Nava, whose story of rags to riches from Independent League baseball to Major League Baseball is itself one of the feel-good stories in baseball, capped off a happy ending for the Red Sox Saturday with a dramatic three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, just minutes after Neil Diamond made a surprise live appearance to sing “Sweet Caroline.”
It transformed a 2-1 Red Sox deficit into an eventual 4-3 win over the Royals, with Clay Buchholz earning his fourth win of the season with eight strong innings and Andrew Bailey surviving a scare in the ninth when Lorenzo Cain homered for his fourth hit of the game. Bailey then put two more runners on before getting out of the jam as the crowd of 35,152 rocked the baseball edifice.
“I think we all were [emotional],” Nava said about the pregame ceremonies honoring the Marathon bombing victims and survivors and those who responded. “I think that’s what it’s about. Those were the guys [police] who allowed us to play today. They did a great job in finding the suspects, as we well know. If it wasn’t for them, who knows, we wouldn’t even be able to play the game. So I think to honor them and give them some well-due spotlight is something that got to all of us. It got to me. I know that for sure.”
Nava had been picked off second base by Royals catcher Salvador Perez in the seventh inning, which cost Boston a chance to score the tying run after Nava had been hit with a pitch and went to second on Will Middlebrooks’s single.
“I stepped in the box just trying to put the base-running mistake behind me and move on,” Nava said. “Understanding the importance of today’s game I was pretty frustrated with myself because that was a chance to, who knows, get things going. So for that to happen [pickoff], I wasn’t trying to do it. Just, shoot, thank God it worked out the way it did because I didn’t plan that.”
The homer sailed into the Red Sox bullpen off righty reliever Kelvin Herrera.
“When I hit that ball I was yelling, ‘Stretch, c’mon, get going!’ ” Nava said. “Fortunately it got out, but knowing everything that went into today and the importance of it, not just for the city, but each person that was impacted. For us to get the win, whether it was me or whether it was anyone coming through, was something that I think we all wanted to do. Hey, we got it and we got it in a special way, a special fashion, so it makes it that much more exciting.”
The winning rally started with a Jonny Gomes pinch-hit double to left after Gomes replaced Shane Victorino, who had back spasms. After Dustin Pedroia walked, David Ortiz, who had two hits and an RBI in his 2013 debut, knocked into a double play. Things didn’t look too promising, but Mike Napoli kept the inning alive with a walk and Nava pounced on a 1-1 pitch and sent the ball sailing.
“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Nava said. “I never try to hit a home run. So when they happen they kind of always catch me off guard. I know a guy with velocity like that you’ve kind of got to shorten your swing. But rounding the bases, running, everything like that, it was hard not to get excited because of we’re down, now we’re ahead, now we have a chance to go out and close this game out and get the win, was something that obviously you play for.”
When Bailey retired Alex Gordon with a ground ball to shortstop to end the game, the crowd went wild, capping off a major day in Boston sports history.
Of the Cain homer, manager John Farrell said, “Well, [Bailey] got a fastball up on the plate to a guy that just put on a show today in Lorenzo Cain. Just a great looking athlete, a very good hitter. He hit fastball away for a base hit. A curveball for a double down the corner. A fastball in for another double. A fastball up over the plate. But once again, Andrew gets in a little bit of a jam, finds a way to not back down and make a big pitch when we needed it and closed it out.”
While Buchholz, who started the day with a 3-0 record and a 0.41 ERA, pitched more than well enough to win, the offense couldn’t solve former AL East (Tampa Bay) nemesis James Shields and the Kansas City bullpen until the eighth.
Cain had Buchholz’s number, with three of his four hits against the Sox starter. Cain delivered his second double to left to start the seventh, scoring the go-ahead run with two outs on Perez’s triple around the railing in right field.
Ortiz, making his return after injuries to his heels, came up with a big two-out RBI single up the middle against Shields in the sixth to tie it at 1. Jacoby Ellsbury led off with a single and was advanced on Victorino’s sacrifice bunt. After Pedroia grounded out, Ortiz, who had singled in his second at-bat against Shields, delivered.
Buchholz wasn’t as sharp as previous outings, in which he had allowed one run in 22 innings, but he wasn’t exactly getting clocked either.
The Royals drew first blood in the fifth, breaking a 22-inning scoreless streak by Buchholz, when Cain opened with a double to left, moved to third on Mike Moustakas’s fly ball to center, and scored on Jeff Francoeur’s single to left. Buchholz struck out the next two batters.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.