DETROIT -- He had struck out twice, lined out to first, and committed an embarrassing error on a routine throw to first base.
"Rough day," Kevin Youkilis said. "I was struggling. I was frustrated."
But with the Red Sox one out away from a loss, gimpy-legged Mike Lowell smacked a base hit to center, giving Youkilis the chance to give the night what he called the ``Bellhorn" treatment. That's how Youkilis, invoking the name of the former Sox second baseman from the World Series days, elected to describe the two-run home run he hit to lift Boston to a 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers.
"You can have four bad at-bats, then go up there and hit," said Youkilis, who connected off Todd Jones, the onetime spare part in the Sox bullpen who has since morphed back into a 40-save closer for the Marlins last season and was 16 of 17 in save chances until Youkilis did him in.
"I call it a Bellhorn day," Youkilis said. "Mark was the best at that. Three [bad] at-bats then boom, home run to win a game."
The Tigers began the night with the best record in the majors and were coming off a walkoff win against the Yankees. With 41-year-old Kenny Rogers holding the Sox to a run on five hits, all singles, in the first seven innings, outdueling Curt Schilling (6 innings, 7 hits, 2 earned runs), it appeared the Sox were about to learn firsthand about the perils of facing baseball's most surprising team.
With one swing, Youkilis changed all that, jumping all over a Jones pitch that was supposed to sink but instead sailed deep into the night.
``This is all a part of the process," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``This is all a part of baseball. That's why it's such a great game. Twenty-four hours ago we were the happiest team in baseball, probably. And tonight we're probably the most disappointed."
Sox manager Terry Francona had given some thought to coming out to
``I would have loved to have bought a ticket to the bleachers and screamed at Johnny [Damon]," he said. ``He would have gotten a kick out of it. But I watched most of it on TV."
Had Francona sat in the left-field bleachers, he would have been in prime position to watch Youkilis, with his sixth home run this season, succeed where an inning earlier David Ortiz had come up short in his bid for a go-ahead home run off Detroit's precocious rookie, Joel Zumaya, who challenged Big Papi with a 98-mile-per-hour fastball.
In almost other park in the nation not staffed by the US Park Service, a fan would have had a souvenir from Ortiz. In Boston, they would have been fighting for it in the street. But here in Comerica Park, baseball's version of Yellowstone, Ortiz's ball died in the glove of center fielder Curtis Granderson, roughly 6.2 miles from home plate.
An inning later, Youkilis reached the top of the left-field railing, just over a leaping Craig Monroe.
``I saw him jump," Youkilis said. ``I was so worried until I saw it hit the top of that [railing] out there. I'd had a rough day at the yard, but I'm glad it ended good for us."
Youkilis's error had come the inning before, when Lowell's throw clanked off his glove with two outs and a runner on second. The batter, Carlos Guillen, then advanced to second on a wild pitch before Rudy Seanez induced Craig Shelton, who has cooled off dramatically since being baseball's Mr. April, to pop out to Lowell.
``Stupid error for me, I handcuffed myself," Youkilis said. ``I ran over there and didn't turn my glove over. Basically, I was being careless. But the good thing is it's actually a good error now. I know better. I'll have my glove better positioned.
``But I mean, I was ticked off. That could have cost us the game. I'm glad Mike got a hit. I was hoping to have a chance."
Lowell, who had three singles, was playing with a tightly wrapped left hamstring, which he had tweaked two nights earlier in Toronto. He was noticeably limping, but said he felt an obligation to play.
``I love him," Schilling said. ``You see what kind of person he is. It's very satisfying to have a guy like him on the team. He knows we're a better team with him on the field at whatever percent he is, than we would without him. That says a lot about him."
And what more can you say about Jonathan Papelbon, who is now 20 for 20 in saves after a two-strikeout, 1-2-3 ninth, which ended with the Tigers' biggest name, Pudge Rodriguez, whiffing as a pinch hitter.
``I pitched well enough to lose, right up until the ninth inning," said Schilling, who was thwarted in his attempt to become the majors' first nine-game winner. Placido Polanco, one of only two players on the Tigers' roster with more than a handful of at-bats against Schilling, doubled and scored on Marcus Thames's double into the left-field corner in the first, then hit the last of three singles off Schilling in the fifth to score Monroe with the go-ahead run.
The Sox, meanwhile, countered with their only run off Rogers in the fourth when Coco Crisp singled, stole second, and scored on Ramirez's line single to left. The night otherwise, until the ninth , was an exercise in frustration, especially for Ramírez, who was called out on strikes twice by plate umpire Larry Vanover, argued in both instances, and flipped his bat and helmet in frustration the second time, when Vanover rung him up on a breaking ball that had tire treads after scraping the ground.
``But that all goes away," Schilling said.
The Bellhorn way.