Great escape: Pettitte shakes off Red Sox

NEW YORK -- The Red Sox must have seen the Yankees' jugular in the second inning here in Game 2 Thursday night. It was right there in front of them, fully exposed, surrounded by Boston base-runners. Another hit or two and the Red Sox would have all but finished Andy Pettitte, who could have been the next October domino to fall in a line 85 years long.

Another hit or two, and the Red Sox would have set off The Boss, heaped a pile of pressure on the Yankees. They would have taken two victories back to Fenway Park; another hit or two, that's all the Red Sox needed. They had two runners on base and nobody out in the second inning, one run already across, and Pettitte was staggered, with the top of the Boston batting order stepping up to try to finish him off.

And they missed their chance. Pettitte climbed out of that second inning hole without allowing any more runs and lasted into the seventh, long enough for the Yankees to pick away at Boston's Derek Lowe and beat the Red Sox, 6-2. The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1, and the Red Sox must try to forget about those moments when they could have pinned the Yankees and Pettitte in Game 2. "We had a chance to get Pettitte," said first baseman Kevin Millar, "and we didn't."

Pettitte was working on six days' rest and the extra time off affected him like 20 cups of coffee. He struggled to throw his fastball for strikes, and when he threw it in the zone it was in the upper half, rather than down. Gabe Kapler, the fill-in for the bruised and woozy Johnny Damon, led off the game with an infield single.

With a full count on the next hitter, Bill Mueller, Kapler broke for second. Mueller took a 92 mph fastball across the outside corner, strike three, and Yankees catcher Jorge Posada whipped a throw to second to cut down Kapler by yards. The choice of putting runners in motion, Boston manager Grady Little said, has "backfired a whole lot less than it has worked for us."

Pettitte, however, was still anxious, still unsettled, feeling too strong. Nomar Garciaparra singled up the middle, Manny Ramirez singled, and David Ortiz battled Pettitte to a full count. In a similar situation in Game 1, Mike Mussina had given in to Ortiz and thrown a fastball over the plate, and Ortiz had ripped a two-run homer.

Pettitte took a different approach, throwing a cutter away, rather than challenging Ortiz -- and the cutter went outside for Ball 4. The bases were loaded. Pettitte threw a ball with his first pitch to the next hitter, Kevin Millar, and Posada lifted both hands like a traffic cop and waved them at Pettitte: Slow down. Calm down.

Millar popped out to end the inning; he would muse about whether he should have been more patient, and wonder if he should have made him throw a strike. But Pettitte had thrown 22 pitches in the first. Lowe, like Pettitte, struggled to harness his emotions, throwing 18 pitches in the bottom of the first, but Pettitte stepped right back into the vortex in the second inning. "I was fighting myself so bad," Pettitte said.

Ahead of Jason Varitek no balls and two strikes, Pettitte threw a pitch off the outside corner and Varitek poked a double down the right-field line. Trot Nixon singled through the middle, hitting the ball so hard that Varitek had to stop at third. Damian Jackson punched a single into short center field, scoring Varitek with the first run of the game, nudging Nixon to second. Every time Pettitte tried to throw a fastball to finish a hitter, his pitches were up in the strike zone.

One turn through the batting order and this was Pettitte's damage assessment: six hits, one walk, one run, two batters retired, and 31 pitches. And Boston was still building its rally in the second inning, with two on base and nobody out, and Kapler, Mueller and Garciaparra due to hit. One or two more hits, and the phone in the Yankees' bullpen would have to ring; the Yankees had too much to lose in this game, and manager Joe Torre couldn't afford to wait long for Pettitte to find himself.

Mel Stottlemyre, the Yankees' pitching coach, walked to the mound and spoke directly to Pettitte, making eye contact, trying to calm his pitcher who could barely remember the conversation several hours later. He just nodded and tried to listen and tried to reassure Stottlemyre. "I'm trying to figure it out," Pettitte told Stottlemyre.

This was it, this was the moment for Boston in Game 2, and Kapler stepped to the plate. Pettitte figured he would try to bunt; the Red Sox had runners at first and second, nobody out, big hitters to follow. Little had no such thought. "We didn't get to this point where we are right now by moving runners that early in the ballgame," he said. "We're not going to start now."

Throughout his first at-bats in this series, the Yankees' pitchers had worked away to Kapler, and so he leaned a bit over the plate, looking for something outside. But Pettitte threw inside, a cutter, and Kapler swung, hitting the ball hard. And right at Jeter.

The Yankees' shortstop fielded the ball, stepped on second and jumped over a sliding Jackson before throwing to first to complete a double play. Mueller hit a slow roller toward third, where Aaron Boone charged, barehanded the ball and threw to first -- just in time. The Yankees' jugular was covered once more. "Two inches either way," Varitek said later. "If the ball goes to either side of him, we've got a huge inning."

Said Kapler: "We definitely had a chance."

The Yankees had escaped, and then they went about the business of chasing down Lowe. After Posada drew a leadoff walk in the second, Nick Johnson smashed a two-run homer into the right-field stands. Jeter, Jason Giambi and Bernie Williams hit consecutive singles in the third inning to score Jeter, and in the fifth inning, Hideki Matsui singled home Williams. Posada doubled home two runs in the seventh.

The Yankees had the game in hand in the eighth when reliever Jose Contreras buzzed a fastball near the nose of Ortiz, and in the bottom of the eighth, Boston's Bronson Arroyo drilled Alfonso Soriano in the back of the right shoulder. Soriano turned and stared at Arroyo. Residue from those brushback pitches could appear on the hands of Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez in Game 3 Saturday, but there will be much more at stake than a beanball war.

Eighty-five years of dominos lined up, ready to topple -- perhaps on the Red Sox, once more.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.