Saturday, August 2, 2008

Boston walks off in Bay's Sox debut

The energy returned to Fenway Park on Friday night, roaming from the stands to the dugout to the clubhouse. This after a draining few days in which a superstar essentially begged his way out of town and had his wish granted.
Gone was Manny Ramirez, a hitting legend in these parts for the past 7 1/2 years. But back was the type of late-inning drama the Red Sox have so lacked in recent weeks. In the first game A.M. -- after Manny -- rookie Jed Lowrie produced a two-out, walk-off infield single over the mound that shortstop Bobby Crosby couldn't make a play on.

Just like that, the Red Sox had themselves a 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics in 12 innings.

"It's a huge win for us," said veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. "We haven't been playing very well."

Almost as if it was scripted, Jason Bay -- the newest member of the Red Sox -- came racing home with the winning run. As he ran back toward the dugout, teammate Sean Casey -- who played with Bay in Pittsburgh in 2006 -- was the first to grab him. Then Kevin Youkilis joined in with a hearty pat to the head, along with Dustin Pedroia and several others.

"I think he had a pretty good heartbeat going anyway," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "This place continues to amaze me. The way the fans welcomed him, you only see that here. That's pretty special."

Finally, something to smile about for the Red Sox, who won for just the second time in seven games on this homestand.

"We're all pumped," said Red Sox catcher Kevin Cash. "Everyone is excited. Manny is an outstanding player, and was for the Red Sox, but Jason came in."

Bay set the winning rally in motion with a towering fly ball to left-center against A's lefty Alan Embree that took one of those friendly Fenway caroms, turning what would normally be a double into a triple. It was Bay's first hit as a member of the Red Sox, but the fourth time on the night he reached base. He added a terrific sliding catch against Ryan Sweeney to end the top of the fifth.

Could Bay's first Fenway night have turned out any better?

"If that ball could have snuck out for me," quipped Bay. "I don't think so. I would have liked to do it in nine innings. It's been a long day. But it definitely ranks up there with one of the best moments I've had."

The same goes for Lowrie, if only because this was just his 30th Major League game.

Lowrie had a chance to win it in the 10th, coming to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs and squaring a liner to center. However, it didn't fall.

"They always say that the hits even out," Lowrie said. "The one before that, I hit it hard, right at the guy. I got the cheap one, so to speak, in the 12th."

Forgive Lowrie if he didn't get much of a view of it.

"That's one of those balls where you're running out of the box," Lowrie said. "You've just got to run hard, because you never know what's going to happen. It was one of those ones off the end of the bat; it's got a funny spin on it. If Bobby is going to be able to pick it up cleanly, he could have a play, so you just put your head down and run."

Crosby never did get much of a grip on it, allowing the Red Sox to savor the moment.

"We won a game that we desperately tried to win," Francona said. "Everybody gave everything they had."

Third baseman Mike Lowell, who was inserted into the cleanup role vacated by Ramirez, had to leave the game in the bottom of the 10th with a right hip strain.

The night started with a major change -- Bay officially replacing Ramirez in left field. But for a while, it evolved into a storyline that had the familiar comfort of a summer breeze.

Wakefield twirled his knuckleball for 6 1/3 shutout innings, allowing four hits while walking three and striking out four.

But Wakefield's string of being unable to win despite quality performances continued. With two outs in the eighth, Jack Cust hit a game-tying solo shot against lefty Hideki Okajima that just cleared the Green Monster. In fact, it was originally ruled as a triple. But after the umpires conferred, they correctly ruled it as topping the wall for a home run.

It was the sixth time this season he has left a game with a lead but hasn't had a win to show for it. On the eve of his 42nd birthday, Wakefield's record stayed at 6-8 as his ERA dropped to 3.77.

"I have no control over outcomes; I've just got to pitch the best I can and see what happens," said Wakefield.

The ultimate teammate, Wakefield was just happy to see a successful debut for the team's newest member.

"It's nice to have Jason Bay on the team," Wakefield said. "He got a great ovation. He's an unbelievable player and for him to score the winning run, it's great stuff."

Finally, the Red Sox can just focus on baseball again.

"Just the buildup the last couple of days and watching SportsCenter and NESN and the reporting that was going on, now that it's past us, we know what we are with this team going forward for the next two months," said Cash. "Hopefully, we can get on a roll."

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