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From the archives | Sept. 29

David Ortiz’s walkoff hit boosts Red Sox playoff hopes

The crowd went wild when David Ortiz delivered the game-winning hit.

Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The crowd went wild when David Ortiz delivered the game-winning hit.

His eyes have increasingly taken on the color of his favored Majestic pullover. And yet, amid that bloodshot gaze, there was a conviction in Terry Francona’s look last night, and David Ortiz’s ninth-inning, game-ending RBI single had only something to do with it.

“You can say what you want,” Francona said late last night, his team, once behind, 4-1, pulling out a most vital 5-4 walkoff win over the Blue Jays. “You can act even outwardly however you do. But you can’t fake that feeling.

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“We had it in our dugout. We got pushed up against a wall. Maybe that’s what it took. We had that feeling. It’s hard to explain. But we were a very confident team even when we weren’t winning. Our whole dugout.”

He saw it in the effort. Jason Varitek sliding to glove a wild Matt Clement slider with the bases loaded in the fifth. He saw it in Jonathan Papelbon’s body language, serious and stern and confident, pitching the final 2 2/3 innings of the game in just 30 pitches. He saw it in Manny Ramirez digging, really digging, and going first to third in the eighth. He saw it in Johnny Damon (three hits) swiping second in the ninth.

And he saw it in the results. In Ramirez with no outs in the sixth, falling behind hard-throwing righthander Jason Frasor, 0 and 1, but taking one of his vintage cuts -- body locked in, head level, bat whipping through a part of the zone that few hitters can get to with such power and balance, shooting a ball into the visiting bullpen for a two-run shot to close the deficit to 4-3.

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In Ortiz, leading off the eighth, against Vinnie Chulk, sitting back and unleashing his 34 1/2-inch, 32 1/2-ounce bat on a tailing fastball. Tie game.

And then, in the ninth, he saw it in what his team managed off closer Miguel Batista. Damon singled, swiped second (not Dave Roberts, but not bad). Edgar Renteria walked. And Ortiz won it.

The Sox, of course, had to have this game. Jason Giambi put one on Eutaw Street in Baltimore for a 3-0 lead before the Yankees made an out last night, easily on their way to an 8-4 win. Lose, and the Sox would have needed a weekend sweep to deprive the Yankees of their eighth straight division title.

And now it comes down to this: Yankees up by one game with three to play. Win three and the Sox win the division. Win two and they possibly face the Yankees Monday in a one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium.

”We’re in a position, if we play well over this weekend, we’ll get in,” said general manager Theo Epstein. “If we don’t, we probably don’t deserve to.”

Sox, Yankees, as it was intended to be, no?

”I don’t think it’s predestined,” Epstein said. “This season for a lot of teams in a lot of ways has been about survival. We’ve both survived in probably the most difficult division.”

Last night was Exhibit No. 159, and few could be more representative of said struggle.

Matt Clement conceded single runs in the second and third innings and two in the fifth inning. He faced eight batters in that inning, as his pitch count soared to 95.

Russ Adams began the inning by singling ahead of Frank Catalanotto. With the Sox behind, 2-1, Clement hung a 2-and-2 pitch to Catalanotto, who -- stop us if you read this in yesterday’s paper -- launched one. His eighth homer of the season touched down in the Red Sox bullpen, escalating the Blue Jays’ previously modest lead to 4-1.

Catalanotto, between the third inning Tuesday and the fifth inning last night, solidified membership in the Reed Johnson Red Sox Killer Club. Catalanotto, in that span: 9 for 12, 2 HRs, a triple, 3 doubles, and 7 RBIs.

Clement then worked through a vintage inning of his own. He spared the Sox further damage but taxed himself considerably. With one out, he loaded the bases on a walk, a double, and an intentional walk.

Alex Rios then bounced back to Clement, who niftily backhanded a short throw to Varitek for the force at home. With Gabe Gross up next, Clement bounced a 2-and-1 pitch that Varitek gloved, sliding to his right, saving a run.

”I know I’m not the easiest guy to catch,” Clement said. “I throw a lot of balls that move a lot, that move in tough situations. It was just an unbelievable play. It was a huge factor in the game.”

Clement, on his second 3-and-2 pitch to Gross, got an inning-ending ground out.

But, he’d thrown 94 pitches and was gone two pitches into the sixth, after a leadoff single.

Clement, the club’s prime pitching acquisition in the offseason, won only three games after pitching in the All-Star Game in Detroit July 12, posting a 5.72 second-half ERA. But Mike Myers built a sound bridge to Papelbon, who worked 2 2/3 innings for the win, his third (3-1, 2.70 ERA).

And then it was up to Ortiz and Ramirez. Ortiz hit into an infield shift leading off the sixth, but shortstop Adams cut off second baseman Aaron Hill, botching a routine play for Hill.

That ended starter Scott Downs’s night after five innings-plus. Manager John Gibbons elected for Frasor. Ortiz may be the club’s MVP candidate, but without Ramirez this month, the Sox wouldn’t be in the position they are in. He’s now homered six times in nine games and nine times in 19 games after going 18 without a homer.

The Sox had a chance to tie it in the seventh when Tony Graffanino reached on an Adams error (his 26th, four shy of Renteria’s major league-leading total). Graffanino stole second with two outs with Renteria up. Renteria hit a smash toward first, but Eric Hinske gloved it on a hop and stepped on first for the out.

Renteria stopped 50 feet up the line, out and defeated. He fell into a crouch, took his helmet off, and gently, with both hands, banged it into the baseline.

Ortiz tied it in the eighth with his 47th homer of the season, and 20th to tie or put the Sox ahead, but again, they squandered an opportunity, leaving men on the corners, despite getting them there with no outs.

That simply set the stage for Ortiz, who came to bat with the chants, pouring out of the 35,345 in Fenway Park, louder than ever before this year.

”MVP, MVP, MVP,” they roared.

”That kind of puts you in a good mood,” Ortiz said. “You feel like Superman. OK, I can’t let my people down.”

”If someone else wins it, they must have had a very special season,” Epstein said. “I hope he wins it.”

Ortiz looked out to see Damon on second, 180 feet away, and flashed back to his 10-pitch battle against the Yankees’ Esteban Loiaza that ended the marathon Game 5 last October. He didn’t try to do too much then and he didn’t last night.

”I’m not thinking at all about a home run,” he said.

Ortiz went to 3 and 2 -- why not? -- against Batista. The Jays were playing a shift, slightly up the middle, and Ortiz shot it just to the left of the shortstop, into left field. Damon scampered home. And, his manager figures, his team will arrive today with as much vigor.

”Guys will be running to the ballpark,” said Francona, a man with a history of knee surgeries. “I may even jog.”

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