It's a feel-good story
Walker is as thrilled as fans with tying HR
Those who remained were still cheering wildly. David Ortiz had just won the game with a walkoff homer in the 10th, but the man who emerged from the Red Sox dugout, waving his cap to the adoring masses, was the Man Who Made It All Possible -- second baseman Todd Walker. As "Dirty Water" reverberated throughout the ballpark, Walker gave an onfield interview to NESN in which his words were piped out so that all could hear and cheer.
"It was awesome," he said, describing the feeling of circling the bases after his improbable three-run homer on a 3-2 pitch with two out in the bottom of the ninth had tied the game, 5-5. "There's not a better feeling than that."
Then, perhaps caught up in the moment, or perhaps not, he told the fans, "We're going to go into the playoffs and win this thing."
If they do, it will be because of nights like this from guys like Walker, who drove in four runs last night while also collecting a double and a sacrifice fly in Boston's 6-5 victory over the Orioles. His RBIs pushed his season total to 83; his best total before this year was 75. He became the eighth Red Sox to have at least 80 RBIs; before this season, the most 80-RBI men the Red Sox had was six, and that was back in 1938.
Walker was an unlikely hero for a couple of reasons. First, he's not generally viewed as the wielder of the big stick who will tie a game with a three-run dinger. The homer was only his 12th (although he did hit 17 in 2001 with Colorado and Cincinnati.) Second, he was lucky to even get to the plate -- and did so only because Orioles reliever Jorge Julio was utterly brutal in the ninth, giving up a one-out single to Jason Varitek and a two-out walk to Nomar Garciaparra while trying to protect a 5-2 lead.
That allowed Walker who, lest we forget, is hitting in the No. 3 hole, to come to the plate. He went there as the tying run and, at that point, he was thinking big thoughts.
"You want to hit a home run so badly because, with two outs, you can't single them to death," he said. "You feel you've got to hit a home run or the game's going to be over. I think it helped that [Julio] couldn't throw a strike to Nomar. Then, I got into a hitter's count [3-and-1] and I got really anxious and I pulled it [foul]. So at that point, I just tried to calm down a little more and slow it down, slow my swing down a little bit."
Julio cooperated nicely on the 3-and-2 pitch. We can only imagine how many TV sets were broken in the Mariners' clubhouse in Anaheim when he delivered exactly what Walker wanted -- a low fastball. Walker sent it on a line to right and the first thought was that it might not be high enough to make it over the low bullpen wall. But it did -- barely.
"Todd Walker has hit so many balls so hard like that this year that were caught at the fence," manager Grady Little said. "I didn't think the ball was high enough to get out."
In the Orioles' dugout, manager Mike Hargrove must have winced even before Walker connected.
"He's a low-ball hitter," Hargrove said. "It looked like it was down and in. That's right in his wheelhouse and he hit it hard. He had to hit the ball very hard for it to go out on that trajectory."
Asked where the hit ranked, Walker, still obviously pumped, launched into what we believe was at least minor hyperbole by saying, "I think both the home run and the game was probably by far the biggest thrill of my life at this point."
Then again, when you've been playing in playoff-free zones like Minnesota, Colorado, and Cincinnati all your career, one fell swoop that gets you that much closer to the postseason perhaps can, indeed, feel like nothing else.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.