Two outs in the last of the ninth. A 5-3 deficit. A sellout crowd starting its slow exodus.
But hold on a moment.
These are the undermanned but not overmatched 2001 Red Sox, who, despite last night’s 6-5 loss to Atlanta in 10 innings, gave most of the 33,723 fans a thrill and the visitors fits before Troy O’Leary flied out to deep right field to end the game.
With two outs in the ninth and the home team trailing by a pair, Trot Nixon caused the first buzz when he took Braves closer Steve Karsay into the bullpen to make it 5-4.
And then Fenway rocked when Manny Ramirez blasted his old Cleveland teammate’s pitch over the Green Monster to tie the game.
“All I know is that at that point I’m standing with the rest of the guys at the top of the dugout steps wondering if, and hoping for, one more [homer] from Dante [Bichette],” said Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg.
It wasn’t to be: Bichette grounded out and then Atlanta got three walks (one intentional) and a two-out single by Brian Jordan off Hipolito Pichardo, the fifth and final Boston reliever, for a 6-5 decision.
“We had a shot,” lamented Bichette after the Sox fell 1 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East. “You’ve got to give our team credit for coming back. We keep doing that this year and that’s kind of been the story with this club. We’ve been winning those games for the most part, but tonight, they got us.”
Karsay said as soon as Ramirez swung, “I knew it was gone. Leave it out to Manny and he’s going to deposit it in a not-so-good spot.”
But the Sox, who came back with two outs Thursday night to beat Cleveland, 5-4, ran out of miracles after Ramirez’s 26th home run.
Jordan, who made great back-to-back catches in right in the third inning off Hatteberg (in the gap) and Nixon (at the bullpen) with two runners aboard, was credited by Atlanta manager Bobby Cox with making “the plays of the game. We probably would have been beat if he didn’t catch those balls. And we got a great performance from [Steve] Reed.”
Reed came on for starter John Burkett in the seventh with the Sox up, 3-2, and Hatteberg and Nixon on base with none out. The sidearming righthander, who was acquired along with Karsay for closer John Rocker, threw nine pitches, all for strikes. He fanned Ramirez, got Bichette to pop out, and Brian Daubach to line to second.
Karsay, who gave up the blasts to Nixon (his 15th, tying a career high) and Ramirez, got the gift win, while Sunny Kim, who left the game in the 10th with the score tied and two runners on base with one out, was tagged with the loss.
It was a wild and improbable ninth for the Sox and their fans. But, in the end, the cold statistic was that the gallant Sox are slowly falling behind the Yankees, even as Sox ace Pedro Martinez ponders what will probably be an August return from his right rotator cuff problems.
The Sox got a quality start in place of Martinez by Rolando Arrojo - two runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings - but that 3-2 lead after seven innings wasn’t enough to sustain the Sox in regulation.
“He’s getting a feel for what he wants to do to be successful. He’s using that hard slider and hard sinker,” said Hatteberg of Arrojo, who blanked Toronto July 1.
“We knew Pedro needed rest. How much, we don’t know. The big thing is to get Pedro back - healthy.”
Chipper Jones’s leadoff home run in the eighth off Rod Beck and the Pesky Pole tied the game. Derek Lowe was charged with two runs (one earned) in the ninth and it seemed the Red Sox were doomed after Karsay retired Jose Offerman and Hatteberg to start the inning.
Lowe, who escaped a nasty ninth-inning jam in Cleveland the night before, walked Rafael Furcal to start the ninth. Furcal stole second and then B.J. Surhoff singled home pinch runner Keith Lockhart for a 4-3 lead.
Lowe’s night ended when he walked Andruw Jones. He was replaced by Kim and the bizarre ninth inning continued. With one out, Jordan tapped in front of the plate. Hatteberg threw to first, but the ball broke through Daubach’s broken glove as the Braves’ fifth run scored. Daubach later threw the glove to the dugout floor in disgust.
Exhilaration or deflation?
“A little bit of both,” said Bichette, “but we feel pretty good about the way we’ve been playing. We came back twice tonight to tie it up. It’s just one game. If we keep playing like that, we’ll be fine.”
Hatteberg said the Red Sox are a hurting team in need of a breather, but a resilient one, nevertheless.
“We seem to rise to the occasion a lot lately. We need healing and we need to get some of our guys back,” said Hatteberg. “The All-Star break has been sort of the light at the end of the tunnel for us. We want to get there and rest some arms. We can definitely use the rest.”