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Jason Varitek squirts out of the mob at home plate that had gathered to celebrate the catcher's walkoff homer.
Jason Varitek squirts out of the mob at home plate that had gathered to celebrate the catcher's walkoff homer. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
RED SOX 6, A'S 5

He's Captain Marvel

Varitek rescues Sox with HR in ninth

Yes, Jason Varitek will make $40 million by the end of 2008, and yes, his unquantifiable contributions are part of the reason. But that "intangibles" discussion -- save that for another day, and, for that matter, another season.

Just ask Oakland right fielder Bobby Kielty, who felt some pretty tangible pain in his side after crashing into the wall beyond Pesky's Pole in a gutsy, yet futile attempt to keep Varitek's ninth-inning blast out of the seats yesterday.

Varitek's two-run homer lifted his average to .343, gave him seven home runs in just 102 at-bats, and gave the Sox their second walkoff home run victory in as many days, 6-5. Both days, the Sox trailed by a run going into the bottom of the ninth, both times David Ortiz walked to begin the comeback, and both times a Sox player -- Kevin Millar on Tuesday, Varitek yesterday -- took Octavio Dotel for a long, painful ride.

Varitek, with the second walkoff homer of his career (both vs. Oakland), escorted Dotel into the record books. This was just the second time the Sox have won on walkoff home runs on consecutive days -- on July 21 and 22, 1935, Sox pitcher/pinch hitter Wes Ferrell accomplished the feat. And, this marked just the sixth time a major league team has hit walkoff home runs in two straight games off the same pitcher.

'' 'Captain' gets thrown around loosely a lot, but he is," said Sox starter Matt Clement (seven innings, five hits, one walk, one earned run). "And he's clutch."

Varitek took a sinker away and broke a bat fouling off a cutter to begin the at-bat. The 1-and-1 pitch was in on his hands, and he turned on it. Off the bat, Varitek said, he gave the ball "no chance" to stay fair.

"Had I gotten fully extended I think I would have hooked that quite a bit foul," he said.

But it stayed fair and sent the 35,375 in attendance on this 72-degree day into a frenzied celebration.

But Varitek's heroics, which gave the Sox eight wins in their last nine games and nine straight victories against the A's, never should have been needed. The Sox led, 4-1, after eight innings -- thanks in part to a third-inning, two-run homer by Manny Ramirez -- and Clement was looking at a 5-0 record. On came Keith Foulke, and his stultifying inefficiency continued.

He issued a one-out walk to Kielty, then allowed a two-out double to Marco Scutaro and a two-run single to the No. 8 hitter, Keith Ginter. That pulled Oakland within 4-3. On the eighth pitch to pesky No. 9 hitter Eric Byrnes, Foulke left a slider up and Byrnes muscled it into the Monster seats.

"Explanation?" Foulke asked. "I can't explain it. Didn't do the job. It was a bad pitch. I'm not going to question the pitch. I'm going to question location."

Foulke, who relies predominantly on his fastball and changeup, committed late last season and during spring training this year to adding a slider. He's thrown the pitch with some success, but left one up to Byrnes, and to Javy Lopez for a homer last month. Of his six home runs allowed, three have come on high fastballs (Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Marcus Thames), two on sliders (Lopez, Byrnes), and one on a changeup (Miguel Tejada).

"It's not the pitch," Foulke said. "It's the location. It wouldn't matter if I threw a knuckleball up there. It's the location."

Foulke, who was at the pinnacle of his profession in October, has now given up more home runs (six) than any other reliever in baseball. His confidence is waning, his ERA rising (7.94), and he's going to have to overcome seeing a fat number in that ERA column if he's to piece this season back together.

It's a virtual certainty his ERA will be above 3.00 at the end of this year, which it hasn't been since 1998. He needs 28 scoreless innings to reduce his inflamed ERA to 3.00. He allowed 20 runs all of last season. He's already allowed 15. He gave up eight home runs all of last season.

Manager Terry Francona was asked postgame if there's any chance he pitches Foulke in some non-save situations to help him rediscover his mechanics and confidence. Francona seemed caught off-guard by the question, then said: "That's a hard question for me to answer, because I don't think he's in a funk. I thought we talked the last 10 days about how well he was throwing. I think I'm right. No, we don't go anywhere without him. We need Foulkey."

Foulke's blown save cost Clement a win. But he's still unbeaten (4-0) with a shrinking ERA (3.06). Take out his one implosive start -- 12 hits, seven earned runs in 4{dbcomma} innings April 26 vs. Baltimore -- and the righthander's ERA is 1.99. He has just eight walks in his last five starts, and four were in one game.

And, he's not getting hit hard, either. Since allowing a Hideki Matsui home run in his debut, Clement has not been taken deep in seven consecutive starts, a span of 47{dbcomma} innings. He got through seven innings on 100 pitches, and he probably could have gone longer.

"I felt like I caught a second wind there in the sixth and seventh, which is important to me at this point in the season," Clement said. "You don't want to just go six or seven every game. You want to feel like you can go beyond."

Clement has spearheaded a remarkable season to this point for the ever-changing Sox rotation. Sox starters, in the last 12 games, are 8-0 with a 2.75 ERA. For the season, Boston's eight starters have accounted for 17 of the team's 21 wins, going 17-6 with a 3.74 ERA.

There should be one more win in the starters' stats, but Clement can live with that. And he was happy, given that Varitek got to deliver the dramatic moment.

"Give 'Tek credit," he said, just before the team left for its flight to Seattle for a six-game West Coast swing. "You don't want to get on a flight to go cross-country after a tough loss."

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