By: Bob George/
October 06, 2003

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OAKLAND -- No emotion from Manny? The devil you say.

Any charges of apathy, any grumblings over his bad fielding and baserunning, any misgivings over his "My dream is to play for the Yankees" interview with Joe Morgan, all of this talk is now quashed, and maybe for good. With one mighty swing of the bat, Ramirez pretty much made all the money invested in him more than worthwhile, and he gained a whole ton of absolution in the process.

Ramirez looked at all his past postseason failures, here and in Cleveland, dead in the eye and took aim at a tiring Barry Zito. With a 2-2 count, Zito came in with a nothing fastball and Ramirez crushed it over the left field fence with Johnny Damon and Todd Walker on base. It gave the Sox a 4-1 lead, and Pedro Martinez and the bullpen barely made the lead stand up. When Derek Lowe fanned pinch hitter Terrence Long for the final out, the Sox exalted in a 4-3 win and a 3-2 series win. Champagne flowed in the clubhouse, and the Sox had themselves a series win for all time.

The win came on the eve of the 28th anniversary of the last Red Sox postseason win in Oakland. The Sox closed out the A's on October 7, 1975, except that series ended in a Boston sweep and with a lot less hypertension than these last few games. The Sox raised their record in clinching games to 9-9, and the Sox now can head for New York and another ALCS date with the Evil Empire.

The Empire can wait. The Sox need to exhale, hug each other, douse themselves with champagne, and worry about the condition of Damon, injured in a horrific outfield collision with Damian Jackson in the seventh inning. For the third straight game, the Sox put all their fans on the rack and hung on to win a game which history says they usually lose. In a similarity to 1986, the Red Sox out-cursed the A's, who now have lost a MLB-record nine straight playoff clinching games.

The Sox struck for four runs in the sixth, with a leadoff tall jack by Jason Varitek preceding Ramirez's epic clout. Instead of going for the kill, the Sox instead trusted the game to Martinez and the bullpen. Martinez ran out of gas in the eighth, but Alan Embree and Mike Timlin pitched perfect ball to get the Sox to the ninth still ahead.

Grady Little, as he said he would do all along, gave the ball to Scott Williamson. It seemed like a solid lock, something few people would debate. What nobody counted on was that Williamson was exhausted over having to work in the third pressure-packed game in a row. Williamson walked Scott Hatteberg and Jose Guillen, then Little brought in Lowe without hesitation.

This move ensures that Tim Wakefield will start the opener at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. The move also ensured that the Sox would play in that game. After allowing a sacrifice bunt by Ramon Hernandez, Lowe drew on his past closer experience to choke off the A's and bring the Sox home.

Little might have walked pinch hitter Adam Melhuse, who was 3-for-4 on Sunday. But Lowe got Melhuse looking on strike three, then after walking Chris Singleton, slipped a called third strike past Long to touch off the celebration. The sometimes flaky Lowe, who is a much better pitcher at Fenway versus on the road, showed incredible poise in putting out a perilous jam, one as bad as a gasoline tank on fire.

The game, billed as a dream pitching matchup between Martinez and Zito, was just that for five innings. Zito was unhittable through five innings, retiring the first nine batters he faced, and allowing only a Damon infield single in the third and a Kevin Millar single in the fourth, only Cowboy Up Kevin was lassoed at second trying to stretch an extra base after Singleton misplayed his hit. Martinez was nicked for a run in the fourth on a walk to Hatteberg and a double by Guillen. Ironically, Guillen himself was cut down at third trying to stretch that hit into a triple thanks to a great relay throw by Nomar Garciaparra.

Varitek led off the sixth with a line shot off a low and inside fastball off Zito for a homer to left. Zito, obviously feeling the effects of three days rest, walked Damon and later hit Walker in the shoulder. Ramirez then came up and instantly endeared himself to everyone loyal to the Red Sox.

Unfortunately, the sheen from this positive experience would be all gone one inning later. With two out, Jermaine Dye hit a dying quail to short centerfield. Damon came in, Jackson went out. It was Damon's play all the way, but Jackson could not hear Damon call him off. The two men leapt for the ball, and their heads collided in mid-air. Both men went down in a heap. Garciaparra had the incredible presence of mind to pick up the ball and throw to second, where Bill Mueller was waiting to take the throw and tag out Dye and end the inning.

Jackson got up and stayed in the game. But Damon was knocked out cold for about five minutes. After about a 10-minute delay, Damon was fitted for a neck brace, placed on a gurney and taken off the field in an ambulance. The Sox were obviously shaken, such that David Ortiz got in a shouting match with an Oakland fan while escorting the woozy Jackson off the field. Martinez, enduring his second long wait of the evening (along with the four-run sixth for the Sox), promptly gave up a double to Singleton and an RBI single to Mark Ellis to make it 4-3 Sox. Little brought in Embree and then Timlin to retire the side with no more damage.

The prognosis on Damon was good at last report. Damon lifted his left arm in the air as he was removed from the field. He was in good condition, but will be kept in an Oakland hospital for observation. He likely suffered a concussion, which if true would imperil his fitness to play in the ALCS.

The Sox continue to win games which suggest that the inner makeup of this club might be enough to give the Yankees a tough battle. Everyone knows about how spectacularly the Sox have done in key postseason games since winning their last World Series in 1918. They came back from an 0-2 deficit and won the clinching Game 5 on the road, just like in 1999. But the way they won these three games is what might carry them farther in the Yankee series than many might think.

If nothing else, this is a very tough and resilient ball club. The Damon injury may serve to further reinforce this issue if somehow Damon is able to play against New York. But the Sox stared down two Oakland aces in Games 4 and 5, and won both games. The Sox waited their turn to get to Zito, and they did. And despite incredible pressure and a devastating loss staring at them Monday night, Lowe instead got the outs he needed to get and preserved the final act of this Sox playoff winning troika.

Whether or not the Sox can actually play the Yankees this tough remains to be seen, as the history between these two clubs will somehow rear its ugly head. The Sox will be up against it, facing their long term nemesis in the postseason for the first time since their five-game loss in 1999. But the Sox, rallying behind Millar's "cowboy up" slogan, seem better equipped this year to deal with the Yankees versus Sox teams of 1949, 1978 and 1999.

This will go down as one of the best postseason series in recent memory. Every game except the second one was a heartstopper, and the Sox won three of those games. The emotions of all Sox fans were put on a four-day roller coaster ride, and how much more they can take as the Yankees await will remain to be seen.

Right now, who cares about the Evil Empire. Sox win. Sox advance. The cowboy show now heads to the Bronx, and toughest bullride of them all.