John Farrell can give a detailed explanation about most anything that happens on a baseball field. But when asked what transpired at Fenway Park in the ninth inning on Thursday night, the manager of the Red Sox smiled.
“In a word — magical,” he said.
The Sox scored six runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to stun the Seattle Mariners, 8-7. Daniel Nava, who started the inning with an innocent walk, came up again and won it with a 400-foot single.
It was the second walkoff victory in 22 hours for the Sox, who beat Seattle, 5-4, in 15 innings just after midnight earlier in the day.
“We just play until they tell us we can’t,” Dustin Pedroia said.
The Sox are 37-20 at home with 11 victories coming in their final at-bat, the most in the majors. The Sox haven’t had that many walkoff wins since 1978 and are two shy of the club record set in 1940.
“We don’t quit. Ever,” Farrell said. “There’s no quit in this bunch. They truly believe there’s a chance to do something special, whether it’s on a given night or over the course of a given year. That one would be this year.”
At 66-44, the Red Sox are 22 games over .500 for the first time this season and now lead the division by a full game over the Rays, who were idle.
With 52 games left, the Sox have won three fewer games than they did all last season. Thursday will go down as perhaps the most memorable.
Seattle handed a 7-2 lead to closer Tom Wilhelmsen, who hadn’t pitched since Sunday and needed the work.
He walked Nava before Ryan Lavarnway singled and rookie Brock Holt doubled to left to drive in a run. With the Sox down by four runs, those remaining from the crowd of 35,886 started to perk up.
When Wilhelmsen walked Jacoby Ellsbury to load the bases, interim Seattle manager Robby Thompson came out of the dugout to make a pitching change.
Thompson is managing the team in place of Eric Wedge, who is recovering from a mild stroke.
Seattle had righthander Yoervis Medina and lefthander Oliver Perez warming up. Thompson intended to bring in Medina but raised his left arm first before tapping his right arm.
When umpire David Rackley signaled for the lefthander to come in, Thompson tried to correct his mistake, but umpire crew chief Gary Darling did not allow it.
“If there’s anything there for me, it’s a lesson learned that if you make any motion with either hand, that’s it. I didn’t realize that,” Thompson said.
Shane Victorino, a switch-hitter batting righthanded, grounded Perez’s second pitch into right field for a two-run single. The righthanded-hitting Pedroia then singled to left field to score Ellsbury.
“Perez is pretty tough against righties, too. But that was a break for us,” Pedroia said.
Perez struck out David Ortiz. Medina then came in to face Jonny Gomes.
Gomes took two fastballs for strikes. Medina missed twice before Gomes fouled off the fifth pitch of the at-bat. The sixth pitch was a fastball just off the outside corner. Rackley called it a ball.
“Jonny Gomes’s at-bat might be the key, where he takes a borderline pitch,” Farrell said. “A lot of quality at-bats inside the ninth inning.”
Gomes rifled the next pitch up the middle for a single that scored Victorino.
Gomes is hitting a modest .236. But he is 10 of 24 in the ninth inning with five RBIs and is a .333 hitter with runners in scoring position.
Stephen Drew, who had the winning single on Wednesday, fell behind, 0 and 2, and worked a walk to load the bases. That left it up to Nava.
“Just trying to get the ball in the air,” Nava said. “The last thing you want to do is hit a ground ball right at someone. I was just trying to get the ball in the air anyway I could.”
Nava swung at the first pitch and drove it to deep center field. The ball landed on the warning track for the longest — and most satisfying — single of Nava’s career. His teammates shredded his jersey in the celebration that followed.
“It goes without saying that at-bat was set up a lot by everything that happened before that,” Nava said. “Steve had a great at-bat, 0-2 and works the count, gets the walk. Changes the whole situation of my at-bat. With one out, obviously [the Seattle defense] is pulled in.”
The stunning ninth inning made a winner out of rookie knuckleballer Steven Wright, who pitched three scoreless in relief of starter Ryan Dempster. Wright had been promoted from Triple A Pawtucket earlier in the day.
Dempster allowed seven runs on nine hits over six innings and left trailing, 7-1, against Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, who went seven innings and gave up one run.
Victorino homered in the eighth inning. But at 7-2, the Sox seemed to have little chance of coming back. But in this season, the improbable has become commonplace.
“What can you say about our team and our resiliency to just keep fighting and never feel like we’re out of it?” Dempster said. “What a win.”
The game was eerily reminiscent of an 8-7 victory in Seattle on July 11.
Dempster didn’t get through the fourth inning of that game and Wright threw 5⅔ innings of scoreless relief to help the Sox rally from a 5-1 deficit.
The winning run scored on a single by Nava off Wilhelmsen in the 10th inning. Three weeks later, the Sox pulled off the same trick.
“Is it magical? It’s a lot of fun,” Nava said.