There was more than met the eye
In the course of the Big One-Six-Two, some of these affairs really are more important than others. A loss is not always just a loss, and a win very often can be, well, a Win.
This was one of those Wins.
"We needed that," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "We really needed that game today."
"We needed to find a way to win today," said manager Terry Francona. "Preferably a good-looking win, but any win."
This is a Red Sox team that had lost three consecutive series. This is a team that has not won three games in succession since the beginning of the month. This is a team that leaves too many men on base, a team that kicks the ball around far too much (close to a frightening unearned run-a-game average for very close to a month), a team that is constructed to win it all and whose players have the pay stubs to prove it. This is a team that needs to start playing like a true contender, not some blustery pretender.
So, yes, yesterday's 12-3 victory over the Phillies was important, as was the way it was accomplished. There was, for one of the rare times this season, a little bit of that September '03 feel.
The Sox were trailing, 3-0, in the third and Curt Schilling was huffing and puffing his way through a 27-pitch inning. With men on first and third, two away, and Schilling just having gone 3-and-2 to three straight men, Chase Utley went to 2-and-2 before putting a serious swing on the ball. When the ball left the bat, Schilling was at the mercy of the gods. A gapper would have meant a 5-0 game, but the ball was hit directly at Johnny Damon, who hauled it in.
Like major "Phew!"
"He's a good little hitter," said Varitek. "He can do a lot of different things up there. That was a decent pitch. He stung a backdoor slider."
It was a game-altering at-bat, and it looked even bigger when the Red Sox stung Brett Myers for four quick runs with two outs in the home half of the third, the big blows back-to-back ground-rule doubles by Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra.
It was one of those juxtapositions so unique to baseball, and it had a soothing effect on the gathering of 34,739, who were acutely aware of their favorite team's strong need for a victory on this particular occasion.
"You could feel the atmosphere was a little edgy," said Gabe Kapler. "But those two hits took the load off the shoulders of everyone in the ballpark."
The lead grew to 6-3 on a truly startling David Ortiz two-run homer in the fifth, and the game got out of hand late when the Red Sox scored two in the seventh and four in the eighth, the outburst capped by a three-run homer off the bat of Mark Bellhorn, who, with 44 runs batted in, has more RBIs than any number of seven- and eight-figure salary guys, starting with Barry Bonds (a cheap shot, granted, but who deserves it more?).
But no one in the Red Sox dugout really felt this was a rout. There were moments of tension right into the top of the seventh (when Mike Timlin fanned the dangerous Pat Burrell with two men on in a 6-3 game). The final score was irrelevant. The M.O. was more important.
Along those lines, the skipper maintained that his catcher had one of the more valuable 0-for-4 days in team history.
"You guys aren't able to see it, or be privy to it, but any team that has Jason Varitek, you have an advantage," Francona said. "It's just the way he is. I continue to marvel at the kind of teammate he is. Regardless of how he's swinging the bat, it just doesn't matter. He's a professional winner, and it's noticeable every day. And never more so than today for me."
You can see Scott Boras making a zillion copies of this, even as management sends a memo to the manager to ease up on the praise for a key free agent, at least a little. But what are you going to do? Varitek's leadership on this team has been reasonably well-documented over the past year or so.
OK, so we weren't privy to what Varitek was doing in that dugout, but we were witnesses to what was going on inside the lines, and in that sense it was a fun day. Schilling, for example, was out there for six grueling, Cone-like innings. He needed 110 pitches, including 30 in the sixth, but he got the job done, one highlight being a 97-mile-per-hour heater to fan Jim Thome with a man in scoring position in the fifth. "I mean, Jimmy's arguably the hottest hitter in the game right now," Schilling said. "I love those kind of things."
Ramirez had two run-scoring doubles, drawing praise from Schilling. "Manny, he's the best righthanded hitter I've ever played with," the pitcher observed. "He plays that dumb-like-a-fox gig pretty well. He puts his time and effort into preparation. He's got a lot of God-given talent, but he's making as much as he can out of it."
But the hit that should have sent people home knowing they had been privileged to be in attendance was the fifth-inning home run Ortiz hit into the center-field seats. Simply put, you can't do what he did. No one hits that kind of liner to deep center. Right? Perhaps. Left? Maybe. A baseball doesn't go that straight, that far, with no discernible arc.
"I wish you could have heard my call," said Phillies announcer Tom McCarthy. "First I thought it was an out. Then I thought it might hit the wall. But then at the last moment it somehow jumped over the wall. Sheer strength. That was a BB."
"He hit that ball incredibly hard," said Kapler. "I was definitely surprised to see it go out."
"He almost broke that wood underneath the [TV] camera," said Scott Williamson, who was watching it from the Red Sox bullpen.
"But I guess I shouldn't be surprised," Kapler continued. "That's the way things are going for David this year. That double is another example."
He was alluding to a seventh-inning Ortiz bouncer that skipped off a leaping Utley's glove at first and went into a no-man's land in right that was sufficient to score Johnny Damon from first with his 72d RBI.
So there were enough subplots to fuel discussion on a car ride home of any length. If you were making an annual pilgrimage, you picked a good day.
And if you were Terry Francona, you felt that it was a lot more than just a fun day: it was a valuable day.
"We were going to find a way to win that game today," he said. "And that's easy to say when you win. But I don't feel like some of the guys were going to let us lose today."
Aw, let the man wax poetic. This was a very good day for the Red Sox.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.