It ended appropriately, with a ground ball to first base that John Olerud picked up before it could skip foul. He tagged B.J. Surhoff for the final out of David Wells's 5-1 complete-game victory over the Baltimore Orioles, a big win in the American League East pennant race on a perfect September day.
Wells, the big lefthander, came over to Olerud and gave him a hearty handshake and pat on the back.
You may not find two personalities so different on a baseball team, but yesterday the quietest man, Olerud, broke a scoreless tie with a three-run homer off Sox killer Rodrigo Lopez in the fifth inning, as perhaps the loudest man on the team spun a beauty in his return after a controversial six-game suspension.
''He looked like he was getting ahead of guys. He had a live fastball today, locating it real well, so it was a pleasure to be behind him," Olerud said of Wells.
That seemed to be the consensus up and down the Red Sox clubhouse on Wells's first nine-inning complete game this season. The guy has been around forever and he's now 12-6.
''I love it," Wells said of the complete game. ''It's harder for me to do it, but I enjoy it. As long as your pitch count is down and you are hitting your spots and you're not showing any signs of fatigue . . . it can be a lot of fun."
It certainly was a big treat for the Sox bullpen. Especially a guy like Mike Timlin, who is well on his way to breaking Greg Harris's team appearance record of 80 in 1993. Timlin has 70 already.
''I had a lot of rest, obviously [with the suspension]," Wells said. ''Going out there, I felt good. My body felt good. I didn't feel rusty at all and I was throwing all of my pitches. When you rest like that, sometimes it can work against you. So I went out there and relaxed and tried to hit my spots and for the most part I did."
''He was strong on both sides of the plate," catcher Doug Mirabelli said. ''He established both sides. His breaking ball was outstanding; keeping guys offbalance. He knows what he's trying to do. There isn't anything that happens that he hasn't seen once or twice, so he's able to adapt really easily. I don't think you ever expect a pitcher to go nine innings nowadays, so that's an outstanding effort on his part."
The Sox, who play the White Sox this afternoon at 12:05 in a makeup game, have won eight consecutive home series to improve to a major league best 46-20 (.697) at home. In winning 21 out of their last 23 home games, they're hitting .314 with 182 runs scored for an average of 7.9 per game.
The platoon of Olerud and Kevin Millar at first base has been an interesting development. For the first time this season, both are red hot at the same time. Olerud has homered in three of his last four games after going deep just three times in his first 60 games. He is hitting .417 (15 for 36) over a 15-game span since returning from the disabled list Aug. 17 (left hamstring strain). In 64 games, Olerud is batting .325 with six homers and 32 RBIs.
He had a six-RBI game Friday night, and Millar has had big games of his own recently.
''It's been great," Olerud said of the platoon. ''Not a whole lot of talk about the situation. I'm just trying to make the most out of the time I have out there. It's been a lot of fun -- both of us having good games here."
It was especially nice that Olerud's homer came off Lopez, who again was mesmerizing the Sox through four innings, David Ortiz's single in that frame the only blemish.
The Sox scored all five of their runs in the fifth. It started with leadoff singles by Trot Nixon and Bill Mueller before Olerud launched the first pitch into the Orioles' pen.
''Just looking for a ball I can hit a fly ball with," he said. ''Got a fastball middle-in . . . got a good job getting the barrel through it."
Mueller's hit was key because it looked like the veteran Surhoff at first base maybe could have gotten to the ball and stopped the bleeding.
''It possibly could have changed Rodrigo's mind-set," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. ''Maybe he tried a little too hard after that to get them out. In the process he got a few balls up and they took advantage of that."
After Olerud's shot, Mirabelli, who was playing for a resting Jason Varitek, continued the rally by doubling to left field. Then Tony Graffanino, back in the lineup after needing four games to rest a sore right hamstring, reached on an infield hit.
Johnny Damon, who later came out of the game when he jammed his left shoulder, doubled in a pair of runs, but was thrown out when he strayed too far off the second base bag.
That's all Wells would need.
Having seen him a lot throughout his career, Olerud marveled at what the 42-year-old Wells still can do.
''Not a whole lot has changed," said Olerud with a smile. ''He's always had a real live arm, a live fastball, good breaking ball, just a real durable pitcher. It's great to play behind someone like that because he never gets too deep into the count, he doesn't walk anybody, so you know the ball is going to be in play."
Olerud's day was particularly inspiring because he and Timlin spent the pregame signing autographs and posing for pictures near Gate A as fans entered the ballpark, all to help Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans. The Red Sox received $25,000 in donations yesterday alone.
''That was great; I was trying to think of a way to help out," said Olerud. ''Obviously if the fans aren't interested in [posing] in a picture with you, you're not going to raise a lot of money. I think it's great that the fans did want to help out. They were very generous and a lot of people came through. Not a lot of posing for me, but I just tried to sit up straight."
After the eighth, Wells shook Mirabelli's hand, and it appeared he might be done.
''I walked down and nobody said nothing to me," Wells said. ''Wally [pitching coach Dave Wallace] came down and I said somebody get up with me just in case. You never know. Late in the game you lose a little bit. The shadow[s] helped a lot. You take advantage of that and go and have some fun."
That's what he and the Red Sox did.