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Save situation

Ramírez, pen bail out Dice-K

Manny Ramírez sports a smile after his fourth-inning homer. The left fielder added a game-winning solo shot in the eighth. (JIM DAVIS/GLOBE STAFF)

The panic set in early. No need to wait until the fourth inning when the implosion could come in the first. And that was why no one in Japan (or in a certain section of the Fenway Park press box) really seemed to care about the four hits from Wily Mo Peña, or the scoreless relief from the Red Sox bullpen, or the eighth-inning solo home run by the suddenly superlative Manny Ramírez that finally won the game for the Sox, 8-7, in front of a thoroughly patient 37,216 at Fenway Park.

All that mattered was Daisuke Matsuzaka.

What was wrong? Why couldn't he figure out these hitters? What happened to him when runners got on base and he had to pitch out of the stretch?

A combination of four scoreless innings from the bullpen and one steaming slugger took Matsuzaka off the hook despite the home team being down by five runs in the first inning. After four innings from Mariners starter Horacio Ramirez and five innings from Matsuzaka, the teams were tied at a touchdown apiece.

"I still think the story line of the game is the offense coming back and picking up Daisuke," said Brendan Donnelly (1-1), who took the win and combined with Kyle Snyder and J.C. Romero (save No. 1) to shut out the Mariners for the rest of the evening.

Though, even with his insistence on the team nature of this game, Donnelly didn't mind sitting back and enjoying Ramírez's at-bats.

"I enjoy it a lot, because I can't get him out," Donnelly said, although Ramírez is just 2 for 10 with one home run off him in his career. "Right now I don't have to worry."

No, but the Mariners did. And two home runs through a devilish wind didn't take any of that worry away.

"The timing was perfect," said manager Terry Francona. "The first one he hit didn't end up going out that far, but to get it out tonight, some of those balls they hit to center field were crushed. And then the ball he hit to right, the ball was absolutely leaned on. He hit that ball like a power lefthanded hitter.

"I can see why he probably admired it."

Just steps from the batter's box, Ramírez's arms flipped up, hands out, to celebrate a shot that landed just beyond the bullpens in right field for the Sox' eighth run of the evening. It was Ramírez's 475th home run, tying him for 27th all-time, although Ramírez (as usual) didn't respond to entreaties for comment after the game. That wasn't important.

What was important was the homer put the Sox up, 8-7, leaving a bullpen bereft of three pitchers (Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, and Mike Timlin) to finish off the game. And this was against a team that (according to the Maniacal One, Chuck Waseleski) had lost just one game this season in which they held a lead, the fewest in the major leagues. Of course, the Red Sox had already scored 10 come-from-behind wins in 17 games prior to last night's comeback.

With every player in the lineup reaching base -- including Coco Crisp, who was the only Red Sox to go hitless -- and RBIs up and down the order, it was Ramírez's home runs (the first landing in the front row of the Monster seats ) that excited the crowd.

Fortunately for the Red Sox, poor pitching was just as contagious on the Mariners' side (the Sox had 15 hits and four walks). Horacio Ramirez (11 hits in four innings) followed up Matsuzaka's implosion with one of his own, in the second inning, as the Red Sox tied the score, 5-5, on five hits and two walks. Julio Lugo's ground-rule double off the glove of right fielder Jose Guillen bounced into the stands to cut the lead to 5-4, and David Ortiz tied it with a single to left.

Then, two more came on the first Ramírez home run, in the fourth. And one more on his second (No. 5 on the season).

That was enough to cover for their startlingly human pitcher, the one who gave up seven runs on five hits and five walks over five innings, the one who was hardly helped by his defense (Lugo committed an error in the first), the one whose struggles have spawned questions across two continents.

"He's not letting us down," Francona said. "He's with us. He's our guy. He's one of our guys. And when he struggles, we'll be there with him. He doesn't have to feel the weight on his shoulders, and I think sometimes he feels that weight because he's so conscientious."

And, yet, with an offense behind him that has turned two potential losses to the Yankees into wins, and one potential loss to the Mariners into a no-decision, the weight still seems to stay with Matsuzaka, now 3-2 with a 5.45 ERA.

"Today as I came off of the mound and I looked at my own pitching and with the way that I have been pitching lately, I definitely know that I need to change something," Matsuzaka said.

But what? Sometimes it looks like even he's not really sure.