You don't throw a lazy 2-and-2 curveball to Manny Ramirez. You don't leave it hanging over the plate to arguably the best righthanded hitter in the game. Not with the score tied, 5-5, in the eighth inning at Fenway Park and Keith Foulke warming up in the Red Sox bullpen.
When it left Toronto reliever Micheal Nakamura's hand, you could see Ramirez's eyes light up. It looked like batting practice and felt like batting practice, as the ball quickly sailed over the Green Monster and "onto the turnpike," according to Pokey Reese, giving the Sox a 6-5 lead, the beginning of a six-run inning that led to an 11-5 win.
"When I was in left field [in the top of the eighth with the score tied, 5-5], I was praying to God," said Ramirez. "My wife, my mom, and kids were here. I wasn't looking for nothing [for a pitch]. I just wanted to see the ball and drive it."
To a man, the Sox were hoping Ramirez could do something dramatic. As Reese, who knocked in three runs with a pair of hits, including a bases-loaded, two-run single in the eighth, said, "Nobody wants to go to extra innings after getting in at 3:30 in the morning [from Tampa]. We all said we're all hoping Manny can go deep." And when he did, the crowd of 35,287 got into it. When the Sox kept scoring, it felt a lot like last season.
"We're in this with Trot [Nixon] and Nomar [Garciaparra] out of our lineup," said Kevin Millar (2 for 3, 2 RBIs). "You haven't seen anything yet from this lineup. We're going to heat up."
It's not as if the Sox came into the game with a plan of hanging close until exploding in the late innings. But, as manager Terry Francona said, "We're very comfortable playing here with the excitement of the crowd, and the idea we can come back certainly helps. And the fact they've done it so many times, they know that it's there."
With the comfortable lead, Foulke sat down, and Lenny DiNardo finished up in the ninth, thanks to some nifty defense by Mark Bellhorn, Reese, and Dave McCarty.
To start a 10-game homestand in that fashion on a night when Bronson Arroyo was ordinary was great for team morale.
Lost in the shuffle were two solid innings of relief by Mike Timlin, who picked up Arroyo after he had allowed the tying homer in the seventh to Simon Pond.
Timlin's performance had extra significance since fellow setup man Scott Williamson went on the 15-day disabled list prior to the game with tendinitis in his pitching elbow.
"That was a lot to ask," said Francona of Timlin's two innings. "He was outstanding and that's not surprising."
Ramirez had gone 0 for 3 prior to hitting his 10th home run, and 0 for 5 Thursday in a 9-6 loss to Tampa Bay. After he touched home plate following his blast, Ramirez gave buddy David Ortiz a big smile and a hug.
With the Sox up, 6-5, Jason Varitek, who reached base four times, was hit by a Nakamura pitch, and after Millar doubled on an 0-and-2 pitch from Valerio de los Santos, rookie Kevin Youkilis was walked by Kerry Ligtenberg to load them up for Reese, who singled, scoring two. Bellhorn's fielder's choice grounder to first base brought in two more when shortstop Chris Gomez threw the ball into the Sox dugout attempting to turn two. Ortiz, the ninth batter of the inning, singled in another run. Ramirez batted twice in the inning, walking his second time with two outs. The Jays used four pitchers in the inning.
"Youkilis had a great at-bat in that inning," Francona said. "Pokey's hit was obviously huge. But Youkilis's at-bat was tremendous. He did some good things to extend that inning."
Arroyo allowed three solo homers -- to Vernon Wells in the third, Josh Phelps in the fourth, and Pond in the seventh. Pond also hurt Arroyo with a two-out, two-run double in the second inning, but the Sox erased a 2-0 Toronto lead with four in the bottom of the second off Blue Jays starter Roy Halladay.
Brian Daubach and Millar both singled to center in the second, the second hit scoring Varitek, who had walked. Youkilis, making his Fenway Park debut, walked to load the bases, and then Reese found the shortstop hole to score the second run.
Johnny Damon's 4-6-3 double play brought in the third run. With two outs, Bellhorn sent a Halladay fastball to the wall in left on a hop, making it 4-2.
After the Blue Jays had tied it, 4-4, Millar's sacrifice fly, after a Varitek double and Daubach single, put the Sox up by a run before Arroyo allowed Pond to unload.
But no fear. Ramirez said a little prayer. His teammates made a wish. And the energy seemed to be too much for Nakamura.