Red Sox 9, Mariners 7

Sox finally polish off a nail-biter

This time, Mariners can't come through in the ninth

By Gordon Edes
Globe Staff / July 21, 2004
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SEATTLE -- Sleep? Please. Not at this dateline, not under those circumstances.

A game like the Red Sox lost Monday night to the Seattle Mariners will leave a man with his eyes wide shut.

Hours later, how was Terry Francona's condition?

"I can't breathe," the Sox manager said, after his team turned the cliche of a gut-wrenching defeat on its head one day later with an equally gut-wrenching victory, a 9-7 triumph of endurance over the Seattle Mariners in which the man of the hour yesterday afternoon, Keith Foulke, was the same man for whom the bells had tolled the night before, when he gave up consecutive home runs in the bottom of the ninth.

"But I wouldn't trade that feeling for any in the world," said Francona, who was still unable to exhale after Foulke struck out three straight batters in the ninth, including Edgar Martinez, who had taken him deep the night before, after putting the tying runs on base with no one out.

"It's agony," said Francona, whose team returns home to face Baltimore tonight having split the six games they played on this West Coast swing and remaining the same seven games behind the Yankees they were when they started this trip. "My stomach was in my throat. But I wouldn't trade that feeling for anything, not after a win like this.

"That was a lot of game, we have a long flight back, and there's still a lot of baseball to be played, but we survived today. That's all we needed to do."

While Francona was dealing with the anatomically impossible, Larry Lucchino's mother was in his ear. "She called me from Pittsburgh on my cellphone in the eighth inning," Lucchino said. "I didn't hear the phone ring, but she left a message. She said, `What's wrong with that team?' "

At the time, a good question. An 8-1 lead the Sox fashioned by scoring all those runs in one inning, the fourth, when David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez hit home runs on consecutive pitches, was all but history by the time Mama Lucchino dialed her son. The Sox had scored another run in the top of the eighth to take a 9-5 lead when Johnny Damon walked, Mark Bellhorn doubled, and Ortiz hit a sacrifice fly, but in the bottom of the inning, the first three Mariners reached against reliever Joe Nelson, and two runs were in and the bases were loaded before Alan Embree induced Jolbert Cabrera to fly out to end the inning.

Embree had gotten a force play on the first batter he faced, Scott Spiezio, but there was a walk and a single by Raul Ibanez before he could put down the Mariners.

"Those were the toughest two outs I've had to get all season," Embree said. "I felt like I was out there forever.

"We couldn't let another game like that happen after what had happened the night before. It would have been so demoralizing.

"But I'm out there thinking, `Is this thing going to end? The Mariners hadn't played real well all season, and they were playing us like the old Mariners."

But despite having the worst record in the American League West, the Mariners, who knocked out 18 hits and stole a franchise-record six bases, five with Doug Mirabelli behind the plate, did not cease and desist until the end. Ichiro Suzuki reached out and slapped a low and outside pitch to left for a single to open the ninth. Randy Winn then walked, checking his swing on a full-count pitch.

And there was Foulke, with last night's game still too fresh to even be a memory.

If there was anyone who could relate to the spot Foulke was in, it was Derek Lowe, the erstwhile closer who did his own impression of an escape artist earlier in the afternoon -- nine hits, two walks, four runs in five-plus innings.

"Oh, absolutely," Lowe said when asked about Foulke. "The mental toughness you have to have in a situation like that when you lose a game like the one the night before, especially when there's a day game after a night game. By the time you get home and have a chance to calm down, you're waking up again.

"Then it's 8-2 in the sixth, and you're thinking, all right, I've got a day off, but then they keep pecking away, and sure enough, there you are. And the ironic part is that so often, you're facing the same guys you faced the day before.

"And there's no sweeter save than when you get those same guys out."

Foulke struck out Bret Boone, Martinez, and Bucky Jacobsen, the career minor leaguer whose run as a Mariner cult hero might have a shorter shelf life than Morgan Burkhart's had with the Sox. Martinez, 41, is the man who beat Foulke in the 2000 playoffs with a tie-breaking home run in extra innings, when Foulke was still with the White Sox. He was the man who followed Miguel Olivo's home run Monday night with the game-tying home run, the prologue to Boone's game-winning grand slam off Curtis Leskanic.

Martinez was benched recently to make room for some young players Seattle needs to evaluate. He is likely to retire after the season. "I won't cry," Foulke said. "He's a great hitter. We've had some great battles over the years. I've won some, and he's won some."

Yesterday, after 3 hours and 50 grueling minutes, it was Foulke who was able to punch his fist in triumph. "The guys saw that he won't wilt," Francona said.

Earlier, Lowe pointed to another strikeout of Martinez, with runners on second and third in the third, as his biggest out of the day.

"My whole season has been based on damage control," he said. "A hit there, we're down 3-0, and who knows what happens? But it seems like we got the momentum after that."

The Sox had six hits in the fourth, the biggest Ortiz's 26th home run, a three-run shot to right, followed one pitch later by No. 27 by Ramirez, both off Joel Pineiro.

Lucchino said he couldn't imagine how long the plane ride would have been had the Sox not held on.

"It's still going to be a long ride," said Ortiz, who hit two three-run homers on this trip.

Touchdown in Boston wasn't expected until around 4 a.m.

"We need to do something fun in the clubhouse tomorrow to get us back on track," said Damon, who had called Monday's loss the worst of the season ("We couldn't get guys in, we couldn't get guys over, we couldn't close it out. We did nothing right.")

"We're spent."

But still breathing.

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