10/20/2004 12:19 AM ET
Bellhorn proves he belongs
Struggling infielder's homer the diference in key win
By Dick Kaegel / MLB.com
|The oft-maligned Mark Bellhorn came up big with a three-run homer in the fourth. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK -- Mark Bellhorn had gone 1-for-14 in this series.
He'd been busted as the Red Sox No. 2 batter and dropped into the last spot in the order.
Bellhorn needed this one and so did the Red Sox.
Nothing like a game-deciding, three-run homer, even if it was quirky, to soften a hard slump in the glare of what has become an intensely competitive American League Championship Series.
Bellhorn was the difference in a 4-2 victory over the Yankees on Tuesday night, setting up a final joust for a World Series berth in the Bronx.
"It's pretty big for me," Bellhorn said. "My first time to be involved in something like this and it makes you try a little bit harder sometimes."
Too hard, perhaps.
Before this game, he had struck out eight times in his 14 at-bats and had drawn just two walks.
Bellhorn may have unloaded the home run, but he'd never have received the chance that inning if it wasn't for Jason Varitek.
Varitek, a determined cuss, worked his way through a 10-pitch encounter with Yankees starter Jon Lieber to lay the groundwork.
Lieber got two outs in the fourth before trouble loomed. Kevin Millar doubled into the left-field corner, then advanced to third on Lieber's wild pitch.
Up came Varitek. If he makes the third out, it's a different ballgame, maybe a Pinstripe party.
"I was just trying to make sure I saw the ball well and I got lucky. I called for time out on one pitch and took my hand off the bat but was able to foul the ball off," he said. "And I just tried to battle."
On the 10th pitch, Varitek singled to center to drive in the game's first run. Orlando Cabrera also singled and up came Bellhorn.
|Since the 1999 ALDS, the Sox are 10-2 in postseason games when facing elimination:||Year
|2004||ALCS/5||NYY||W 5-4 (14)|
|2004||ALCS/4||NYY||W 6-4 (12)|
Bellhorn then belted a line drive just over the left-field wall. But along the way he got caught in New York traffic, idling a while at second base.
Hideki Matsui, in pursuit, certainly reacted as if the ball went over the wall for a three-run homer. Left-field umpire Jim Joyce, however, ruled the ball went off the wall for a two-run double.
Bellhorn wasn't sure if it was a home run either.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think I hit it good enough to get out," Bellhorn said. "I knew the wind was kind of blowing in from left and when I hit it, I knew it was slicing away from Matsui. I pretty much knew that it was going to maybe just get in the corner for a double or something like that."
Red Sox manager Terry Francona begged to differ with Joyce's call. He thought the ball clearly went over the wall. The six umpires conferred on the field and ultimately agreed with him.
"Every other umpire thought that the ball was over the wall," umpire Randy Marsh explained. "And that's why we had to change it and give Bellhorn the home run."
TV replays showed clearly that the ball struck a black-clad fan in the midsection a foot or so over the wall. The homer gave the Red Sox a 4-0 lead and perhaps a bruised tummy to the fan.
The round-tripper energized the Sox and Bellhorn, who admitted he was losing some confidence through his travails at the plate.
"Anytime you don't get hits or you're not putting good at-bats together, I think you lose a little bit," he said. "But that shows a lot about this team where everybody was on my side and kept telling me that I'm going to come through for this team."
He could not have come through at a better time for the Red Sox.
"He's been a guy that's had big hits for us numerous times this year," Varitek said, "and it's nice to see the series has turned around for him."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.