Maybe he read the wrong scouting report, and mixed up his Japanese pitchers. Maybe Barry Bonds was looking for the gyroball instead of the fastball that the Giants' slugger took from Hideki Okajima for a third strike in the eighth inning yesterday afternoon, with a game there to be won for the visitors.
Bonds's whiff with two on and none out in a five-pitch at-bat was the scrapbook moment for the 36,381 who showed up in Fenway Park for a look at the man who is bent on breaking Henry Aaron's home run record but has stalled out with the finish line in sight. Could it have been he was looking for something else?
"I'm not saying what I think," Sox catcher Jason Varitek said after a 1-0 Sox win, the second time in the last nine days they've won by that score.
Neither was Bonds, who left without a word to the scrum of reporters who watched him dress after the game. For the second straight day, he hit a ball home run distance in his first at-bat, although yesterday's off Daisuke Matsuzaka veered well wide of the foul pole, and he remains at 747 home runs, eight shy of Aaron's record. In his last 122 plate ap pearances (87 at-bats), Bonds has two home runs, dating to May 9.
The deciding swing of the day was taken by that other slugger of some renown, Manny Ramírez, who unloaded on Matt Cain with a home run in the fourth, accounting for the day's only run. Cain took the loss. In 10 of his 15 starts, the Giants have scored two or fewer runs.
"Today it meant everything," Francona said of Ramírez's home run. "He seemed to know he got it. He may have been the only one in the ballpark who knew it. That was a lot of hands and wrists in that swing. Like maybe only he can do."
It was back on June 7 that Curt Schilling beat the Giants' neighbors across the Bay, the Athletics, with a one-hit, complete-game, 1-0 outing. Matsuzaka's pitching line wasn't quite as dramatic as Schilling's, but it was just as effective on an afternoon in which the hitters on both side were unhappy with the size of the strike zone, David Ortiz launching into an expletive-filled description of Charlie Reliford's zone the day after he was ejected by another member of the umpiring crew, Tony Randazzo.
Matsuzaka allowed the Giants just three hits in seven innings, walking three and striking out eight. His moment of truth came in the sixth, when he set down Bonds on a groundball with two on and none out, retired Bengie Molina on a liner to short, then after hitting Nate Schierholtz with a pitch to load the bases, struck out Rich Aurilia. Reliford rang up Aurilia on a 3-and-2 slider that looked suspiciously out of the strike zone.
"I thought the 3-and-2 was a good pitch," Varitek said. "I thought he could have called one earlier that was borderline. The 1-and-0 to Bonds was borderline, but he was commanding out there very well. I thought the 3-and-2 to Aurilia was a strike."
In Japan, where Matsuzaka mostly came out of games when he told the manager he wanted to come out, it would have been unthinkable for him to make his exit with a shutout in progress. Francona was asked if Matsuzaka might have had trouble understanding his reasoning for lifting him in favor of Okajima.
"I'm sure, especially my English right in the middle of the game," Francona said. "We got a lot of things going, that western Pennsylvania English comes out and probably . . ."
Francona dropped that thought in mid-sentence. "It wasn't an easy decision," he said. "Couple of reasons. Where we were in their lineup, [I] wanted Oki to have a clean inning from the start, and the lefty coming out of the [background], there's something to that in a day game. And the inning before [the sixth] I thought took something out of him.
"It almost backfired, but I thought it was the right thing to do. When Oki gets through that inning, obviously I felt much better, because it didn't start out very well."
Matsuzaka, who ran his record to 8-5 after losing his last three decisions, threw 112 pitches. He gave up a double to Pedro Feliz in the second, a single to Molina in the fourth, and a single to Ray Durham after walking Randy Winn to start the sixth.
"I think he did enough working out of that jam, then going out there for another inning," Varitek said. "We've got two guys we rely on, one guy to get us to Pap, the other guy to close it. I thought he did a great job keeping the game where it was, keeping it quiet right there."
Ramírez had gone 50 at-bats and 15 games since his last home run, off the Indians' Cliff Lee May 28. This was only his ninth home run of the season. He's never had fewer homers at this date in his career, but he's usually good for at least one streak of double-digit games in which he doesn't leave the yard. The longest of his career was 22 games in 2002; in 1999 he went eight games without a home run, the only season he hasn't had a homerless streak of 10 games or more.
Okajima, who had pitched a scoreless inning in Friday night's 10-2 rout, walked Winn and gave up a single to Durham to start the eighth. When he fell behind Bonds, 2-and-0, pitching coach John Farrell paid a visit.
"He fell off his delivery in his first two hitters and got himself in trouble," Varitek said. "He couldn't find his delivery. He relies on pitching, and not just one pitch. He has to utilize all three of his pitches, and he was off on all three of his pitches the first couple of hitters. But he was able to make the adjustment. He got into his own mess, and got out of his own mess."
There was nothing untidy about Jonathan Papelbon's ninth inning, which ended with Dustin Pedroia making a nice stop on pinch hitter Mark Sweeney's grounder and throwing him out, Papelbon celebrating his 16th save by pounding his glove with gusto.