This one resembled some of the Red Sox' games of a year ago. The late-inning rally. Snatching victory when it appeared they were done.
Last night they trailed, 6-2, then, 6-4, before tying it in the ninth inning on Mark Bellhorn's two-run homer. They won it when pinch hitter Jason Varitek sent a liner into the right-field corner off righthanded reliever Scott Sullivan and by the time Kansas City right fielder Juan Gonzalez had tracked it down and thrown it in, Manny Ramirez, not known for his speed, had scored from first base, giving the Sox a 7-6 win over the Royals before 35,280 at Fenway Park.
"We needed a break for that ball not to kick and it kind of hugged [the wall] the way it did," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "Manny gave a great effort. He was thinking score right from the jump, and those are the kind of things you need to win ballgames."
The Sox had just ended a 2-5 road trip to Texas and Cleveland with a pair of much-needed wins, one of them a return to prominence and good graces by ace and soon-to-be free agent Pedro Martinez. And they were facing an underachieving Royals team that is 2-13 on the road.
Varitek's hit may have won the game, but the first three people he mentioned afterward were Ramirez, starter Tim Wakefield, who worked eight innings, and Doug Mirabelli, whose single in the eighth scored Ramirez with the third Sox run.
"[Wakefield] kept the game right there," said Varitek, who pinch hit for Gabe Kapler. "What a job by Manny. All I did was step up there and get a hit. I hit a changeup and Manny scored. It's what this team believes it can do. I just wanted to make sure I saw the ball well out of [Sullivan's] hand. He threw me a straight changeup."
Bellhorn, who had missed a throw to second after Wakefield picked off Carlos Beltran in the third, leading to a Kansas City run, made amends in the ninth.
"I kind of threw my hands up and had my glove positioned in the wrong way," Bellhorn said of his error. "I just don't know. I tried to catch it the wrong way."
But Bellhorn rebounded with the Sox' second home run of the game (Johnny Damon hit a solo shot in the third), off closer Mike MacDougal, adding to the comeback by sending a 95-mile-per-hour fastball into the seats in right.
"In those situations, you have to go up there and believe in yourself, and that's what I did, especially after my first swing," said Bellhorn. "I tried to swing a little bit too hard and I just told myself to try to stay within myself. I knew the guy threw hard. I ended up putting a good swing on it and making good contact."
Ramirez, who walked after a three-hit night, set the stage for Varitek's heroics. The walk was yet another great plate appearance for Ramirez, who scored two runs and raised his average to .374. Then, he used his legs.
"I was just running hard," Ramirez said. "I was going to run hard, not going to stop."
Asked why he didn't slide into home, Ramirez answered, "I didn't see the throw. I was watching [Royals catcher Benito] Santiago. He wasn't moving like there was a throw. He didn't move until the last minute, so I just went hard."
By the eighth inning, the wind, which was whipping debris and dirt around the field, was an ally of both Wakefield and the Sox' offense. With Boston trailing, 6-2, Kapler's fly ball seemed to be intercepted by a swirl of wind, which sent it from left field to center for a single, advancing Ramirez to second. Mirabelli then singled to left, plating Ramirez, while Kapler scored on an errant throw back to the infield by left fielder Matt Stairs.
"We had some key hits there late in the game," Mirabelli said. "We battled. We never gave up."
The Sox managed 11 hits and four runs off the Royals' Jeremy Affeldt, who was on the verge of earning his first victory since July 23 of last season. Jason Grimsley, who replaced Affeldt with one out in the eighth, got Bill Mueller to line out to left and struck out pinch hitter Brian Daubach to escape with a two-run lead, before the Sox broke through in the ninth.
"We never think that the game is over," Bellhorn said. "We know somebody is going to step up and it's not always one guy, it's the whole team."