All they wanted was a routine ballgame.
No late-game disasters.
Good starting pitching, timely hitting, effective relief. The Sox needed it about as much as they've needed it in any game this season, and they got it.
After losing consecutive games to the Cleveland Indians, the Sox avoided a sweep with a 5-2 win yesterday over the Indians, a day after Keith Foulke had surrendered five runs in a 12-8 loss.
With Foulke unavailable yesterday after pitching 1 2/3 innings Tuesday night, the closing role was turned over to Mike Timlin. He got two quick outs in the ninth, then allowed hits to Jhonny Peralta and Coco Crisp before getting Casey Blake on a fly ball to center fielder Johnny Damon to record his first save since April 24, 2004, against the Yankees.
After subpar outings by Bronson Arroyo and Wade Miller, Tim Wakefield proved to be the stopper with seven solid innings, allowing only two solo homers (Blake and Victor Martinez), while his batterymate, Doug Mirabelli, hit a key two-run homer as part of a four-run sixth that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 5-2 lead.
Indians starter Scott Elarton had controlled the early part of the game pretty well. Sox hitters remained their usual patient selves, and by the sixth, the third time around the batting order, they were ready to pounce.
''When you have a pitcher who is throwing two or three pitches for a strike whenever he wants to, it's going to be tough for a lineup," Mirabelli said. ''You have to wait for a mistake and a lot of times that doesn't happen for a while. I know catching against different lineups that are stacked like ours, it's a constant grind. You know that every pitch is important."
Trot Nixon, who had two doubles, scored twice, and drove in a run, said, ''[Elarton] started making mistakes I know he'd like to have back in that sixth inning, and we were able to get some key two-out hits and RBIs. Good-hitting ball clubs like ours are going to do that."
Nixon doubled in Manny Ramírez with the first run in the sixth with a ball off the wall in left-center. After two outs, Mirabelli got one of Elarton's mistakes and sent it over the Monster to break the 2-all tie on a 3-and-1 fastball. When the next batter, Mark Bellhorn, pulled a home run into the right-field seats, Elarton's day was done.
''[Mirabelli] watches pitchers when he sits in between days," said Sox manager Terry Francona. ''He watches everything. He watches pitchers' tendencies and release points. I'm not sure how he kept that ball fair. That ball was running in off the plate. He kept his hands in and got the good part -- you know he talks about getting the barrel to the ball somehow. Whether he has to cheat in, he has a way of doing it with men on base."
The hitting component is just one of the facets of his game. His relationship with Wakefield has proved to be a winning combination, and Wakefield's surge of late has coincided with Mirabelli's return from the disabled list June 12 after missing 20 games with a sprained left wrist.
Wakefield had lost four straight starts in Mirabelli's absence, but since his return is 3-0 with a 0.93 ERA in four starts, working at least seven innings in each of them. The only negative for Wakefield was Blake breaking his scoreless streak at 19 2/3 innings with a two-out homer in the fifth.
''It's something that's taken a long time to develop," said Mirabelli of his relationship with Wakefield, which began in 2001. ''We hit it off when I was traded over here. I caught him probably eight or nine of his last starts that year. Grady Little saw the success we had and he just said, 'Let's not try to fix something that's not broken.' From there it's just been a constant building process."
Wakefield thought he had better stuff his previous two times out, but said he was able to make a big pitch yesterday when he needed it.
The Sox drew first blood against Elarton (4-3) when John Olerud, getting the start at first base, got the first of his two hits with a wall single to drive in Nixon for his 1,200th career RBI. The Indians then took the lead on the solo homers in the fifth and sixth innings.
''It was a big win for us because we needed to stop the losing streak and make sure it didn't snowball into something much larger, especially after the last two nights," Olerud said. ''It's something I think that makes all of us enjoy the day off a little more. You never want to be swept by a team at home."
But the most encouraging aspect was watching the much-maligned bullpen rebound.
It didn't start well when Matt Mantei threw six straight balls to begin the eighth. Mantei got a visit from pitching coach Dave Wallace, and he told Wallace that he was experimenting with a new leg kick, but decided he was going to scrap it. He retired the next three batters to set the stage for Timlin.
Timlin got two quick outs and the crowd was on its feet before the Indians threatened with a pair of hits. But Timlin hunkered down and got Blake to end it.
''If that's what [Francona] wants, if that's what the team needs, that's what I'll do," Timlin said about closing. ''I just looked at it like I was pitching the eighth or the seventh. You get in a mode where if you start thinking ahead, that's when you get in trouble."
Francona was on record that there's no ''quarterback controversy" regarding the closer's role. He said Foulke's his guy.
But yesterday the crowd just wanted a less-hectic day. And Wakefield, Mirabelli, Timlin & Co. delivered.