With one swing, Manny Ramírez changed everything last night at Fenway Park.
This was shaping up as a pitching-dominated Minnesota victory, but Ramírez's two-run homer in the eighth tied the game and Brandon Moss's two-out single drove in Kevin Youkilis with the go-ahead run to cap a four-run inning and produce the Red Sox' second one-run victory in as many nights, 6-5, before 37,925.
Moss, who tied the season opener March 25 against the Oakland A's in Japan with a ninth-inning homer off Huston Street, got a rare start in left field and he didn't disappoint.
"I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and drive it up the middle," Moss said. "We did such a great job battling back and Manny gave us a chance to pull it out. It was a fun night and we beat a great team. To win a game like this against a team like that is a big win for us."
This was basically two games in one - one dominated by Twins pitching, particularly starter Nick Blackburn, and the other marked by Boston's late-surging offense.
With the Sox trailing, 5-2 entering the eighth, Jacoby Ellsbury doubled off Dennys Reyes. In came Matt Guerrier, and Dustin Pedroia singled to shallow right- center to move Ellsbury to third. J.D. Drew grounded to second to produce the Sox' third run, then up came Ramírez, who had been 0 for 3 with a strikeout.
But he came through in a big way, just as he did the night before in the eighth inning, driving in the game's only run.
Ramírez has been long gone and unavailable to the media after games lately, but manager Terry Francona and other teammates have spoken on his behalf.
"It was nice seeing him hit the ball out of the ballpark," said Francona. "[Monday] night was what we needed - infield is in and he lines [a single] to right - but sometimes you need a home run."
And sometimes you need to continue an inning after a big home run. Thank Youkilis for that. He stroked a double into the gap in left-center, then got to third on a wild pitch. Moss then delivered his winning single to center.
Jonathan Papelbon came on to record his 27th save in the ninth in nail-biting fashion. Nick Punto doubled to center on a ball Coco Crisp dived for and went behind him. After a sacrifice by Denard Span advanced Punto to third, Papelbon struck out pinch hitter Jason Kubel on a 97-mile-per-hour fastball, passing on the splitter that sometimes gets him in trouble. He then got Alexi Casilla to ground to second to end the game.
The Crisp play could have been a mess.
"I got a great jump on it and I went for it," said Crisp of Punto's drive, which should have been a single. "It wasn't like I hesitated or anything. I play all those situations in my head; when I'm running, I thought I had it. And I end up missing it, but I thought I picked the right situation to go after it . . . but it didn't work out."
The Twins, who have 19 quality starts in 23 games since June 13, didn't give the Sox much over the first six innings.
Blackburn effectively worked both sides of the plate, keeping the Sox pounding the ball into the ground.
Jon Lester, who shut out the Yankees at the Stadium last Thursday, went 7 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits and five runs.
He was cruising until Justin Morneau singled to center with one out in the fourth. The lefthander, making his 20th start, induced a force from Craig Monroe for the second out, but suddenly, he began to get his pitches up and the Twins were relentless. A single to right by Delmon Young was followed by a triple into the right-field corner by Brendan Harris, scoring a pair. Punto followed with a single to center that made it 3-1.
"Harris did a great job of hitting," said Lester. "He stuck the bat out there and he hit the ball down the line. You've got to tip your hat to that."
The Twins added a run in the seventh as Lester began inching closer to 100 pitches. He allowed a leadoff double to Harris, and No. 9 hitter Span knocked in the fourth Minnesota run with a single.
"In the seventh inning, on the bloop hit to left, same deal," Lester said. "I executed the pitch I wanted to execute and he hit it."
The Sox scored on Drew's RBI double in the first after Ellsbury singled, but then Blackburn settled in.
The 6-foot-4-inch, 227-pound righthander threw seven shutout innings in a 7-0 win over Detroit last Wednesday and entered last night's game with a 7-4 record and a 3.78 ERA.
He retired the Sox in order in the second, third, and fourth innings; Youkilis's single to lead off the fifth ended his string at 11 straight outs. Pedroia extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a sixth-inning single, but other than that, Blackburn was in control.
In the bottom of the seventh, Youkilis hit a fly ball atop the left-center wall. The ball seemed to take an eternity to bounce off and equally long for center fielder Carlos Gomez to retrieve it. By that time, Youkilis was racing into third base.
With one out, Moss fell behind, 0 and 2, against Blackburn, but then sent a sacrifice fly to left-center to make it a two-run game.
"Blackburn was excellent all night," said Moss. "He threw a lot of strikes."
By the eighth it was evident Lester had begun to tire. He surrendered singles to Joe Mauer and Morneau. After he struck out Monroe, Francona yanked him following his 117th pitch. David Aardsma came on, but Young drilled a single to right to make it 5-2.
But the game was about to change in a big way. Thanks to Ramírez.