When Mark Loretta stepped to the plate in the sixth inning last night with two outs, two runners on base, and the game tied, he had no idea that what he was about to do had been done last summer, also by the No. 2 hitter in the Red Sox' lineup, also against Baltimore, also with two outs, also targeting the same Oriole (Melvin Mora).
Last June 2, with the Sox behind a run in the ninth, Edgar Renteria shot a glance at Mora, saw the third baseman was playing back, and laid down a bunt for a hit. David Ortiz, up next, worked the reliever (B.J. Ryan) to a full count before exploding for a three-run walkoff homer to dead center.
Last night, Loretta walked to the plate in the sixth, looked at Mora (''almost on the grass . . . that was the impetus"), then shot a glance to the bullpen (''There was no one warming up.") With a righthanded reliever, Todd Williams, on the mound, Loretta liked Ortiz's chances better than his own. But he also knew that if he wanted to bunt, ''You only have one pitch to do it. Once you show it, it's over."
But he got the bunt down -- up, actually. He popped it up more than he wanted but it landed shy of Mora with some wicked backspin, checking up as if he'd hit a sand wedge. He reached safely. (''I was shocked," Willliams said of the bunt. ''It definitely caught us off guard.")
That brought up Ortiz, who worked a full count (sound familiar?) against the reliever. This time, he didn't leave the yard. But he did hit one hard -- to right field -- and emptied the loaded bases for the deciding runs in a 6-3 win before an appreciative 36,515 at Fenway Park.
''David up with nowhere to put him and nobody up in the pen -- I'll take that situation any time," Loretta said. But for Ortiz, it was no easy at-bat. Williams began him with a pitch that home plate umpire Wally Bell deemed a strike. Bell had featured a generous strike zone all night, giving several pitches low and off the plate to both Curt Schilling and Rodrigo Lopez. Ortiz, who is having an extremely difficult time this season dealing with inconsistencies in calls, stepped out of the batter's box and took a deep breath. He also extended a hand, to signal to Bell what he thought of the pitch.
''I told him, 'That was low,' " Ortiz said.
Ortiz, entering that at-bat, was 0 for 11 since homering off the Yankees Monday night.
''They figured out I was strong," he said of opposing pitchers. Ever since, he said, all the pitches he'd seen had been ''low and away."
And that's where Williams was pitching him. Ortiz had to protect the plate on a low-and-away offering. He fouled it off to the left, to go to 0 and 2.
Williams then threw three consecutive pitches low and off the plate, none close.
''He was trying to hit that spot again, badly," Ortiz said. Williams couldn't. On 3 and 2, he had to come over the plate, and Ortiz pounced.
Alex Gonzalez, on third, scored. Kevin Youkilis, who had worked a seven-pitch, two-out walk, scored. Loretta, the guy with the
''I always fight, man," he said, after knocking in his 25th, 26th, and 27th runs of the season. ''I've been begging for a hit. Fighting so much to get a hit. Going crazy. So glad it came at the right time."
That was the biggest hit of the night, especially for a slumping hitter. But Schilling (7 innings, 8 hits, 3 runs) said, ''I was more happy and more ecstatic about the Gonzalez at-bat. That was such a huge at-bat. The pivotal point in the game."
Gonzalez had come up with two outs, with Mike Lowell on second after his third double of the night, fifth in two games, and major league-leading 16th of the season. Gonzalez, against Lopez (5 2/3 innings, 9 hits, 5 runs, 4 earned), fell behind, 1 and 2. He had two hits in his previous 20 at-bats and it felt, to him and the fans, like fewer than that.
But behind in the count, he turned on one, depositing the ball mere inches inside the left-field line. It bounced into the corner, scoring Lowell to tie it at 3-3. It was just his sixth RBI. When Gonzalez came home on Ortiz's double, he'd scored just his second run of the season. His average is just .190. But he has supporters in the clubhouse, if not in the stands.
''It's really sad to see fans booing," said Youkilis, who also homered to lead off the first, giving him two homers in a span of three at-bats. ''I don't know what's going on around this city. Then they're cheering. Let him work."
''He's a good hitter," said Lowell, who has watched Gonzalez's entire career play out, in Florida and now in Boston. ''He can hit. Hopefully, he can hit and make the numbers respectable because it wears on you when you look out there [at the scoreboard]. We're rooting for him."
Lowell, meanwhile, is someone manager Terry Francona has rooted for since they got to know each other in camp. Francona put his support behind Lowell when he struggled in spring training, and these days it's both easy and popular to back the third baseman. He doubled to left in the second, doubled to right and scored in the fourth, and doubled to left and scored in the sixth, lifting his average to a team-leading .350.
''That's the Mike Lowell I played against, that's the guy I remember in the National League," Schilling said.
The Sox, who have scored 26 runs in four games on this homestand, three of those wins, did enough to make a winner of Schilling, who improved to 5-1 with a 3.02 ERA despite falling behind, 1-0 and 3-2. He allowed eight hits but minimized the damage; seven of the hits were singles, two of those absolute ropes hit by Kevin Millar, who received a standing ovation in his return to Fenway.
Mike Timlin followed Schilling, pitching a clean eighth inning, and Jonathan Papelbon came on for the third time in as many nights. Wednesday, he gave up the deciding run in a 7-6 loss to Toronto. Thursday, he recorded a two-out save with a three-run lead. And last night, he recorded the save, again with a three-run lead.
That back pain he felt Thursday night? Not an issue. He was massaged in the afternoon and warmed up early, in the eighth. Francona and pitching coach Al Nipper each made a phone call to the bullpen to check on Papelbon's back. Both times the reports were positive. And, on the mound, so were the results.
He got Ramon Hernandez to pop up with one pitch. He got Jeff Conine to ground out with one pitch. He needed five pitches to get Corey Patterson to fly out to center. But he did, and with seven pitches earned his 12th save in as many chances.