Red Sox 5, Diamondbacks 4

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Slumping catcher delivers clutch hit to cap Sox' rally

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 25, 2008

Jason Varitek has been going so bad lately that there was some debate around baseball as to whether he should scrap switch hitting and bat strictly as the natural righthander he is.

Good thing he waited on that one.

It was Varitek's lefthanded stroke on a single to right against Arizona reliever Chad Qualls that capped a four-run eighth inning and turned a 4-1 deficit into a 5-4 win for the Red Sox last night at Fenway Park.

Chris Smith earned his first major league win in relief of Justin Masterson, while Jonathan Papelbon earned his 22d save after blowing one Sunday against the Cardinals.

Even before his decisive hit, Varitek, who was in a 1-for-31 skid when he came to bat, said he would never entertain the thought of hitting from just one side.

"Heck no," said Varitek before the game. "I still have decent pop lefthanded and righthanded, so, no, I don't think that's an option for me right now.

"There are too many advantages to being a switch hitter for me to think about that. In fact, I've never thought about that."

He had snapped an 0-for-24 slump, the worst hitless drought of his career, with a double Monday.

"In the middle of it, I hit some balls hard and got on some 'Web Gems' and stuff," kidded Varitek.

"I don't really know what triggers a good stretch. Like two days ago, I lined out twice on two different [types of] pitches. I struck out but I had a really good at-bat.

"I haven't connected the way I would have liked so we're working on changes, mostly from the left side.

"It's really like being two different players. It really is. At times it means a lot more work and then at times I have to back off because my main responsibility is keeping us in the game defensively and handling this pitching staff."

He did just that with Masterson on a night when the kid didn't have his best stuff. Masterson went six innings and allowed all four runs, the big blow off him a three-run homer by Chad Tracy in the third inning that gave Arizona a 4-1 lead.

"We played like [expletive] for eight innings," said Dustin Pedroia, who keyed the eighth-inning rally with a tough at-bat against Qualls that resulted in an RBI single. Pedroia also struck a solo homer in the first inning that gave Boston a 1-0 lead.

The Sox are a team that often mounts late-inning rallies to pull victory out of defeat, and while they were unable to do it Monday against the Diamondbacks, they acted more like themselves last night.

The Sox could muster very little against Arizona starter Doug Davis, the cancer survivor who missed six weeks after having thyroid surgery. For seven innings he had Sox hitters confused and was cruising along until he started the eighth poorly. It went downhill when Qualls entered.

After Davis allowed singles to Julio Lugo and Jacoby Ellsbury, Qualls came on and couldn't retire Pedroia, who fouled off some tough pitches before lining a single to right to score Lugo and make it 4-2.

After J.D. Drew struck out swinging (he was 0 for 4, his third straight hitless game), Manny Ramírez grounded to third for the second out.

With runners at second and third, Mike Lowell seized the chance to tie the game with a double against the left-field wall.

"It's just the way our club responds in those situations," said Lowell. "We've done this so often - come back when we seem down and out."

With the way Varitek is struggling, there was no reason for Arizona manager Bob Melvin to make another pitching change at that juncture.

There was some thought of walking Varitek, but Melvin reasoned, "Varitek hasn't been swinging great, so believe me, if I'm 100 percent sure I'm going to get to [Brandon] Moss, I go ahead and walk Varitek.

"But as it was, [Kevin] Youkilis goes out there for defense in the ninth, and that's what we were thinking, that we'd potentially get Youkilis."

But Varitek surprised everyone with a single that sent the Jerry Remy Day crowd into a frenzy.

It was a nice one to get after a couple of very frustrating weeks for the Sox captain (who thought he had an RBI single in the first, only to have the ball bounce off Davis right to shortstop Stephen Drew).

But it all got better, and Varitek was able to muster a smile after the game. One of many, he hopes.

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