Jones, Mike Timlin and Scott Williamson held the Yankees scoreless over the last four innings, securing a 9-6 win that sent the best-of-seven American League Championship Series to the max.
"I can't say enough about them," said interim pitching coach Dave Wallace of the relief corps. "What they have been through this year, and the way they have stepped up in the last six weeks, has been amazing. They have developed into a very solid group and probably have exceeded everyone's expectations, except their own."
In six ALCS games, Red Sox relievers have pitched 27 2/3 innings and allowed two runs. That's a 0.81 ERA, folks.
For comparison's sake, the vaunted Yankees bullpen surrendered five runs in Game 6.
As the Red Sox savored their fourth straight win-or-else victory of the postseason, there was a strong feeling that the game -- and the season -- reached crunch time in the sixth inning when the Yankees, already ahead by two runs, had runners on first and second with one out.
With Jason Giambi coming to bat, Red Sox manager Grady Little replaced Jones with Embree. The situation intensified when Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter pulled off a double steal.
Embree had one thing in mind.
"I wanted to miss his bat," he said. "I didn't want him to make contact."
Giambi, who hit a home run in the first inning, struck out when all he had to do was put the ball in play. The Red Sox were in their "Giambi Shift" -- three infielders on the first base side of second base -- but were conceding a run to get an out and prevent a game-breaking rally.
Embree then retired Bernie Williams on a grounder to third base and the momentum made a profound shift in the strong wind that buffeted The Stadium.
"It's difficult to point to one part of the game and say that was the difference, but that (sixth inning) was huge," second baseman Todd Walker said. "If they score one run there, we would have been behind by three and it would have been very difficult for us. But Alan struck out Jason (and) got Bernie on a groundout, and that was biggest part of the game right there."
Embree, who won his first postseason game in his 18th playoff relief appearance, worked a spotless seventh inning, Timlin worked a scoreless eighth inning and Williamson recorded the final three outs of the game.
But Timlin did something unusual. He allowed a one-out single to Karim Garcia, the first batter to reach base against the veteran right-hander the entire postseason. Timlin retired the first 23 batters he faced since the postseason began. He nearly pitched a perfect game -- over three weeks.
"I told him he must be getting tired, he gave up a hit," Embree said. "He just glared at me."
Little pretty much emptied his bullpen against the Yankees and had right-handed starter Tim Wakefield warming up in the eighth inning. But the manager went the conventional route and turned to Williamson for the ninth inning.
"Our bullpen right now is incredible," said Jones, who made his first playoff appearance. "It's kind of funny that our bullpen took a lot of abuse after blowing a few leads. But I told some people back in Boston that the strength of this team in the playoffs would be the bullpen.
"There are so many good arms down there. Williamson, Timlin and Embree are throwing the ball as good as anyone in baseball right now. It's important for us to get the lead early and give the ball to those guys."
Jones pointed out that Timlin has previous playoff experience, saving Game 6 of the 1992 World Series as a member of the Blue Jays.
Embree has been here too, with the Indians.
"Williamson throws so darn hard it doesn't matter where he's been," Jones said.
The way this group is throwing the ball, the next place they might go is the Fall Classic.
"I will get real high on us if we win the last game of the World Series," Timlin said. "Otherwise, we have a game tomorrow. That's the most important thing right now."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League baseball or its clubs.