There was still hope in the frayed voices of the Fenway faithful. Too much, perhaps. As Jacoby Ellsbury walked to the plate in the eighth, they cheered. As J.D. Drew lifted a fly ball to right field, they cheered. Hadn’t they given up yet? Hadn’t they headed for the exits, the jubilation of a 10-run first inning turned into discouragement and regret, that ocean-deep lead turning to a deficit with frightening quickness?
They hadn’t. That’s why they stood, a catch in their throats, as Dustin Pedroia shot a ball to left field, hitting it high off the Green Monster. That’s why they roared, as they sensed the tide turning, as Ellsbury rounded third, headed home, slid into the plate.
The score - improbably, impossibly - was tied.
The Red Sox had won this game, and lost this game, and won it again. Because, with the score knotted at 16 in that eighth inning, Kevin Youkilis laced a pitch off the facade of the Sports Authority sign in left field for yet another three-run homer. It bounced off the sheeting, lifting Youkilis and the Red Sox - and a crowd that had its boos turned to cheers - to a ridiculous 19-17 win over the Rangers last night at Fenway Park in front of 38,004 dazed fans.
The total of 36 runs tied the American League record, which was set in 1950 by the Red Sox and Philadelphia Athletics (a 22-14 Boston win).
“It was an exciting game,” said David Ortiz, who stroked two three-run home runs - both in the first inning - and nearly had a third that became a double. “We need that kind of game, the way everybody kind of relaxed, loosened up. We’ve got two more months to decide where we’re going to be at the end of the season, so that’s the kind of game that puts you in the mood and gets you going all the way.”
So, how nice was it to see Youkilis’s home run clear the Monster, making a victory out of what would have been a dispiriting loss?
“Even more than that was to see the last out,” manager Terry Francona said, only half-joking. “That’s an interesting night. At some point you’re thinking about going for a field goal.”
“That had a chance to be a really frustrating night, and in the end the music’s playing and we won. That’s what we set out to do. That’s not exactly how we drew it up.”
Perhaps the 10 first-inning runs were, or the addition of more in the third and fifth. But not the utter demolition of the Red Sox bullpen, the release of a lead that seemed utterly unimpeachable.
So, it was stunning when Frank Catalanotto crossed the plate in the sixth. A Chris Davis grounder had bounced off Youkilis, for a rare error, to Pedroia. In a move that seemed desperate, Pedroia threw home. But the ball came in high, not leaving Kevin Cash enough time to get the tag down, and the Rangers had scored again.
It was their 14th run of the evening, tying the Red Sox’ 14, and marking a remarkable comeback. And the Rangers weren’t done, a sacrifice fly by Ian Kinsler relieving the Red Sox of their lead for the first time. It was 15-14, and there were boos.
“We couldn’t stop anything,” Francona said.
With 12 runs already scored by the Sox, the Rangers stepped to the plate in the fifth inning against starter Charlie Zink (among others). Eight runs scored. They stepped to the plate in the sixth inning against reliever David Aardsma (and others). Five runs scored. It was, in a word, horrific.
The 16th run brought more jeering, and Francona out of the dugout, leaving a dejected Manny Delcarmen to fend for himself in the wilds between the pitching mound and safety. He was just another failed arm out of the bullpen.
And it had all started out so well.
“Probably both teams were frustrated as the next,” said Youkilis, who started with two strikeouts in the first inning and ended with two home runs. “You’ve just got to play it out because there’s no time. You’ve just got to play the outs till you get the 27th out.”
Back in the first inning, you could almost feel the slowing of Zink’s heart, as the ones around him started racing. Sitting in the dugout, watching the outsized persona and swing of Ortiz, one could imagine Zink’s breathing slowing, his fears melting away, as that second arc rocketed toward the triangle in center field.
Whew. Thank you, David.
The first home run was majestic, soaring into the seats in the right field corner, scoring J.D. Drew from second base and Pedroia from first. And, there, in a matter of minutes, was a three-run lead for Zink, a chance to relax in his major league debut. It was a gift from the baseball gods, who gave Zink far more than his share in that inning.
Again it happened, the ball blasting off Ortiz’s bat, smoked to center field, a second three-run home run in as many at-bats. It was magical. And it almost happened again in the fifth, though that time, Ortiz’s blast was ruled a fan-interference double.
Despite all that clicking of his wrist in Kansas City last week, Ortiz’s power hadn’t gone anywhere, helped by anti-inflammatories that he took before yesterday’s game.
The bullpen’s ability to get anyone out, though, had gone. Zink’s too, in the fifth, though it seemed he might be able to get through the inning when Coco Crisp appeared to make a nice play on a drive to the warning track. But the umpires ruled that Crisp didn’t make the grab, even as the center fielder was saying he dropped the ball on the transfer. Francona took some time with the umpires, and then, when the ruling went against him, walked directly to Zink to relieve him of the baseball.
And there was the swing, from up to down to up again.
Fortunately for the Sox, it ended on up, filled with emotion as Youkilis stroked the home run to left field, as he rounded the bases, as his teammates met him at the end. But, of course, it wasn’t all good for him, or for the team.
“I also felt the emotion of the boos today, too,” Youkilis said. “The roller coaster ride in Boston’s always fun. Luckily we got the cheers at the end.”