BOSTON — The Yankees kept circling the bases, battering Boston's beleaguered pitching staff. By the time the long, long night ended with a devastating 19-8 rout over the Red Sox, the dreaded New Yorkers were just one game away from a shocking sweep.
Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui and Alex Rodriguez turned Game 3 of the AL championship series into one big round of batting practice Saturday night.
Sheffield broke a 6-all tie with a three-run homer off Curtis Leskanic in the fourth inning, Matsui had five hits, five RBIs and five runs scored, and Rodriguez homered and scored five times.
New York, which has won six straight postseason games, had 22 hits in all, more than enough on a night Javier Vazquez relieved Kevin Brown to get just his second win in more than two months.
No major league baseball team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series, and 20 of the 25 that lost the first three games went down in four straight. The Yankees now have four tries to get the one victory they need for the seventh AL pennant in nine seasons since Joe Torre took over as manager, their 40th overall.
This game took 4 hours, 20 minutes, the longest nine-inning game in postseason history. It was a tribute to the batters and an embarrassment to pitchers, many of them resembling castoffs from cellar-dwellers rather than key components of contenders.
Even when the Yankees took an 11-6 lead in a five-run fourth, the crowd of 35126 at Fenway Park remained, knowing the Red Sox had nearly overcome an eight-run deficit in Tuesday's opener. But New York kept scoring and the fans grew quiet, as if doom already had descended on a town that wants nothing more than to shake The Curse.
The hits and runs came so quickly that it was hard to keep track how many the Yankees put up. The person running the hand-operated board fell behind in the ninth inning, and couldn't replace the panels fast enough.
Orlando Hernandez will try to close it out Sunday night for the Yankees, with Boston most likely starting Derek Lowe. Tim Wakefield, originally slated to start Game 4, was used in relief in this one.
There were 170 pitches in the first three innings, which took 1:45 to play. Brown and Boston's Bronson Arroyo didn't make it to the third.
Boston, which finished with 15 hits, had taken the Yankees to the 11th inning of Game 7 last year and dominated the Yankees during the regular season, going 11-8 — including 7-3 at home.
The scoring began 13 pitches in, when Rodriguez doubled home Derek Jeter. Matsui's two-run homer into the right-field bullpen then made it 3-0.
Sheffield threw out Ramirez at third base to end the bottom half following David Ortiz's single to right, but the Red Sox beat up on Brown in the second. They went ahead 4-3 on Trot Nixon's two-run homer into the right-field seats, an RBI single off first baseman John Olerud by Johnny Damon, who had been 0-for-9 in the series, and a run-scoring error by Jeter, who allowed Ramirez's hard grounder to shortstop to kick off his glove.
Boston's lead lasted just four pitches into the third. Rodriguez homered over the Green Monster in left. Moments later, a fan on Lansdowne Street tossed a ball back onto the field.