The last thing John W. Henry intended to do yesterday was cry. Not over a baseball game. And not with his wife by his side, weeping with him.
But there he was, the principal owner of the Red Sox, reduced to tears of joy as his doom-defying renegades of resiliency staged their latest - and maybe greatest - comeback of their magical season to force a decisive Game 5 of the American League Division Series tonight in Oakland with Pedro Martinez on the mound.
“I’ve never cried at a baseball game before, but I couldn’t help it,” Henry said after David Ortiz, down to the last strike in the eighth inning, launched a two-run double to lift the Sox to an electrifying 5-4 victory before a pandemonious 35,048 at Fenway Park. “It was an unforgettable moment.”
And it was staged by a team that has etched itself an indelible place in franchise lore. Showing the baseball world yet again why they rank among the most dangerous in the game - particularly when they seem to have all but lost their pulse - the Sox shook even the sturdiest souls in their own dugout with their latest miracle moment.
“My heart is racing,” Sox starter John Burkett said in the wondrous afterglow. “I can barely talk. It’s unbelievable. I’ve never felt like this.”
The day after Trot Nixon’s dramatic walkoff shot clinched Game 3, the Sox pushed the A’s to the brink of losing a potential clincher for the ninth straight time over the past four years by shocking supercloser Keith Foulke. The winning rally was particularly stunning since a couple of the key participants had struggled badly in the series - and in their careers against Foulke.
With one out and the Sox trailing, 4-3, Nomar Garciaparra (2 for 11 in his career against Foulke) fell behind in the count, 1-2, before he cranked a 79-mile-per-hour slider off the Monster for a double. A batter later, Manny Ramirez (2 for 15 in the series and 1 for 11 in his career against Foulke) also was down to his last strike before he whistled a single through the hole to left, giving the Sox a chance to tie it.
But as Garciaparra raced around third, left fielder Jose Guillen uncorked a strike to the plate, which came as little surprise to third base coach Mike Cubbage. Garciaparra and Cubbage had conferred while the A’s huddled on the mound after the double.
“We decided Nomar was going to go [home] on anything hit to center or right, but we had to be careful on a ball hit to left,” Cubbage said. “Guillen has a gun.”
Which he amply demonstrated, leaving runners at the corners for the next batter, Ortiz. Again, Foulke came within one strike of escaping the jam against Ortiz, who was 0 for 16 in the series. But as the foundation of the little bandbox on Yawkey Way all but shimmied from the force of the sellout crowd urging on the MVP candidate, Ortiz ripped a 91-m.p.h. fastball over right fielder Jermaine Dye.
“When it was first hit, I saw it, then it went into the sun,” Dye said. “This field is not good for the sun late in the game. It was hit so hard, in my mind I just wanted it to stay in the ballpark.”
It did, but only to carom off the wall of the Oakland bullpen far enough for both Garciaparra and Ramirez to rumble home. And for Ortiz to answer some of the folks who have pointed fingers at him for his slow start in the postseason. His dip has been caused in part by an injured right knee.
Asked about his struggles, Ortiz said the A’s have pitched him well, which is no surprise since the A’s staff ranks among the best in the league.
“I don’t think I was struggling,” Ortiz said. “If I was struggling, I don’t think I would have hit the ball to win the game. Don’t give up on me, people. Come on.”
With the 5-4 lead in hand, Scott Williamson did the rest, overpowering the A’s in the ninth as he fanned two batters before he retired Erubiel Durazo on a weak popout, triggering a wild celebration to the triumphant beat of “Dirty Water.” Williamson also mowed down the A’s in order in the eighth after Tim Wakefield pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief for Burkett.
“This is an unbelievable win,” Kevin Millar said. “This is an unbelievable team. The Sox are going back to Oakland. We believe. We didn’t want to go down, 0-2, but we did. We came back and it shows the character of this team to come back and win two tough ones at home. And we’ve got Petey going [today].”
Burkett did his part by keeping the Sox in the game until the A’s began to solve him. The Sox were leading, 2-1, thanks to a two-run shot by Johnny Damon in the third inning, when Burkett ran into trouble with one out in the sixth. First, Adam Melhuse tripled over Nixon in right field to knock in Scott Hatteberg with the tying run. Then Dye homered to the back row of the Monster seats to stake the A’s to a 4-2 lead.
“That’s kind of been my whole season,” Burkett said. “If you look at the numbers, it’s not that good. But I felt I’ve pitched well enough to win.”
Todd Walker helped make it possible by belting a solo homer off Ricardo Rincon in the bottom of the sixth to make it 4-3.
“We’ve had so many comebacks this year that when we were down, 4-2, we felt like we had an opportunity to do something,” said Walker.
And if they win tonight, they’ll have a chance to face the Yankees for the league championship - and a ticket to the World Series.