American League Division Series - Game 2
Red Sox 6, Angels 3
Red Sox lead 2-0
Jeffrey Maier, meet Danny Vinik (maybe you should ask him about proper fan etiquette, and bring Richie Garcia along for giggles). And Danny Vinik, nice grab.
Vinik, the 17 year-old son of Sox' limited partner Jeffrey Vinik, contributed as much to the Sox' Game 2 win as any non-player ever has. With runners on 1st and 3rd and 1 out in the bottom of the 5th, Manny Ramirez lifted a foul pop down the first base line. Angels catcher Jeff Mathis sprinted toward the stands and flung himself over a temporary photographers' pit that stood before the paying customers. In the moment before Ramirez' popup fell into Mathis' glove, Vinik's young hands reached out and snared the ball, keeping Manny alive and giving the youngster an instant rap boost with Boston's female Soxfan population.
Unlike Maier's celebrated interference, Vinik was well within the stands when he made the catch, giving the Angels no cause for argument - just frustration. Given new life, Manny promptly walked to load the bases, and Mike Lowell immediately drove a Kelvim Escobar offering into left-center, his sacrifice fly plating Dustin Pedroia with the game's tying run.
The score stayed knotted at for the next 4 innings, with both bullpens living up to their advance notice. The Sox' pen didn't allow a single hit in 4 1/3 innings of work, as Terry Francona once again showed his chops as a postseason skipper. Jonathan Papelbon survived a slightly nerve-wracking 8th inning, aided not in the least by Mike Lowell's uncharacteristic throwing error, but set down the side in order in the 9th to set up the game's climax.
Julio Lugo singled to start the bottom of the 9th for the Sox, and moved to second on Dustin Pedroia's groundout. Kevin Youkilis flew out against Angels' closer Francisco Rodriguez, leading Mike Scoscia to walk David Ortiz to get to Manny. All game long, Angels pitchers had been playing this particular roulette, passing Papi 4 consecutive times and living to tell about it. Finally, in the bottom of the 9th, the single bullet in the chamber fired, and Manny's blast over everything in leftfield became instant legend.
The 447-foot bomb was the third-longest hit in Fenway this season, and, shockingly, Manny's first walkoff homer in his Red Sox career. And as he bounded down the third base line to meet the joyous throng of teammates at the plate, I swear I've never seen a more joyous look on his face. If I'd had a mirror at that moment, I suspect mine was probably similar.
It's a curious thing, as I noted to Whit this morning, that even in a game as tight as could be imagined, I really didn't feel particularly nervous. During Papelbon's aforementioned rocky 8th inning, with the Angels speeding around the bases undeterred in the least by the Sox' defense, I felt like it was preordained that the Sox' closer would get out unscathed. And when he finally struck out the game but overmatched Chone Figgins, I did give a little fist pump, but it was almost as if to say, "Yep. Had it the whole time."
Whit thinks the nerves will come in the ALCS, if the Sox get there, but I'm not so sure. This team, unlike 2004's version, seems to thrive on calm. They don't panic, don't get too high or too low - ever - so why should I, then? Terry Francona might finally be getting through to me.
Oh, and that last sentiment is subject to rapid and irrational revision at any moment. But you already knew that.