Wily Mo Pena, fresh off his near-maiming of a man in the front row of the Monster seats, sat in the Red Sox dugout, looking at the few fans leaving the park with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
That was when Pena turned to Manny Ramirez and asked, “When we tie the game, are they coming back?”
Because even in his short tenure in Boston, Pena knows the truth of the Red Sox. It’s not over until . . .
Until the sweet word most Red Sox faithful have learned to expect Fausto Carmona continued his poor impression of a closer, hitting Doug Mirabelli and Alex Gonzalez with pitches and walking Kevin Youkilis, all with two outs, to set up yet another outpouring of excitement and ecstasy, a 6-5 win over the Indians, the Sox’ third walkoff win in the last five days.
No, this time it was not David Ortiz, who struck out swinging four times. He remained in the on-deck circle. Until (there it is again) Mark Loretta delivered his double off the Wall, at which time the behemoth slugger joined the celebration.
“In this ballpark, crazy things happen,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think a combination of they had some youth out there, we have a good team that doesn’t quit, and the whole ballpark’s vibrating. We just thankfully don’t stop playing.
“Whatever it takes, two hit batsmen, a great at-bat by Youkilis, we end up winning a game that was very losable.”
Because of Travis Hafner’s home run.
Just when it seemed the Sox wouldn’t have to delve into their ninth-inning heroics, Mike Timlin took the ball in relief of Jon Lester and Manny Delcarmen to begin the eighth inning. And, after getting one out and giving up a double to Jason Michaels, Timlin delivered a pitch that came back much the same way as one to Richie Sexson did a week and a half ago, when the Mariners sent the Sox to Oakland on the losing end of a walkoff win.
But being the home team last night, the Sox had two more chances. Chances to stem the losses since Monday’s trading deadline that, with a defeat last night, would have included Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek going on the disabled list, two games in the standings, and the American League East lead. Not yet, at least on those last two, as the Sox took a crowd of 36,022 from down (three first-inning runs allowed by starter Jon Lester) to up (home runs by Ramirez and Pena in the sixth to take the lead) to down (Hafner’s homer) to up (Loretta walkoff).
With two straight unimpressive starts, Lester began the game in much the same fashion as he left it last Friday, and on July 23. With 10 earned runs over his last 11 1/3 innings, the rookie’s ERA had soared from 2.38 to 3.49. And, with the first inning last night, it continued that upward spiral.
It took 36 pitches for Lester to extricate himself from a first inning that left the Sox down by three runs on a Grady Sizemore triple, Michaels walk (picked off by Lester for his team-leading fifth of the season), Hafner sacrifice fly, Victor Martinez home run, Casey Blake single, and Jhonny Peralta single. But that was it. At least from Lester.
“We tried to mix in some offspeed pitches,” said Lester, who allowed eight hits in six innings with three strikeouts, and was saved twice on relays from Coco Crisp in center field to shortstop Alex Gonzalez to double off Cleveland base runners. “Really didn’t have much tonight. Just basically we were throwing as much offspeed up there as we could just to keep them off the fastball.”
That was in marked contrast to Indians starter Jeremy Sowers, who ran his scoreless streak to 22 innings before a Gonzalez double, Youkilis double, Loretta single combination provided the Sox with two runs in the fifth.
Lester’s 110th and final pitch struck out Peralta, a 92-mile-per-hour fastball that sent the Sox into the bottom of the sixth inning, with Ramirez first to step to the plate.
And then, the two home runs to take the lead, one a lofted shot that landed next to the camera well in center, one a bullet that ricocheted off the back wall of the first row of Monster seats, the carom taking the ball well toward the infield grass.
“We were joking,” Youkilis said, “the ball hit off the back of the [seat] and the second baseman caught it.”
Pena, it seems, wasn’t content with the shot that broke a headlight across Lansdowne Street Monday night. He tried with this one to break a fan. Almost did, too.
“He had to [duck out of the way of the ball],” Pena said. “I don’t want to be in jail.”
Those runs wouldn’t be enough, though. The Sox had to wait. Wait through Hafner’s home run. Through the bottom of the eighth inning. Through the first two outs of the bottom of the ninth.
Had to wait until . . . until those fans observed by Pena had started making their way home. There weren’t many of them. Because the rest realized the truism that Loretta the one to win it on this night offered up after it was all over.
“I think,” he said, “the fans have realized anything’s possible.”