Dusting themselves off, Sox rally in 9th
ARLINGTON, Texas - Covered in dirt, Clay Buchholz walked back into the dugout, his awkward, facefirst belly flop into home plate having yielded nothing more than an out. The slow-footed Jason Varitek had just beaten out an infield single and advanced to second, and Red Sox manager Terry Francona pulled him for the whip-quick Buchholz.
Trailing, 4-3, with one out in the ninth inning, Dustin Pedroia sent a deep fly to left. The ball and the Rangers’ David Murphy hit the scoreboard at the same time, Murphy quickly grabbing the carom.
Thinking Murphy had made the catch, Buchholz hesitated, reversing direction before heading for third and beyond.
“Shoot, when I hit that ball I thought Jacoby [Ellsbury’s] running on first, I’m like for sure we’re taking the lead,’’ Pedroia said. “Then I looked up and all hell was breaking loose in the middle of the baseline.’’
As Buchholz slightly stumbled rounding third, Murphy fired the ball to third baseman Michael Young, whose relay home beat Buchholz by a few feet. Though the misread on a difficult play temporarily cost the Sox the tying run, it was hard to fault Buchholz. He is, after all, a pitcher without much base running experience.
With men on second and third and two outs, the Sox’ rally looked to be over. That was until Victor Martinez laced a double to right field with two strikes, scoring both runners for a 5-4 lead. But the Sox weren’t done, adding an RBI single by Jason Bay and a crowning two-run homer by J.D. Drew in their 8-4 win in front of 40,311 at the Ballpark at Arlington.
“When you think you’ve seen everything . . .’’ Francona said, trailing off. “You probably haven’t come close. That was one of the more exciting innings we’ve been a part of.’’
After scoring just six runs while getting swept in three games here July 20-22, the Sox rebounded with six runs in the ninth off closer Frank Francisco, extending their wild-card lead over the Rangers to 1 1/2 games.
It was a rare late-inning victory for the Sox, who rank 27th in the majors in batting average in close and late situations (.225). Only the Pirates, Royals, and Reds ranked lower entering last night.
The Rangers had so dominated the Sox in six previous meetings (1-5) that they had already clinched the season series. And while that doesn’t give the Rangers the tiebreaker in case the teams finish knotted for the wild card (a one-game playoff would settle that), it gave Texas a chance to open a small gap in the standings for that last postseason spot, something the Rangers failed to do last night.
“That’s about as big of a team effort capped off by a huge at-bat by Victor,’’ Varitek said. “I think for the whole team it was [uplifting].
“We still have to focus on playing our game, starting with our starting pitching, but it was a big win for us.’’
The Rangers had gotten off to a great start. After Omar Vizquel walked on five pitches to open the first, Young took an 0-1 pitch from Jon Lester and blasted a home run to center field, estimated at 400 feet.
“I think it was a battle today for Jonny,’’ Varitek said. “Things didn’t come easy for him, for him command-wise, so he had to battle his way through that start.’’
Rangers starter Kevin Millwood walked five, but he still was good enough to keep the Sox scoreless for five innings.
His last walk, to Mike Lowell with two outs in the sixth, would be his last batter. Lefthander Eddie Guardado came on to face David Ortiz, and Ortiz launched a full-count pitch into the Rangers bullpen in right for a tying two-run homer.
But the tie was shortlived for Lester, a double by Marlon Byrd and a single by Andruw Jones putting the Rangers ahead, 3-2.
Ortiz said he wasn’t bothered by being dropped to seventh in the lineup, the lowest he has batted this season. Two extra-base hits and two walks later, he was even less bothered, even though he had entered the game with a .114 average in August, with just five hits (and no home runs) in 41 at-bats.
“We need him,’’ Pedroia said. “Obviously he’s big for our team. If he hits, our offense is that much better. Hopefully he can continue to swing the bat like he did tonight.’’
Ortiz’s double got the Sox started in the ninth, the first of seven hits allowed by Francisco.
“Any win’s big,’’ Pedroia said. “We haven’t beat these guys that much this year, but the way we won, I think hopefully we can build on this and continue to have a good road trip. ’Cause it started out pretty good for us.’’
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.