Yankees 4, Red Sox 2

Wednesday, October 15th 2003, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Let the Curse countdown begin.

Unless the Red Sox can rally and get past Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, the heartache will linger on.

``We never get overconfident,'' Derek Jeter said after David Wells pitched New York to a 4-2 victory Tuesday that gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead in the AL championship series.

Pettitte's 12 postseason wins are one behind record-holder John Smoltz, and he evened the best-of-seven series last week when New York was in danger of falling behind 0-2.

``Everything I've done in the past isn't going to help,'' said Pettitte, set to start Game 6 on Wednesday.

Wells pushed Boston to the brink of another empty autumn, working his way out of trouble to limit the Red Sox to one run and four hits in seven innings.

``I live for this time,'' the 40-year-old left-hander said. ``I live for being the guy to go out there and be the one on the mound, try to make things happen, try to shut the other team down because I'm not afraid to fail.''

Wells is the biggest Babe Ruth fan on the Yankees _ six years ago he wore a 1934 Ruth cap for an inning against Cleveland.

Does the Boomer think the Curse of the Bambino is fact or fiction?

``I believe in it,'' he said. ``That's just my opinion.''

Boston hopes Game 6 starter John Burkett _ 0-6 against New York in regular-season play _ can get past Pettitte at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday and allow Pedro Martinez to face Clemens again the following night.

``It'll be tough,'' said Derek Lowe, who lost to Wells and dropped to 0-2 in the series

Still in the minds of the Red Sox is the first-round win over Oakland, when Boston lost the first two games, then won three in a row.

``The clock is ticking on us right now,'' Red Sox manager Grady Little said. ``This isn't something we've never been through before. We were through this about a week ago.''

Karim Garcia, who cut a knuckle Saturday in a bullpen scuffle with a member of Boston's grounds crew, was inserted into New York's lineup just before gametime and hit a two-run single in the second. Boston fans taunted Garcia in the ninth with a sing-song chant of ``Jailbird.''

David Dellucci originally was slated to start in right field, but Yankees manager Joe Torre told Garcia he was in the lineup after watching him in batting practice.

``His eyes lit up when I said, `You're playing tonight.' He thanked me, actually,'' Torre said.

Alfonso Soriano followed Garcia's hit with an RBI single _ it was the first time either team scored as many as three runs in an inning during the series _ and later made a fantastic backflip to Jeter that helped stifle a Boston rally. Hideki Matsui added a run-scoring grounder in the eighth.

While New York is seeking its 39th AL pennant, Boston is trying to get to the World Series for the first time since 1986. And, as Yankee fans are sure to point out Wednesday, the Red Sox haven't won the World Series since 1918, two years before they sold Ruth to the Yankees.

Wells improved to 10-2 in the postseason, allowing four hits in seven innings and just one run _ Manny Ramirez's homer in the fourth. It was his second big win against Boston. The Red Sox had cut New York's AL East lead to 1 1/2 games before Wells beat them 3-1 on Sept. 7.

Mariano Rivera finished for his fourth save of the postseason. He allowed his first run of the playoffs when Todd Walker tripled off the right-field wall leading off the eighth and scored on a groundout by Nomar Garciaparra _ his first RBI of the playoffs.

Garcia got the chance to be New York's offensive star when he showed his manager his hand was OK.

``I had to impress Mr. Torre that I could swing the bat, first of all, and I could hit the ball out of the park,'' he said.

Garcia tried to ignore the fans.

``They can say whatever the like to,'' he said.

Boston went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and is batting .250 against New York, just .230 in the playoffs. The top offense in the major leagues during the regular season hasn't scored more than five runs in the postseason.

``We're not taking anything for granted now,'' New York's Bernie Williams said. ``We still have to play as hard as we have been. We have to keep the pressure on them.''

Notes: Ramirez's homer was his 16th in postseason play, moving him past Ruth into fifth place on the career list. ... Burkett did beat the Yankees in Game 1 of the 1996 AL division series for Texas, allowing 10 hits in a complete game in a 6-2 victory.


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