In the end, the Yankees' final regular-season game at Fenway Park on Sunday night came down to one Mariano Rivera pitch. With the bases loaded and two outs, the high pop off of David Ortiz's dangerous bat came to rest safely in Derek Jeter's glove, securing a 4-3 New York victory.
Jeter pumped his right fist emphatically, his go-ahead eighth-inning home run secure as the margin of victory. Boston cursed. New York exhaled. Nothing's ever easy for the Yankees in New England.
"It's not what I expected when we went into that inning," Jeter said. "It's always scary when you've got Ortiz up, let alone with the bases loaded and a one-run game. But we have a lot of confidence in Mo. He's not afraid of anyone."
Rivera's showdown with Big Papi was the icing on a delicious three-hour, 10-minute affair that opened with a back-to-the-future pitchers' duel between Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, reprising a 2001 World Series Game 7 showdown with significantly more mileage but still as much drive and heart.
Making his first Fenway Park start since the 2003 American League Championship Series, Clemens held the Red Sox to just one unearned run and two hits over six innings. Schilling brought a game to match, at least until Jeter interrupted the evening with his eighth-inning homer, a shot to the back of the seating area atop the left-field Green Monster.
A hanging splitter created a three-run lead, just enough breathing room for yet another clutch circumstance.
"You're not always going to come through, but I enjoy them," Jeter said. "Ever since you're a little kid, you think of being up in big situations. I think you always envision yourself coming through."
"It is scary, but you expect it," said Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz. "He just finds a way to have his best at-bat when you need it most, and he's got that knack of always slowing the game down when it counts."
Not that Rivera didn't make it interesting. Jason Varitek opened the ninth with a leadoff walk, but the 37-year-old closer recorded the next two outs. Julio Lugo had other ideas, ripping a run-scoring double up the gap in left-center field.
Jacoby Ellsbury, representing the winning run, was hit by a pitch on the knee, and Dustin Pedroia battled Rivera for a walk, loading the bases and sending up "a mountain," in manager Joe Torre's words, the hulking visage of Ortiz.
Rivera said that, in a conference on the mound with catcher Jorge Posada, the Yankees suddenly found themselves out of options. Even Torre, on a rare mid-inning visit, had no words of advice, just a reminder: "If you get this guy out, then we win the game."
"We were thinking to go and attack him -- attack him in," Rivera said. "That's my best pitch, and that's his powerhouse. We just went strength to strength. There's nowhere to put him. But to face him, you have to give him everything that you've got."
Ortiz lifted a 2-2 cutter past second base and right into the path of Jeter's backtracking trot. By now, sitting with his teammates in a navy sweatshirt, Clemens could sit back and appreciate the goings-on from a fan's perspective.
"I had the opportunity to watch the best clutch hitter in the game win the game for us, and the best closer I've ever seen," Clemens said. "[Jeter is] one of the reasons why I got up off the couch to come back here and work again."
The first six innings had belonged to Clemens, making the 200th Yawkey Way start of his career. Fittingly, on national television, Clemens turned in nothing short of the gem he became so well-known for within the stadium's confines.
"He likes these games where there's a lot of attention," Jeter said. "He likes pitching in the big games, and I think he enjoys pitching here at Boston. I don't want to speak for him, but it seems like he gets up for it."
The 45-year-old right-hander rolled back the hands of time in his first start after receiving a pair of cortisone injections in his pitching elbow. Boston got its only run off Clemens in the first inning, when Johnny Damon misplayed an Ellsbury fly ball for an error, and after a one-out walk to Ortiz, Mike Lowell came through with a run-scoring single.
"I was curious to see how my body would react in a game situation," Clemens said. "You can throw all the side work that you want. The arm felt fine. I still have some work to do with it, but it's great."
With Mientkiewicz's stellar defense partly due credit, the first baseman fearlessly bounding into the path of oncoming baserunners, that would be Boston's last hit until Lowell again singled with one out in the sixth, as Clemens was completing his successful 87-pitch return to Fenway.
"Roger was great," Torre said. "He was absolutely great. For a guy who hadn't pitched for a while, he had a plan and went out there and really executed."
Yet instead of Clemens, the victory would go to reliever Joba Chamberlain, who surrendered his first earned run after 17 2/3 innings of scoreless work. Chamberlain pitched a scoreless seventh after a leadoff double to Eric Hinske but gave up a solo home run on a high 98-mph fastball to Lowell with two outs in the eighth, cutting New York's lead to 4-2.
"I guess I let down Joe a little bit," Chamberlain said. "He said I couldn't let one up until next year."
Robinson Cano's fifth-inning home run over the Green Monster was all the Yankees mustered against Schilling before Jeter gave New York the lead, helping the AL Wild Card leaders take two out of three games in the weekend series and move within to 4 1/2 games in the AL East with 13 games to play -- but none against Boston.
At least, until a potential ALCS. Could you imagine? Can you resist?
"You measure yourself by these guys, because of where they've been all year," Torre said. "After losing [on Saturday] and getting beat up like that, to come out and play as well as we did, it's great."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.