There are easier ways to grow up than in a pennant race, although Craig Hansen will never know it.
The kid who went to school on Utopia Parkway, then did not pass ``Go" on his way from St. John's University to the big leagues, has taken more than his share of hits in this, his first full summer on Yawkey Way.
But last night, when the Red Sox demanded of him poise and maturity beyond his 22 years, Hansen responded in a way that suggested he can stand and deliver, holding the Detroit Tigers at bay in a 6-4 Sox win that avoided a sweep and eased any sense of impending doom with the Yankees on deck for five starting tomorrow.
Hinske is acquired from Blue Jays. E5
The Yankees fell to the Orioles last night, 3-2, reducing their lead over the Sox to two games. While the Sox rest today and await the arrival of Eric Hinske, a lefthanded hitter acquired last night from Toronto in a waiver deal, the Yankees close out a four-game set against the Orioles this afternoon in the Bronx.
How many games do five against the Bombers equate in normal terms?
``You mean, in dog years?" said Mike Lowell, the third baseman whose bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the seventh gave the Sox bullpen a two-run cushion.
``I have no idea. We really can't get wrapped up . . . it seems like a cliche, but you really have to take it one game at a time. Even the doubleheader [tomorrow]. Take the first, no matter what happens, go after the second one. Because if you get wrapped up in what the pile of games might mean, you're just adding a distraction to something we really have to be focused on."
David Ortiz, who went six games without a home run, hit his 42d to break a 1-all tie in the fifth and Coco Crisp hit a Wall double for two runs in the sixth after David Wells (2-2) had given the lead back on two Tiger home runs in the top of the inning, but it was Hansen who stopped the Tigers cold when the Sox needed it most.
``Maybe you haven't noticed, but he has great stuff," said catcher Doug Mirabelli, who watched from the dugout. ``You know about this kid [Jonathan] Papelbon? And if you're watching Friday night, you'll see this lefthander by the name of [Jon] Lester who has excellent stuff, too."
Summoned to shoulder the burden that Wells had precariously balanced for much of the night, Hansen came to the mound with two outs and the tying run on base in the seventh and with one pitch retired the dangerous Magglio Ordonez, who had homered an inning earlier off Wells but this time popped to second.
Hansen, who had allowed 11 hits and 10 runs (eight earned) in his previous 7 2/3 innings, gave up a single to Carlos Guillen to open the eighth, but induced the next hitter, Brandon Inge, to roll into a double play before retiring Sean Casey on a grounder to first.
``He's got the stuff, and he's got the makeup for it," Lowell said of Hansen. ``We don't have that luxury right now. We don't have that eight-year veteran who's got great stuff. So, he's our guy. He did a good job. We needed it. Enjoy the offday, big series."
A rejuvenated Papelbon, who had not pitched in the last three games, entered and delivered a scintillating ninth, throwing six pitches, all strikes, in setting down the Tigers in order for his 32d save.
Papelbon, who had averaged nearly 26 pitches in his previous four appearances over the last 10 days, admitted he'd hit a wall physically.
``I was having to get four or five outs a night, instead of my regular three," he said. ``It took a toll. I got a couple of days off, was able to regenerate, and now I feel like I'm back in form. I'm ready to go."
The Sox were facing Justin Verlander, the prodigy who entered with a 14-5 record and 2.95 ERA, though the Tigers, concerned that he was tiring, had him skip a start last week. Last night, Verlander hit 97 miles per hour consistently, but walked seven, nearly doubling his previous high.
``He was out of synch, no question," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. ``He was trying to beat a really good team with one pitch."
The Tigers gave Verlander a 1-0 lead in the third when Omar Infante doubled and scored on Craig Monroe's single, but the Sox matched that run in the home half when Verlander walked Javy Lopez and Alex Cora. Crisp, employing a weapon seldom seen in the Sox' arsenal, bunted the runners over and Lopez scored on Mark Loretta's infield out.
Ortiz followed a two-out single by Loretta in the fifth with his 42d home run, the ball just clearing Ordonez's glove as he lunged for the ball in front of the Sox bullpen. ``I thought he caught it," Ortiz said.
But the Tigers bounced back in the sixth with three runs. Ordonez led off with his 17th home run. One out later, Inge singled and after Casey flied to left, rookie center fielder Brent Clevlen, who had been playing in Double A a month ago, lost a pitch onto Lansdowne Street for his third home run of the season.
The Sox counterpunched again in the bottom of the sixth. Verlander walked Lowell with one out, gave up a two-out single to Lopez, then walked the No. 9 batter, Cora, for the second time. Crisp followed with his double off the Monster, scoring two. A third run was cut down at the plate by Monroe, whose throw from the base of the wall reached catcher Ivan Rodriguez on the fly, Rodriguez tagging out Cora.
The last time the Yankees came here for a five-game set, in 1959, the Sox swept all five.
``We've got a lot of baseball left," Sox manager Terry Francona said. ``We've got a chance, if we play good baseball, we've got a chance to make a move on the team that's ahead of us. I'm looking forward to it. It should be fun."