It was a night off for David Ortiz. For anyone at Fenway Park last night, or watching on TV, it felt like a month. A year. A decade. A century.
Take your pick.
Saturday night, Fox cut away to auto racing with the Red Sox a strike away from winning, provoking the ire of fans, especially those without cable. Last night, ESPN could have revived one of its old tractor pulls, and an entire nation might have e-mailed its gratitude. Anything but another base on balls (12 in the first five innings), or three-ball counts (10 for Daisuke Matsuzaka just in the first five innings, followed by three in the sixth inning by David Aardsma, who walked two of the first three batters he faced).
By the end of a chilly night more suited for the champion Boston College hockey team, which was on the mound for first pitch ceremonies, even the eternally young Fred Lynn, sitting in the Legends suite, looked like he'd been trapped in Shangri-La (That's a reference out of "Lost Horizon," written by James Hilton in 1933, but it might as well have been last night).
But while the final out may have been long in coming - at its halfway point, the game had lasted 2 hours and 24 minutes, or 14 minutes longer than it took the Royals to beat the Twins yesterday in Kansas City - the Sox could at least stumble onto their plane to Cleveland relieved to have taken two out of three from their archrivals, having held on for an 8-5 win over the Yankees before a crowd of 37,876.
"It was a long, cold night, but it turned into a long, cold good night," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who won with a shorthanded bullpen, Javier Lopez stepping up on a night in which neither Jonathan Papelbon nor Hideki Okajima was available.
Lopez rescued Mike Timlin, who for the second time in two outings this season gave up a home run to the first batter he faced - Jason Giambi both times - then gave up singles to Jose Molina and pinch hitter Melky Cabrera - to put the tying runs on with no outs in the eighth. On came Lopez, who induced Johnny Damon to ground to second, where Dustin Pedroia alertly tagged Cabrera, then threw across his body to double up Damon.
Lopez then coaxed another grounder to second from Robinson Cano to end the inning, retired Bobby Abreu on a groundball to short to start the ninth, then gave way to Manny Delcarmen, who whiffed Alex Rodriguez and retired Hideki Matsui on a ground ball to end it at 12:06 a.m., 3 hours and 55 minutes after it began.
"Petey having the wherewithal to make that play was a huge part of this game," Francona said.
Ortiz, his absence from the lineup dictated by his horrific slump ("What's wrong with you, man?" Julio Lugo deadpanned before the game), could sleep easy, knowing that his teammates generated sufficient offense when his bat was not in use. Sean Casey's ground-rule double was the only extra-base hit among their 11 hits, but the Sox jumped to a 7-1 lead in the first three innings, taking advantage of the wildness of Yankees rookie Phil Hughes, who gave up six hits and three walks and was gone after the first four batters in the third reached, Casey's RBI single making it 5-1. A passed ball and another base hit, by Jacoby Ellsbury off Ross Ohlendorf, brought home two more runs.
Francona left open the possibility he may give Ortiz another night off tonight. "We'll see," he said. "We'll talk to him on the plane."
Matsuzaka, who is now 3-0 to become the first Sox pitcher ever to have three wins before April 14, lasted just five innings, having thrown a staggering 116 pitches while giving up four runs on five hits and six walks. He was given a menu of choices to explain his lack of command last night. The weather? "I experienced the cold a few times last season," he said. The Yankees, against whom he is now 3-1, but with a 6.30 ERA (21 earned runs in 30 innings)? "No." The preponderance of lefthanded hitters (six, including a switch hitter)? "No."
Matsuzaka gave up a run in the third when Damon walked, stole second and scored on Abreu's double, let the Yankees back in it by giving up three runs in the fourth. Matsui, whose first at-bat last season against Matsuzaka was a Hallmark moment in Japan, doubled over Crisp's head in center on Matsuzaka's first pitch of the inning.
Jorge Posada whiffed, but Jason Giambi walked, Molina doubled home Matsui, and rookie shortstop Alberto Gonzalez, who reached base five times this weekend while subbing for the injured Derek Jeter, lined a single to score Giambi to make it 7-3. A sacrifice fly by Damon made it 7-4.
"I'm trying everything to get Daisuke's feel out there," catcher Jason Varitek said. "He just couldn't get a feel for his pitches. They're a patient team, and you've got to throw strike one."
With Aardsma pitching two scoreless innings, the lead remained unchanged until Timlin entered in the eighth to face Giambi, the same situation he encountered in his season debut Friday night. This time he deposited a drive into the visitors' bullpen; Friday's had landed in the center-field camera well. Giambi had been 2 for 17 against Timlin before this weekend.
Molina followed with a base hit, and so did Cabrera. That was all for Timlin, who so far in 2008 has yet to retire a batter - five hits and a sacrifice bunt. He declined to speak afterward.
"We've got to get his legs under him," Francona said. "The ball is coming out of his hand fine; he's just not hitting his spots."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, forced to take out Molina because he'd strained a hamstring running the bases, had no choice but to put Posada behind the plate, even though he had a strained throwing shoulder. Crisp immediately took advantage after opening the eighth with a single off reliever Kyle Farnsworth. Crisp stole second, moved to third on Lugo's fly to right, and scored on Ellsbury's sacrifice fly.