OAKLAND, Calif. — It’s not hyperbole to suggest the Red Sox were on the verge of their most devastating loss of the season. How else to define blowing a five-run lead in the final two innings? Or seeing near-perfect closer Koji Uehara surrender two home runs in the ninth inning?
“Emotionally, it would have been bad for everybody,” Xander Bogaerts said. “You can’t lose a game like that, a game we needed. Oh, man, I don’t even want to think about it.”
Bogaerts then looked across the clubhouse at the crowd of reporters gathering around the locker of David Ortiz.
“That’s why we have him,” he said. “Thank God.”
Ortiz did it again Sunday, rescuing the Red Sox from disaster with a solo homer in the 10th inning that beat the Oakland Athletics, 7-6.
A day before they face Seattle ace Felix Hernandez, the Red Sox averted a four-game series sweep and stayed competitive in the American League East, carving a game off their deficit.
A few minutes after Oakland tied the game on home runs by Stephen Vogt and pinch hitter John Jaso off Uehara, Ortiz came to the plate against lefthander Fernando Abad.
Abad had faced Ortiz once this season and struck him out. Ortiz fouled off the first four pitches he saw this time, took a breaking ball low, and then went the other way with another curveball.
The ball sailed over the fence in left-center, just to the side of the 388-foot marker.
“I like to go up there and make things happen,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz was 3 for 13 in the series without an extra-base hit as he approached the plate. The Oakland pitchers, he freely admitted later, had made him look bad. Sunday was his worst day. Ortiz struck out in the first inning then failed to get the ball out of the infield three times.
“You can’t get five hits with one at-bat. Whatever happened in the past, it happened. You have to go up there with a fresh mind and try to do something different,” Ortiz said.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds. But what else can you do when you go 0 for 3 or 0 for 4 and you have another at-bat? You have to go up there and fight.”
Ortiz has 10 career home runs in extra innings and has made a career of getting important hits late in games.
“He does have the knack for the moment,” manager John Farrell said. “More than anything, he stays at rest or at peace mentally in those key spots and doesn’t miss his pitch when he gets it.”
Uehara stayed in the game and retired the side in order in the bottom of the 10th. Because of injuries during the game, the Athletics were out of players and used relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, a former minor league first baseman, as a pinch hitter with two outs. He grounded to second base to end a wild game.
“That one had everything,” Jonny Gomes said.
Until the final innings, the game was actually somewhat relaxing for the Sox. Their moribund offense scored four runs in the first three innings and Jon Lester controlled the Athletics.
Gomes singled to center to drive in two runs with the bases loaded and two outs in the first inning. It was the only hit the Red Sox had with runners in scoring position but it relieved a lot of tension given the six runs the Sox had scored in the first three games of the series.
“It felt like everybody let out a sigh of relief,” Farrell said.
David Ross and Mike Napoli later homered for the Red Sox. Jonathan Herrera added an RBI triple.
Lester pitched 7⅔ strong innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits. Lester has faced Oakland twice this season and allowed two earned runs over 15⅔ innings against the best offense in the league.
“It was big for us to get an early lead,” Lester said. “Just trying to protect it from then on.”
Lester got the first two outs in the eighth inning before hitting Craig Gentry. When Jed Lowrie walked, Farrell went to Burke Badenhop.
The usually reliable righthander allowed singles by Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Derek Norris as Oakland scored three runs. With the lead down to two runs, Farrell turned to lefthander Andrew Miller.
Oakland pinch hit with Coco Crisp, who had game-winning hits on Friday and Saturday. He hit the ball hard again but Herrera caught the low line drive.
Uehara inherited a 6-4 lead but blew his first save since last July 6. He had converted 38 saves in a row counting the postseason.
The Sox were staring another close loss in the face before one swing by Ortiz changed everything.
“I’ve seen that before. He always finds a way to pick us up,” Lester said. “You begin to expect it from him.”
That feeling permeated a grateful clubhouse.
“He’s our guy,” Napoli said. “We feed off him. When he goes, we go pretty good. He’s huge in our lineup and the things he does are pretty amazing, especially late in games. It’s pretty special.”Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.