For a brief moment, with Stephen Drew at the plate, the diamond looked like a chessboard.
With two outs in the eighth inning of a 3-3 game, Red Sox manager John Farrell had his next move ready as soon as Orioles manager Buck Showalter made his.
The entire game had practically flashed before Showalter’s eyes just one at-bat earlier when Jarrod Saltalamacchia sent a fly ball skying toward the Monster.
It threatened to put a cap on another Red Sox rally, but fell just short, hitting high off the Wall for a double.
But then, Showalter had to think. Did he want his righthander, Tommy Hunter, to face Drew, who just an inning earlier had banged the leadoff double that sparked the pilot light on Boston’s offense?
Or did he want to play the odds?
The Sox had a righthander scheduled up after Drew. It happened to be their 20-year-old uber-prospect, Xander Bogaerts, but to Hunter, who had scarfed down righties all season, holding them to a .198 average, the rookie might as well have been another dish on the buffet.
The two had history, though.
“I remember like two years ago, I hit a home run off of Hunter in extended [spring training],” Bogaerts said. “I was really confident. But he wasn’t throwing that hard back then like now.”
Rather than give Drew a second chance to be a hero, Showalter took the bat out of his hands, giving Hunter the signal to intentionally walk him.
Farrell figured Showalter would play the matchups. Knowing he had Mike Carp’s lefthanded bat preheated in the dugout, Farrell did the same.
“Hunter’s been dominant against righthanded hitting,” Farrell said. “I just felt like that was the spot for Carp.”
With a late-night fog thickening over Fenway Park, Carp was coming in cold. It was a situation he had been in before. From the on-deck circle, Carp watched the pitches sail by Drew.
“From the sixth inning on, I’m ready for any righthander that comes out,” Carp said. “I just happened to look out and say, ‘Here’s my opportunity to go hopefully get a big hit.’ ”
His thought process was simple.
“Get a hit,” he said. “That’s all it comes down to right there.”
All Carp needed was two pitches to make Showalter’s strategizing seem useless. He shot the first fastball he saw hard into foul territory down the third base line. The second, he looped into left field just beyond the glove of third baseman Manny Machado.
Saltalamacchia had more than enough time to score the run that would be the difference in the 4-3 win.
“Just got enough of it to dump it over Machado’s head,” Carp said. “It’s what we play for, to drive in winning runs.”
The hit allowed the Sox walked away with their 30th come-from-behind victory. After being dominated by the Orioles for the better part of the past two seasons, they’ve won four straight games and now two straight series.
“This is a group that knows how to play to the game situation that’s in front of them,” Farrell said. “They love to compete. They love to prepare for a given day. We’ve seen it time and time again.”
For the fourth time this season, the Sox watched a pinch hitter drive in the go-ahead run. For Carp, it was more of the same. Coming in, he had reached base in 24 of his last 32 games with a plate appearance. It wasn’t necessarily well-hit, but watching it stretch just beyond Machado’s grasp, Carp knew it was well-placed.
“Sometimes it’s all about placement,” Carp said. “Didn’t get a lot of it, but it’s a funny game.”
In the span of five at-bats, the Orioles learned just how fickle odds are.
One minute, they were sitting on a two-run lead going into the bottom of the seventh, thanks to home runs from Chris Davis and Machado, and the numbers were on their side.
The Sox were 6-45 this season when trailing after the seventh inning, and in four of the Orioles’ six wins over the Sox this season were up going into the eighth.
Then, when Drew doubled to lead off the Sox’ half of the inning, the stats slowly switched sides.
After Bogaerts lined sharply to Brian Roberts at second, Jacoby Ellsbury followed up with a one-out single up the middle.
At two different points, Farrell came out with a trainer to check on the leadoff hitter after he fouled a ball off his foot. He met Ellsbury in the batter’s box as soon as it happened, and then again at first base after he singled.
Ellsbury not only remained in the game, he swiped second for his second steal of the game and his league-leading 49th of the season to put the tying run in scoring position.
“I knew I could get it, it was just a matter of going,” Ellsbury said. “My foot was throbbing, but I knew it was a big run, a big situation. I had to get in scoring position.”
Despite driving in seven runs the night before, Shane Victorino couldn’t cash in, firing another liner to Roberts for the second out.
But with two outs, Dustin Pedroia did cash in.
His ground ball hopped through the left side of the infield, sneaking between Machado and J.J. Hardy and rolling into the outfield, allowing Drew and Ellsbury to come home.
That quickly, the odds were in the favor of a Sox team that had won nine of 15 games when tied after seven and 62 of 66 when they led after the eighth.
“Kind of shows the grit and the character of this team that’s been present all year,” Farrell said.
Although he didn’t have a win to show for it, John Lackey’s 7⅓ innings made sure the Sox still had a pulse late in the game.
The long ball has been the Orioles’ weapon of choice all season, and Lackey gave up two of them, both with the bases empty, minimizing the damage.
For most of the night, Lackey kept his innings short, pounded the zone with fastballs and cutters, threw 68 of his 92 pitches for strikes, and kept the Orioles at bay.
“I think there were two innings where he only threw 12 pitches,” Saltalamacchia said. “Whenever you can go out there and get three-up, three-down or just get quick innings and get our offense back on the bench ready to swing, it’s always a plus. That’s what he’s been doing for us all year.
“It just kind of stinks we can’t get the runs for him, but at the end of the day, we got the win.”Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.