Alex Cora didn't even peek. His focus was on third base, on getting there ahead of the throw from Jim Miller, on keeping himself primed to score the winning run in the ninth inning of yesterday's game against the Orioles. There was no time to look. The ball didn't matter, third base did.
Until, that is, the ball sailed wide right, past Aubrey Huff and into left field. That was when Cora took off again, this time for home. For the win.
With Jacoby Ellsbury dropping down the second straight bunt for the Red Sox, after Coco Crisp, Cora's only task was to get to third. But Miller misfired for an error, and Cora trotted home as Boston won, 5-4, at Fenway Park. There was a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 37,373, an outpouring of love from Cora's teammates, and a victory reminiscent of last season's Mother's Day Miracle, also against the Orioles.
That one ended on a fielder's choice. This one?
"It's the first walkoff bunt I've had, yeah," Ellsbury said with a broad smile.
Crisp did take a look over his shoulder on his bunt as the ball dribbled down the first base line. He kept running as the ball hit a pebble and rolled back into fair territory. He was safe at first, leaving the Sox with Cora in scoring position and no outs.
"It's a very lucky day for me. Very lucky," Crisp said. "I was about one second, two seconds away from turning around. My last little few seconds that I was looking down it kicked a rock. My eyes got big, and I had to try to make it to first and be safe."
He was, eventually sending the Sox to the sweep heading into today's offday. For tomorrow's series opener against Texas, the Sox could have as many as four players back from injuries (Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis, and Sean Casey).
This win was sweet, especially on a day when the Sox had just two hits out of the infield before Dustin Pedroia slammed a home run into the second row of the Monster seats in the seventh.
"We didn't play very good in the first six innings, then we played great," said Pedroia, who also said the team looked tired, with Cora choosing the term "sleepwalking."
"We finally swept somebody," Pedroia added.
After not being able to close out the Yankees and White Sox after winning the first two games of both series, it appeared the Sox were on their way to a third straight disappointment in a finale. But the final three innings brought a flurry of scoring that provided the Sox with their first sweep since taking three from Texas Aug. 12-14.
"We don't finish up the job," Cora said of the past two chances. "We always talk about winning series, but when you can sweep people, it makes it a lot better, obviously."
With Daisuke Matsuzaka struggling through six innings (four runs, four hits, four walks with seven strikeouts), especially in a three-run fourth, the Red Sox began the seventh against reliever Jamie Walker down, 4-0. But Pedroia lofted a one-out solo homer, and the Sox scratched out another run with a hit batter, walk, bunt single, and another walk. They followed in the eighth with a two-run triple by fill-in first baseman Mark Kotsay, scoring David Ortiz (walk) and Pedroia (double).
That left only the ninth, Cora's line single to right (his third hit of the game), Crisp's bunt (his second), and Ellsbury's finishing touch, to leave Fenway rocking.
But that was only because of two stellar defensive plays earlier in the game, by Cora and Ellsbury. In the fifth inning, Ellsbury took away a home run from Aubrey Huff, at the 380-foot sign (and bullpen door) in right field. And Cora also got Huff, snagging a grounder from Oscar Salazar and getting it to Jed Lowrie in time to cut down Huff at third in the eighth.
"You don't make that play unless you're already making it before the ball's even in your glove," Sox manager Terry Francona said of Cora's play.
With Jeremy Guthrie scratched from the start after complaining of a dead arm, the Orioles went with Lance Cormier, who was going to pitch no more than three innings.
And despite throwing just 32 pitches (27 strikes) through three - one more pitch than Matsuzaka threw in the fourth inning alone - Orioles manager Dave Trembley kept his word. Cormier was out, replaced with Dennis Sarfate, who added another three dominant frames (one hit, five strikeouts).
"We go into the game feeling like we have the upper hand because we got in their bullpen and they're starting a guy in the bullpen," Francona said. "But because of the way Cormier and Sarfate threw the ball, if we can just do something like we did in the seventh early, we really felt like we had a chance to get [deeper into their bullpen] before they wanted to.
"We won a game that, it was losable. We'll take every win we can get."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.