BOSTON -- The Red Sox arrived at Fenway Park on Sunday with the sole mission of making sure it was not their last baseball game of the season. Little did they know what a daunting and exhausting mission it would be.
All the Sox had to do to stave off elimination -- not to mention a humbling sweep -- in this American League Championship Series against the Yankees was overturn a ninth inning deficit against Mariano Rivera, the most accomplished closer in the world.
Then they had to shut the Yankees down for another three innings. David Ortiz finally ended the madness, pummeling a Paul Quantrill pitch into the visitors' bullpen for a two-run homer in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Just like that, the longest game in ALCS history was complete, and the Sox emerged 6-4 winners in the five-hour and two-minute marathon that was Game 4.
Ortiz has been Boston's best clutch hitter for the past two seasons. In fact, the last two wins by the Red Sox have been made possible by Ortiz belting a walk-off blast. The left-handed masher also did it in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Angels.
"Pretty much if we didn't win that game, we would be packing right now," said Ortiz. "We'd be facing another situation."
But vacation was put on hold, as three-time Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez will take the ball for Boston in Monday's Game 5. If the Sox can stave off elimination again, Curt Schilling, ailing right ankle and all, would pitch Tuesday night in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.
"It's phenomenal," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "When you emotionally and physically leave everything you have on the field and you come away with an emotional win, it's a big lift.
It was the type of classic game everyone expected to be prevalent in this American League Championship Series between the Red Sox and Yankees. This was the tense back-and-forth contest that had been lacking in the previous three games.
But the Sox weren't in the position to hang their hats on being competitive. They needed a victory to stay alive. They got one by the skin of their season.
The Red Sox were the 26th team in Major League history to fall behind 3-0 in a seven-game series. They are just the sixth to avoid a sweep:
Red Sox, 6-4
ATL in 6
SD in 6
BAL in 5
NY Giants/NY Yankees
NYY in 5
Chi. Cubs/Phila. A's
PHI in 5
Manny Ramirez got the inning started with a single to left. With no outs, Ortiz clocked a 2-1 pitch that sent Fenway Park into bedlam.
Three outs from elimination and trailing in the ninth, the Sox staved off the four-game sweep with a game-tying rally off the great Rivera that extended their season at least one more day.
Kevin Millar led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk. Dave Roberts pinch-ran and stole second. That set up Bill Mueller's game-tying, RBI single up the middle.
"That's why we have a guy like Dave Roberts," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "We can call on him to go steal bases. We know he doesn't have to wait too long. He's one of the best basestealers around. And then, of course, Billy Mueller, he's a great hitter."
It was the third time the Sox have engineered a comeback against Rivera this season, and the second time Mueller has done the honors. On July 24, Mueller ended a zany, 11-10 game at Fenway with a walk-off blast.
League Championship Series walk-off home runs (* series clinching game):
David Ortiz, Red Sox
2004 ALCS Game 4
Aaron Boone, Yankees
2003 ALCS Game 7*
Alfonso Soriano, Yankees
2001 ALCS Game 4
Bernie Williams, Yankees
1999 ALCS Game 1
Bernie Williams, Yankees
1996 ALCS Game 1
Lenny Dykstra, Mets
1986 NLCS Game 3
Ozzie Smith, Cardinals
1985 NLCS Game 5
Steve Garvey, Padres
1984 NLCS Game 4
John Lowenstein, Orioles
1979 ALCS Game 1
Chris Chambliss, Yankees
1976 ALCS Game 5*
Bert Campaneris, A's
1973 ALCS Game 3
Johnny Bench, Reds
1973 NLCS Game 1
"Rivera is probably the best closer ever to play this game," said Red Sox starter Derek Lowe, who kept the Sox in it early. "I've said all along, give our hitters credit. For some reason, they feel like they can get the job done against this guy. We found a way."
The Yankees nearly went ahead in the top of the 11th, loading the bases with two outs. But winning pitcher Curtis Leskanic came out of the bullpen and got Bernie Williams on a flyout to center. Overall, the Boston bullpen gave up just one run in 6 1/3 innings.
After being thoroughly dismantled in a 19-8 loss in Game 3, the Sox were in this one every step of the way.
The only major misfire Lowe made was deposited for a two-run homer well over the Green Monster by Alex Rodriguez in the top of the third, breaking the scoreless tie.
Just as Lowe stayed sharp despite his recent inactivity, so did Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez. He limited the Sox to a mere one hit -- a two-out single by Mueller in the second -- over the first four innings.
The Sox got the rally their fans were waiting for in the bottom of the fifth. Millar and Mark Bellhorn drew walks, setting up first and second with one out. Damon legged out a fielder's choice grounder to short to keep the inning alive. Then Cabrera got Boston on the board, ripping a 2-2 pitch into right for an RBI single.
Hernandez appeared to be tiring, as he walked Ramirez to load the bases. That set up Ortiz for his first clutch hit of the game, a two-run single to center to give the Sox their first lead at 3-2. El Duque prevented things from getting any worse, closing out the 38-pitch inning by striking out Varitek.
Hideki Matsui, who has haunted the Sox throughout the entire series, drilled a one-out triple in the fifth that was just out of the reach of center fielder Damon. That was all for Lowe, as Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to Mike Timlin.
"I was telling my wife before I left for the field today, this is the hardest game I've had to pitch in my career from the standpoint of we're down 3-0, and this could have been my last game here," said Lowe. "Just try and go out there and pitch a good game. I tried to really concentrate on every pitch."
Lowe, making his first start of the postseason, was sharp in his 5 1/3 innings of work.
The first batter Timlin faced was Williams, and he hit a dribbler that Cabrera tried to barehand, but the ball rolled over him for an infield hit that tied the game. Varitek helped manage the damage, by hopping out of his crouch to get an errant Timlin pitch and firing to third to nail Williams. Posada advanced to second on the play and moved to third on Ruben Sierra's infield hit.
As it turned out, infield hits were a charm for the Yankees, as Tony Clark hit one off the glove of second baseman Bellhorn on the grass a few feet in back of the infield. Bellhorn then dropped the ball before he could get the throw to first and the Yankees were back in front.
Derek Lowe / P
Weight: 215 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
In a sign of the plight the Red Sox were in, Francona went to closer Keith Foulke with one out and one on in the top of the seventh. The closer was able to cool off Matsui, getting a groundout to first. He struck out Williams to end the inning. Foulke fired 2 2/3 hitless innings.
"We're not going to roll over," said Foulke. "It's unfortunate we put ourselves in this situation, but we're not going to give it to them. Go out there and fight, fight until we've got no more fight left in us."
Thanks to Foulke, the Sox only needed one run to get the equalizer against Rivera. They did that, and then rode Ortiz's latest bit of magic to Game 5.
"This year has been a special year for David," said reliever Alan Embree. "When the game's on the line and he's at the plate, you just think something good is going to happen."
This time, that something was earning the right to play one more game.
"We set out today to win," said Francona. "That was our only objective and somehow, we did."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.