Never In Doubt. That was this morning's Springfield Republican tongue-in-cheek (I hope) headline for last night's game. Johnny Damon: "If we lost this game ... it could have just absolutely crushed us. ... What an awesome win."
But before the 9th inning euphoria, Rodrigo Lopez and Curt Schilling put rows of zeroes on the board. Baltimore threatened in the top of the 8th when Larry Bigbee singled to center and stole second. After that play, Boston was still concerned about Luis Lopez bunting with the count 2-1. Schilling talked to Bill Mueller at third, then to Jason Varitek, then to Dave Wallace. Schilling's next pitch was right down the middle and Lopez took it for a strike. That effectively removed the possibility of a bunt and Lopez struck out on the next pitch.
Myers and Timlin were warning up as Brian Roberts took a ball, then fouled off 3 pitches. Schilling came back with a 94 mph fastball up and away and Roberts flailed at it for the second out. David Newhan was next and also struck out, waving at a 1-2 pitch that was way out of the strike zone. ... Schilling nearly leapt off the mound, pumping his fist. Varitek: "This was the most emotional I've seen Curt." The third strike to Roberts was Schilling's 114th pitch. He was not coming out for the 9th and he knew it. He finished what was possibly his best game of the year by striking out the side with a man on second in a 0-0 game.
Boston began its half of the 8th by asking the umps to check Rodrigo Lopez's cap for pine tar. His pitches hadn't been doing anything abnormal, so I assume it was merely an attempt to rattle him. Lopez: "They're trying to figure out my pitches. It's their right to it - I don't mind. They can check my hat, my belt, whatever - I don't mind." Whether it played a part in Lopez walking Johnny Damon (on 7 pitches) and Bellhorn (on 4), we'll probably never know, but those walks did end Lopez's night.
Jason Grimsley came in and got Manny to chop to third on the first pitch (grrr!) which at least moved the runners to 2nd and 3rd. Grimsley intentionally walked David Ortiz before leaving in favor of BJ Ryan. ... Trot Nixon was next but having gone only 1-for-11 against lefties this season, Kevin Millar (2-for-14 against Ryan) was sent up to pinch-hit. Cabin ran the count to 2-2 and after fouling off a few pitches down the left field line, he reached out and flicked a fly ball to right field. It was deep enough to score Damon with the game's first run. ... Afterwards, Millar said he was not trying to go the other way. "I try to pull every single pitch thrown to me. I wanted to hit a fly ball somewhere. That's about the second time I've gone to right this year. ... It was a big at-bat." Varitek struck out to end the inning and Keith Foulke came on to shut the Birds down in the 9th.
Melvin Mora led off with a chopper that Mueller and Pokey Reese converged on, but at the last instant, Mueller dropped to the dirt, clearing the way for Pokey to grab the ball and gun it to first. One out. Miguel Tejada lined a single to right and took second on BJ Surhoff's grounder to Bellhorn (he flinched towards second base, but took the easy out at first). Two outs.
As we know, Foulke surrendered a long home run to Javy Lopez, but he had Lopez struck out once, if not twice, during the at-bat. Lopez (0-for-6 against Foulke coming in) fouled off the first pitch (a long drive to left that sailed out of the park) and missed the second. Foulke's third pitch was very close, but apparently a bit low; it could have been strike three. ... Lopez fouled another pitch off, then took ball 2 high. Foulke's 6th pitch also looked like a strike, on the inside corner, but it too was called a ball. Lopez banged the next pitch over the Monster and into the Boston night, giving Baltimore a 2-1 lead and turning Fenway as silent as a tomb.
Ryan stayed in the game to start the bottom of the 9th. Kevin Youkilis batted for Doug Mientkiewicz and took a four-pitch walk. Mueller, batting right-handed, drove a 2-1 pitch to deep left (his 4th hit of the game). Off the bat, it looked like a home run, but it fell short, clanging off the scoreboard for a double. The bounce off the wall was clean, so Youkilis stopped at third. ... David McCarty pinch-hit for Reese and popped an 0-2 pitch to first. Damon -- 0-for-14 against Ryan with 8 strikeouts -- fouled off 2 pitches, took a ball up and in before being called out on strikes. One out from a loss.
Mazzilli: "BJ really gutted up when he had second and third after he gave up that double [to Mueller]. They easily could have hit a ground ball, fly ball and he got them both out. He got into a good situation for Julio to face Bellhorn." And Bellhorn (0-for-5 with 3 strikeouts in his career against Ryan) was surprised Ryan did not stay in the game. Ryan "has had success against me in the past. I thought they'd leave him in and get Julio ready for Manny."
Julio threw ball one, then ball two. Bellhorn took a strike, before driving the ball to the gap in right center. From the Red Sox dugout, it looked like it might be caught, but Larry Bigbee couldn't get to it. It dropped, Dave Roberts (who ran for Yook) and Mueller scored and Boston had snatched a victory back from Baltimore, 3-2. Whew!
Bellhorn: "It's pretty crazy. You feel like you're winning Game 7 of the World Series every night you get a hit like this." ... Maybe I do need to get one of these shirts.
Those Other Teams: Javier Vazquez (7.63 ERA since the All-Star break): "I don't know what I'm doing." ... George Steinbrenner: "We'd all like him to be better, but you know, he is what he is. They better get him straightened around." New York beat Toronto 5-3. ... Ichiro Suzuki went 5-for-5 last night (he's now hitting .372 and is within 14 hits of George Sisler's 257 with 11 games remaining) and Seattle beat Anaheim 7-3. The Angels fell back to 5½ games behind the Red Sox in the wild card standings.
Tonight: The cornrow-less Bronson Arroyo -- with more quality starts and a lower ERA (15, 4.01) than either Lowe (12, 5.19) or Wakefield (12, 4.96) faces Sidney Ponson at 7:05 pm.