This time, there was no shouting, no shoving, and no hard feelings.
This time, it was all about good, old-fashioned baseball.
Despite the pregame verbal sparring between managers, the Red Sox and Rays seemed committed to resolve their differences by playing the game rather than pushing and shoving.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who found himself at the center of Friday’s ninth-inning dust-up, found himself in the middle of a happy scrum of teammates at home plate after he belted a two-run, pinch-hit homer to lift the Sox to a 3-2 walkoff victory Saturday night before a euphoric Fenway Park crowd of 38,099.
“This is probably the best win of the year right here,’’ said designated hitter David Ortiz, no stranger to walkoff homers himself, after the Sox climbed back to .500 at 23-23, recording their first walkoff of the season.
Just when it appeared the Rays had spoiled a splendid outing by Josh Beckett, rallying for two runs in the seventh to take a 2-1 lead, Saltalamacchia saved the day, pinch hitting for Marlon Byrd and driving an 0-and-1 pitch from Rays closer Fernando Rodney deep over the Sox bullpen for his first walkoff homer.
“Obviously, tonight was awesome,’’ said Saltalamacchia. “We’ve been working so hard and this team is so close that it was just an awesome feeling to come into home plate with those guys just pumped up.’’
Before the game, Saltalamacchia served as Carlton Fisk’s catcher for the first pitch.
As he stood with Fisk, watching highlights of Fisk’s walkoff homer in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Saltalamacchia joked with the Hall of Fame catcher, calling out to the screen, “Stay fair! Stay fair!’’
“I said to him, ‘You still get goose bumps with that one?’ and he said, ‘Man, I wake up sometimes and I still feel that ball going off the bat, and I feel the whole thing and I can’t forget that swing,’ ’’ Saltalamacchia said. “So tonight, when I hit that ball, it was kind of felt the same way. It’s one of those feelings I’m not going to forget.’’
Beckett took the mound in a much-anticipated duel against lefthander David Price, but both wound up with no-decisions after Beckett allowed two runs on four hits over seven innings with five strikeouts, and Price gave up one run on eight hits over seven innings with three walks and five strikeouts.
“Starting pitching was great, [a] great pitchers’ duel,’’ Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. “David Price was outstanding and Josh Beckett was equally good. He threw a lot of pitches [his] last inning, his ground balls just found a way through the infield.’’
Through six scoreless innings, Beckett had allowed just one hit and recorded three strikeouts on 67 pitches, 53 for strikes.
Price seemed to keep pace until the sixth, when the Sox pushed across the game’s first run on Will Middlebrooks’s single off the glove of second baseman Sean Rodriguez, which delivered Ortiz, who had reached on a single to center. It came after B.J. Upton made a tremendous throw from center on Adrian Gonzalez’s single to left-center that cut down Dustin Pedroia at the plate.
With men on the corners, Price minimized the damage when he induced Daniel Nava to ground to third.
Beckett faltered in the seventh when he allowed back-to-back singles before Ben Zobrist’s sacrifice fly to left enabled Upton to beat Nava’s ill-advised throw to the plate and score the tying run from third and allow Matt Joyce to move up to second base.
“I should have gone to second,’’ said Nava, who realized the error of his overaggressive play when Luke Scott’s seeing-eye single to right scored Joyce with the go-ahead run, giving the Rays a 2-1 lead.
“Nice learning experience for Daniel,’’ Valentine said. “He knew he should have gone to second base, once it went to home.’’
Nava redeemed himself, drawing a leadoff walk from Rodney, then advanced to second on Nick Punto’s bunt.
“I wanted to put together a good at-bat because of that,’’ Nava said. “In that situation in the game, I was probably too aggressive and not thinking about who was on third and it came back and got me.’’
But Saltalamacchia picked up Nava with his blast.
“Obviously, I’m just looking to get the guy in, somehow,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “The first one he threw by me and the next one he left it over the middle a little bit and I was able to put a good barrel on it.
“I had a walkoff in Texas, but not a homer,’’ Saltalamacchia said. “It was my first home run walkoff, which was pretty sweet to be able to come to home plate with all the team there.’’