Monday, May 14, 2007

Sox Miracle Win

Imagine what must have been going through Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo's head when he turned, the frustration so clear, and slammed something down in the dugout after having watched a six-run ninth-inning Red Sox comeback, another stream of jumping and bouncing and yelling players coming out of the Boston dugout. Another outpouring of joy and excitement on a day that didn't seem like it would be anything but unfortunate for the full-steam-ahead Sox when starter Josh Beckett had to leave after four innings with a skin tear under the pad of his right middle finger.

Could Perlozzo have been thinking about the long walk out to remove the sailing Jeremy Guthrie with one out in that ninth inning? Could that decision have been rattling around in his head?

The Orioles had gotten to seven-game winner Beckett for two first-inning runs, then saw the Sox ace leave with what first would be called an avulsion of the right middle finger. The Orioles' starter had mastered the Sox over 8 1/3 innings, until things turned suddenly and dramatically -- once Guthrie made that walk back to the dugout.

"It's amazing, here of all places," Sox manager Terry Francona said, the cheers after the 6-5 comeback victory still ringing from the 36,379 enjoying Mother's Day and a walkoff at Fenway Park. "A dropped popup and, the next thing you know, a combination of some magic here and some really good players that don't quit. You just want a chance to get the tying run to the plate."

They had that, and more. After 91 pitches from Guthrie had dazzled Sox batters, the righthander was pulled after that popup squirted out of catcher Ramon Hernandez's glove, allowing Coco Crisp to reach. The succession of successful at-bats quickly became Red Sox lore.

All the celebration swept away -- for a moment -- some of the concern over the early exit of Beckett, who struck out seven among the 12 outs he got. On a curveball to Kevin Millar, Beckett felt the skin tear beneath the pad on the middle finger, though he finished off Millar and Jay Gibbons before being removed from the game.

"My skin broke and it just ripped more and more each pitch," Beckett said. "It is not a blister. My skin just tore. What the timetable is, I'm not sure what we are looking at. Hopefully I can make my next start, but that is a big hopefully."

By the end of this one, though, few of the Fenway faithful were thinking about Beckett, because of what happened in the ninth.

After Hernandez's error, David Ortiz doubled to left-center off Danys Baez, scoring Crisp. Wily Mo Peña, batting in place of Manny Ramírez, who was removed with a tight hamstring before the top half of the inning, singled to left. Chris Ray came on and walked J.D. Drew. Suddenly, the tying run was at the plate, with the bases loaded.

Kevin Youkilis walked, scoring Ortiz and making it 5-2.

"It gradually builds," catcher Jason Varitek said. "David has a big double, then Wily gets on a with a hit. Then, next thing you know, J.D. walks, Youk walks, and we're in a situation. You wake up this crowd and it can wake anybody up."

Varitek doubled to right-center, scoring Peña and Drew to make it 5-4. Eric Hinske was walked intentionally, loading them up again.

Alex Cora then bounced into a fielder's choice, with second baseman Brian Roberts electing to go home with a ball that did not appear to have a chance to be converted into a double play. Youkilis, who was called out at the plate, said, "I still think I'm safe. If you look at the replay I think I was safe, too."

That gave Lugo, up for the second time in the inning, his chance, and he hit a ball that rolled toward first baseman Millar.

"At 3-2, I was just trying to make contact right there," Lugo said. "When I hit the ball I just was running down [to the] base.

"I don't hear anything, I just see the bag. It's like in the cartoons when you only see one thing."

Ray was late off the mound and, as Lugo went into a slide, the ball glanced off Ray's glove and bounced away, Varitek and Hinske coming around to score. Sox win, 6-5, and there was chaos. The play was eventually ruled an RBI infield single, and an error on Ray, allowing Hinske to score.

"That's a game we should've won, period," Millar said. "That's a game we should've won -- end of story. There's no rhyme or reason why we should've lost that game. That game was in our hands. I really feel terrible for Guthrie, who pitched an incredible game for us and gave us a great quality start today.

"Games are never over here in Fenway Park. We know that. We've got to play nine innings and 27 outs. This is a game we should've won, and we were up, 5-0, going into the ninth. Period."

With the way Guthrie, who had recorded his first win as a starter his last time out, Tuesday over the Devil Rays, had been throwing, that wasn't too much to expect. Guthrie had given up just three hits over eight innings before being sent out for the ninth by Perlozzo.

Asked why Guthrie was so effective, Youkilis chuckled and said, "95 [miles per hour] with movement, slider and a curveball."

Beckett said, "Me and Tim Wakefield looked at each other on the bench in the ninth inning when they took Guthrie out, and we said, 'We're going to win this game.' We both believed it. That just shows what kind of character we have on this team. These guys are unbelievable."

And, had Perlozzo perhaps made a different choice, the game could have ended with the frustration in the other dugout. Except it didn't. For one simple reason.

"This team never thinks the game's over till it's over," Lugo said. "We never give up."

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