Red Sox clinch first playoff berth since 1999
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox took a raucous ride into the playoffs, slugging their way to the AL's last postseason berth and setting off a party that hints -- they hope -- at bigger ones to come.
Jason Varitek, Nomar Garciaparra and Kevin Millar homered and Boston beat the Baltimore Orioles 14-3 on Thursday night to clinch the AL wild-card spot.
"It's incredible. I can't imagine if we win a World Series what it would feel like," said John Henry, a billionaire who has owned the long-suffering franchise for just two seasons. "We just won the wild card, and it's one of the greatest moments of my life."
|Derek Lowe waves to the crowd after winning his 17th and pitching the Red Sox to the wild card.(AP)
With a sellout crowd standing to cheer, flashbulbs popping and the Red Sox perched on the dugout steps, Ramiro Mendoza struck out Brian Roberts to put Boston in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Players poured out of the dugout -- subdued at first, but gradually gaining celebratory steam as they sprayed each other and the crowd with champagne and vowed to the frenzied and frustrated fans that this year will be different from all the others since the team's last championship in 1918.
"This is the reason why a player chooses Boston, the way they support you," center fielder Johnny Damon said. "We're definitely going to do it this year."
The Red Sox are four games ahead of the Seattle Mariners in the AL wild-card race with three games remaining.
Boston's win wraps up the AL matchups for the first round: Minnesota will play against the Yankees starting Tuesday in New York, and Boston will open the following day at Oakland.
"We've had a pretty successful September," Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said. "Now we want a successful October."
Gabe Kapler and Tim Wakefield sprayed the fans with bubbly, while Garciaparra went out to the outfield to applaud the fans. Millar took a microphone to the pitcher's mound and reprised his embarrassing "Rally Karaoke Guy."
"It's time to 'Cowboy Up,"' said Millar, a Texan who inspired the team's motto. "We're going to take this thing to the next level."
Playing before a full ballpark for the 64th consecutive home game, the Red Sox quickly gave the crowd of 34,526 something to cheer about. It was 12-0 after four innings, and the rest of the night was just a prelude to the celebration.
Manager Grady Little emptied his bench after five innings, and Derek Lowe (17-7) left after holding the Orioles to two hits through the sixth.
The Red Sox won't be back at Fenway Park until Game 3 of the playoffs, on Oct. 4.
Lowe did not give up a hit through 4 1/3 innings. He wound up allowing one earned run and four walks while striking out one.
Bill Mueller went 3-for-5 to raise his league-leading batting average to .327, adding two runs and three RBI for Boston. Garciaparra, who had been slumping all month, had a run-scoring groundout to go with his three-run homer.
Omar Daal (4-11) has not won since May 30, a span that includes two months on the disabled list with tendinitis on his left rotator cuff. He allowed seven runs and seven hits, getting just five outs.
"The Red Sox did what they do best -- score runs," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "They're an awfully good ballclub and they deserve what they've gotten because they've worked hard for it all year."
Baltimore couldn't muster so much as a hit against Lowe until there was one out in the fifth and Luis Matos hit a high bouncer that stopped about halfway to third base. Lowe, who pitched Boston's last no-hitter on April 27, 2002, appeared disappointed, so Varitek went out to the mound to talk to him and give the fans a chance to cheer.
Boston had its first chance to clinch a playoff berth on Wednesday night, but Baltimore scored seven runs off John Burkett, who only got one out in the first inning.
Thursday's game was over almost as quickly.
Damon singled, took third on Mueller's double and scored on Garciaparra's groundout. Manny Ramirez singled and David Ortiz hit an RBI groundout to make it 2-0.
Varitek led off the second with a homer, then Kapler and Damian Jackson doubled. One out later, Daal hit Mueller with a pitch and then Garciaparra it a three-run shot to make 7-0.
Mueller added a two-run double in the third to make it 9-0. In the fourth, Millar hit a three-run homer to make it 12-0.
- The Orioles end their season with a four-game series against the Yankees in New York, starting with a twi-night doubleheader Friday.
- Jackson stole his 16th base of the season after getting just his 37th hit, a double in the second inning.
- Garciaparra's three-run homer in the second followed a 1-for-19 slump. It was his 27th homer of the season and first in six games.
- One night after setting the major league record for total bases in a season with 2,750, the Red Sox had 20 through the first three innings Thursday with two homers, four doubles and four singles. The previous record of 2,748 was set by Colorado in 2001.