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A blast, like the past

Ortiz does it again with a walkoff HR

The plaque had been tucked away in Larry Lucchino's office for about a month, a gift to be given, the date of receipt to be determined. Designed by Sox vice chairman Phil Morse, it was made of wood, featuring the Red Sox emblem and the following inscription:

''David Ortiz #34 The Greatest Clutch Hitter in the History of the Boston Red Sox."

''The truth of it was apparent a while back," Sox principal owner John W. Henry explained in an email just after 11 last night. ''If not for the moment, it might have been an offseason thing.

''We weren't really going to make it public -- just private, but it probably deserves to be made public. It was more of a personal thing -- a deserved thank you."

Passion got the better of Henry last night, the Sox owner just as enthused as the 35,061 in his ballpark who witnessed the seventh walkoff home run of Ortiz's august career, his sixth in a Sox uniform, to cap an epic evening of regular-season baseball in the Back Bay.

A 3-2 Sox win, coupled with a 4-3 Yankee loss (tagged to Mariano Rivera), increased Boston's lead in the AL East to four games.

The flashpoint came in the bottom of the ninth inning, the game tied at 2-2, with one out. Tim Wakefield was sitting in the dugout, having pitched nine innings. Scot Shields was on the mound, the count full. Shields had gone after Ortiz as follows: slider away, changeup away, changeup away, fastball, fastball. And then, on 3-and-2, one more fastball, this one fateful.

''You can second-guess yourself all you want," Shields said. ''But out there I was 100 percent committed to that pitch. And I just didn't hit my spot."

It was supposed to be up and in. Instead, it was up and over the plate. Ortiz extended his mammoth arms and crushed it. Anyone looking at the ball knew Fenway wouldn't hold it. Anyone looking at Vladimir Guerrero in right field knew the same.

Guerrero's body might be unique in baseball, flexible and lean and ridiculously athletic. And yet, a split second after Ortiz waved his magic wand of a bat, Guerrero stood, still as could be. His feet? Planted in the Fenway sod. His arms? At his side. He didn't move.

''He didn't?" Ortiz asked. ''He's coming home with me tonight. So I'm going to ask him."

Really, Ortiz was expecting Guerrero as a houseguest last night. Funny how that works, huh?

Anyhow, back to the ball. It sailed high and deep, the fourth walkoff homer hit by a Sox player this season (Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar, and Ortiz once before hit the others). But this was probably the best of the bunch, the most important homer hit this season at Fenway, a distinction Millar was willing to assign.

And on top of that, it was the deepest of them all. The Sox don't measure or announce such things. But Lowell native Greg Rybarczyk, the developer of Hit Tracker, a home-run tracking device, watched in awe at home in Portland, Ore. Once Ortiz's ball left the yard, Rybarczyk quickly tucked his two kids into bed, got on his computer and began inputting data.

The computer results: The ball, which caromed off the retaining wall of Section 1 of the grandstand and into the alley separating the bleachers and the grandstand, traveled an estimated 457 feet, marking the longest homer hit at Fenway this season. Travis Hafner's 453-foot blast June 27 off Bronson Arroyo had been the longest before last night.

Ortiz's solo shot left the bat at 122.5 miles per hour, also the highest speed following impact of any ball hit in Boston in 2005. In flight, probably somewhere above Guerrero's stunned body, the ball peaked at 120 feet in the air.

And, in the moments that followed, Henry turned to Lucchino, asking for the plaque.

''I said, 'Let's do it,' " Henry said. ''I just couldn't wait any longer.

''David is the best hitter I've ever seen when the game is on the line. He's also probably one of the nicest guys that has ever been in that clubhouse."

Shields, on the former point, couldn't disagree.

''He shows up when the game's on the line," said Shields, who'd allowed only four home runs in 79 2/3 innings this season. ''He turns it up a notch, and finds a way to get it done. I left that one up over the plate, and he hit it really far."

The homer went a long way -- both into the night, and in getting the Sox a momentum-building win to begin a challenging stretch of baseball. Monday's makeup-game loss to the White Sox marked the beginning of seven games this week again two division leaders (Chicago and Los Angeles) and the wild card leader (New York).

But it would never have come down to a one-swing-wins-it scenario if not for Wakefield, who improved to 15-10, giving him his most wins since his 17-win season in 1998. Wakefield delivered the Sox' second complete game in three days, holding Anaheim to two runs on eight hits on a 69-degree night.

''I even told Doug [Mirabelli] after the ninth, 'I've got five more [innings] in me,' " Wakefield said. ''It was one of those cool nights. I had a lot of energy."

Energy that he transferred to the fans inside the old yard, especially when he walked off the mound after the top of the ninth. Bengie Molina had led off with a double (Zach Sorensen pinch ran), putting the go-ahead run in a 2-2 game in scoring position.

Casey Kotchman, up next, hit a one-hop shot to the right of first base, a ball that had RBI single written all over it. But John Olerud dived, gloved it, and threw to Wakefield, covering. Sorensen advanced to third on the play.

Steve Finley pinch hit and, with the infield in, grounded directly at second baseman Tony Graffanino. Graffanino went home to Mirabelli, who began a rundown that ended with Sorensen being tagged out by Bill Mueller.

Finley moved to second, with Adam Kennedy coming up. Wakefield fanned Kennedy on three pitches, the last one a knuckleball that Mirabelli squeezed and held up for everyone to see. With that Wakefield walked off the mound, having thrown 111 pitches over nine innings.

''I had a lot of help from my defense," Wakefield said. ''Without that help, I don't I finish this game."

And without that there isn't a stage set for Ortiz's mammoth blast that led Henry to share with New England his feelings, and his vice chairman's workmanship.

''I'm very happy to declare publicly what almost all of us in New England already know: David Ortiz is the greatest clutch hitter to ever wear the uniform of the Boston Red Sox," Henry said. ''I say 'almost' because beginning [today] the debate will begin."

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