NEW YORK – Wow, what a shot!
Aaron Boone set off bedlam in the Bronx on Thursday night with a leadoff home run in the 11th inning to give the New York Yankees (search) a 6-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox (search) for a trip to the World Series (search) and their 39th American League pennant.
Boone, who didn't start Game 7, homered on the first pitch from knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who had two wins in the series and was making his first relief appearance.
The Yankees had been five outs from losing, when Jorge Posada blooped a tying two-run double off a tiring Pedro Martinez in the eighth inning.
New York will start the World Series at home on Saturday against the Florida Marlins, who beat the Chicago Cubs in a Game 7 on Wednesday night.
New York trailed 4-0 in the fourth inning and 5-2 in the eighth as Roger Clemens made an early exit in what looked to be the final game of his storied career.
But the Yankees bounced back, rekindling all those painful memories that have haunted so many Red Sox fans -- thoughts of Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner and decades of New York domination.
For the Yankees, who haven't won the World Series since 2000, this was their fifth pennant in six seasons.
These old foes played 26 times this season -- a baseball first -- and it went extra innings. Yet, the final words of the ultimate chapter revealed it was the same old story, one that the Red Sox perennially curse: pinstripes in the World Series, despair back in Boston.
Only the names change in the annual fight between New York and New England, never the result.
Mariano Rivera didn't allow a run in his first three-inning appearance since Sept. 6, 1996. It capped a triumphant night for a New York bullpen that had failed so often. This time, it allowed just one run in eight innings, and Rivera walked off with the MVP award.
Wakefield, who relieved to start the 10th, had baffled New York with his knuckleball in Games 1 and 4 and started with a scoreless inning.
Boone, acquired from Cincinnati on July 31, then homered into the left-field seats, setting the old ballpark shaking. There wasn't a doubt from the moment it left his bat.
It was the first pennant-winning, extra-inning homer for the Yankees since Chris Chambliss' ninth-inning shot against Kansas City in 1976.
Rivera went right to the mound, dropping to the ground and pounding the pitching rubber with his right hand. He seemed to be sobbing by the time coach Wille Randolph got to him and hugged him.
The Yankees waited for Boone at home plate, hopping with excitement, and mobbed him when he arrived.
"Wow. I can't even talk," Boone said. "It's unbelievable. Mo ... so many heroes today. Unbelievable. This is awesome. Like Derek told me, `The ghosts will show up eventually."'
Rivera had probably pitched his final inning. Jose Contreras, who wasted a two-run lead in Game 6, was starting to warm up in New York's bullpen. Rivera had thrown 48 pitches.
"I see those guys coming back, coming back, coming back, and I think `I've got to hold this,"' he said.
"That's behind me. You just have to put it behind you."
Trot Nixon's two-run homer in a three-run second inning and Kevin Millar's solo shot in the fourth chased Clemens, who walked off slowly in what then appeared to be the final appearance of his storied career.
Jason Giambi, dropped to seventh in the batting order for the first time since July 1999, started the comeback with solo homers in the fifth and seventh innings innings.
A parade of New York relievers -- including Mike Mussina in the first relief appearance of his major league career -- held Boston scoreless until David Ortiz made it 5-2 with a homer in the eighth on David Wells' first pitch of the game.
Derek Jeter then sparked the eighth with a one-out double over Nixon in right, and Bernie Williams singled him home. Hideki Matsui followed with a double down the right-field line -- on an 0-2 pitch -- that put runners on second and third, and Posada looped a hit to center that scored both runners, with Matsui slapping the plate as he slid in and his teammates coming out of the dugout. Posada wound up on second base as no one covered the bag.
Martinez, who had thrown 123 pitches, was removed in favor of left-hander Alan Embree, who retired Giambi on a flyout. Mike Timlin came in and intentionally walked pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra and Karim Garcia unintentionally, loading the bases for Alfonso Soriano.
He hit a ball off the mound and it bounced to second baseman Todd Walker, who raised his glove, grabbed it and threw to second for the forceout.
Ever since the Boston sent Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, New York had ruled, winning 26 World Series championships while the Red Sox won none, a team supposedly cursed for selling the sport's biggest star.
The teams had battled on and off the field since December, when New York beat out the Red Sox to sign Contreras, prompting Boston president Larry Lucchino to call the Yankees the "Evil Empire."
For much of the night, it seemed this would be the night Boston would win a title in New York for the first time in 99 years -- since a 3-2 victory at Hilltop Park on the final day of the season. After all, wasn't this Boston's season? It was 100 years after Boston -- then known as the Americans and sometimes the Pilgrims -- beat Pittsburgh in the first World Series.
In what could have been the final start of his storied 20-year career, Clemens got just nine outs and the six-time Cy Young Award winner slowly walked off the mound to the dugout, trailing by four runs.
But in Yankee Stadium's first Game 7 in 46 years, it was only the beginning.
The Red Sox, who finished second to the Yankees in the AL East for the sixth straight season, had come in with four straight wins in the postseason when facing elimination and seven of eight. After coming back from an 0-2 deficit against Oakland in the first round with three straight wins, they became the first team to overcome a 3-2 postseason deficit with two wins at Yankee Stadium since the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1926 World Series.
Clemens, who left Boston after the 1996 season and went on two win three more Cy Youngs, had little command of his splitter and repeatedly fell behind batters. He allowed four runs, three of them earned, and six hits in three-plus innings.
Martinez, a three-time Cy Young winner himself, didn't seem to have his best fastball, but kept getting ahead and mixing speeds. He had lost to Clemens last Saturday in a Game 3 remembered for brawls rather than baseball, but this time didn't get a decision, allowing five runs and 10 hits in 7 1-3 innings.
Kevin Millar opened the fourth with a home run, Boston's 11th of the series, a record for an ALCS.