Game 147 - Red Sox
Red Sox 5, Devil Rays 4
David Ortiz spent 2004 through 2006 delivering all manner of game-winning heroics, building a well-deserved reputation as the game's most fearsome clutch performer. 2007's regression to the mean was probably ordained, but that hasn't made it any less frustrating and confusing for Sox fans - and probably for Papi himself. But then came last night, with the Sox 2 outs from giving the surging Yankees another game, 2 outs from losing a home series to the Devil Rays, 2 outs from spending the next 2 days fretting over the impending Sox/Yanks conflagration in Fenway.
The Sox looked for all the world ready to concede this game from the drop. The Rays posted 4 runs on Jon Lester in the top of the first, and appeared poised to deliver several more in the next few frames. Once again, though, the Sox' bullpen rode to the rescue, bailing Lester out (that's an oft-used phrase in my neck of the woods) in the 4th inning and going on to record 5 1/3 scoreless innings, courtesy of Tavarez, Delcarmen and Papelbon.
When Papi's 3-run blast over the bullpens in right brought the Sox to within 4-3 in the bottom of the 3rd, I hopped up (to change my daughter's soiled diaper - the homer certainly brightened my mood) and exclaimed, "right back in it - nice". And so they were, but they took their sweet time.
Neither team scored after the 3rd, both bullpens posting matching zeros for 5 innings, despite the fact that the Rays rolled out luminaries such as Gary Glover and Whit's pal David Wheeler in back of starter Edwin Jackson. Even so, I managed an unusual level of calm, despite the frantic sub-limbic wailing of my animal brain urging me to consider the fact that Mike Mussina had pitched shutout ball against the Jays and reminding me that a Sox loss moved the Yankees within 3 games in the loss column.
Jonathan Papelbon retired the Rays in perfunctory fashion, bringing the top of the Sox' order to the plate in the 9th with my apprehension mounting but my conscious self knowing that Papi would bat. When Julio Lugo worked Al Reyes for a well-earned walk, I actually became a bit confident, and remained so even as Dustin Pedroia flew to shallow left.
And then, with a single swing, Papi sent my arms skyward in concert with 35,000+ in Fenway, getting just enough of a Reyes fastball to send it into the 2nd row of the bleachers in right (and many thanks to Delmon Young for his addled stumbling - many outfielders may well have actually caught the ball) and join his teammates at the plate in a gleeful pogoing slamdance. Man, there's not much better in sports than a come-from-behind game-winning homer.
Papi's first walk-off homer of the year could not possibly have come at a better time, because the Yankees are ridiculous right now. The Sox' magic number is now 12, but they may well have to win 12 games to finish off this vamprous beast from the Bronx. Gracious.