Manny of the hour
With a walkoff homer in ninth, Ramírez picks perfect time to power Red Sox past Angels
They were sitting down to asagohan (breakfast) in Tokyo when this one began, and lining up for last call in the Back Bay when it ended.
But from sea (of Japan) to shining sea (Atlantic), the man who will be remembered most for this morning turned into night turned into morning again is Manny Ramírez.
At 12:44 a.m., 34 minutes after the last train was supposed to stop running in Kenmore Square, Ramírez stood transfixed at home plate, his arms raised overhead, watching as his ninth-inning home run, on a night as warm and clear as an Angel's teardrop, disappeared over the Green Monster and into the mists of Red Sox history.
"My train doesn't stop," said Ramírez, who at long last stole Big Papi's signature line - a walkoff home run, his first in a Boston uniform - to give the Sox a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels and a commanding two games to none lead in their best-of-five Division Series.
"We got the Big Daddy, Curt Schilling, going tomorrow," said Jonathan Papelbon, who got the last four outs on a night when the Sox bullpen was almost as fabulous as Ramírez, holding the Angels hitless over the last 4 1/3 innings. "I think anybody on this team would love to have him going for us to seal the deal, and I know he'll be ready to go."
Daisuke Matsuzaka may have been an unsatisfying first course - he failed to make it through five innings, the familiar bugaboo (the gnats were in Cleveland) of nibbling instead of attacking hitters, which drove his pitch count to 96 by the time he was lifted for Javier Lopez with the Sox down, 3-2.
The nightcap, however, was epic: Ramírez driving a 1-and-0 pitch from closer Francisco Rodriguez over the wall after the Angels elected to walk David Ortiz in tentionally for the second time in the game and the fourth time in the series.
"Well, you really pick your poison," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of the decision to walk Ortiz in an inning that began with Julio Lugo's first-pitch single off Justin Speier. "We've talked about this all week. Both those guys [Ortiz and Ramírez] are terrific. I just think in that situation and the situation before, we're going to take some chances with some matchups. It just made sense not to go after David, and it didn't work tonight."
Ramírez may have been so overcome with the magnitude of Manny in the moment that he forgot to maintain media silence, granting an on-field interview to Jose Mota on TBS, then making an unprecedented appearance in the postgame interview room.
"I remember when I came to the clubhouse today," Ramírez told Mota, "[Jason] Varitek told me, 'Hey, you can't leave Boston without a home run.' I said, 'You know it.' "
Lugo, leading off the ninth against Speier, was on the move when Dustin Pedroia, playing with a shoulder he'd jammed earlier in the game, grounded to short. Rodriguez entered and struck out Kevin Youkilis, then walked Ortiz, who ended the Angels' October three years earlier with a walkoff home run.
Ramírez took one pitch, then unloaded, as a crowd of 37,706 erupted in joy that evoked memories of the back-to-back walkoff wins in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. Both crafted, naturally, by Ortiz.
The Angels, who have lost eight straight games to the Sox in the postseason since Donnie Moore's meltdown in Game 5 of the '86 playoffs (All hail, Hendu), return home uncertain of whether they will have their one bona fide slugger, Vladimir Guerrero, who came out of last night's game in the eighth inning after being hit by a fastball from Manny Delcarmen an inning earlier.
"Vlad's a little sore," Scioscia said. "He got hit up near the shoulder blade, and it got to a point where it was impacting his swing. It was even hurting to lift his arm if he had to catch a fly ball."
Mike Lowell's second error since July 18, a span of 67 games, turned what could have been a one-pitch exercise for Papelbon into a grueling duel of wills. Red Sox manager Terry Francona, taking advantage of a fully rested bullpen, brought Papelbon into a tie game with two outs and nobody on in the eighth. Second baseman Howie Kendrick hit a routine grounder to Lowell, who took his time but threw low to first, Youkilis unable to scoop the ball out of the dirt.
With a 1-and-0 count to Jeff Mathis, the ninth hitter in the Angels' order, Kendrick easily stole second base. With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Scioscia went tactical, sending up Juan Rivera to hit. With a 1-and-2 count, Kendrick stole third, and Rivera worked his way to a full-count walk. That brought up Chone Figgins, the majors' leading hitter after May 31 (.381) but slowed by a sore wrist (0 for 22) the last couple of weeks of the season. Figgins fouled off two 1-and-2 pitches before Papelbon put him away with a splitter that plate umpire Dan Iassogna called strike three.
"From top to bottom, our bullpen was lights out," Papelbon said.
The conditions couldn't have been more favorable for Matsuzaka. A warm night (79 degrees at game time), just the way the dome-conditioned pitcher likes it. A team that had never set eyes upon him before, except on video. The opposition's most dangerous hitter, Guerrero, genetically wired to swing at any pitch he can reach, which with his long arms pretty much spans the compass. The security of knowing that regardless the outcome, the Sox would head to Anaheim with no worse than a split, thanks to the virtuosity of Josh Beckett, who with Schilling already had headed to the coast before Tiger Okoshi, the flamboyant trumpeter and Berklee College of music professor, had belted out the national anthem accompanied by the booming percussion of Japanese drums.
The echoes of those drums had barely subsided when Matsuzaka struck out Figgins, the Angels' leadoff man, with a wicked slider, no doubt leading to the happy lifting of cups of green tea in his native Yokohama. He walked the next batter, Orlando Cabrera, and gave up a two-out single to Garret Anderson, the left fielder whose bout of conjunctivitis led to questions of how well he could see. But another sharp-breaking slider, this one to Maicer Izturis, went by unchallenged for a called third strike to end the inning.
The Sox expanded Matsuzaka's comfort zone when they scored twice in the first. Youkilis worked a walk after falling into an 0-and-2 hole against starter Kelvim Escobar, Ortiz followed with an opposite-field single to left, and Lowell drew a two-out walk to load the bases. That brought up J.D. Drew, who statistically was Boston's worst hitter with the bases loaded this season (2 for 17, .118) but stroked a base hit up the middle, Youkilis and Ortiz scoring.
The Sox could not have known that for the next six innings, that would be their only hit with runners in scoring position.
Matsuzaka, meanwhile, could not carry the lead beyond the next inning. He lost Casey Kotchman to a leadoff walk after being ahead, 0-2. Kendry Morales then hit a smash to the right side that Pedroia knocked down with a dive, but the ball dribbled away into short right field for an infield hit while Kotchman sped to third and Pedroia writhed in pain.
Matsuzaka struck out Kendrick, but a ground ball by Mathis brought home Kotchman to make it 2-1. Figgins then sliced a hit to left that took a wacky bounce past Ramírez for a double, tying the score at 2, and Cabrera followed with a fly to left-center that fell on the track for another double.
After that, Matsuzaka seemed to settle into a rhythm, but with two outs and nobody on in the fifth, Izturis lined a single off the glove of Youkilis and stole second. When Kotchman walked, Francona had seen enough and summoned Lopez, who retired Morales on a force play.
The Sox loaded the bases in the fifth on a ground-ball double down the line by Pedroia, who took third on a checked-swing tapper by Youkilis. Escobar walked Ortiz intentionally, then lost Ramírez on a base on balls, his fifth. Lowell scorched a liner to center, but right at Figgins, though Pedroia scored on a sacrifice.
The Sox committed a base-running gaffe when Coco Crisp, who had drawn a one-out walk in the sixth, failed to tag second while returning to first on Lugo's fly to center (Crisp was running on the play) and was doubled up.
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.