Manny Ramirez was simply looking for a little elbow room in the 10th inning Friday night when he inadvertently won the game, the knob of his left arm hit by a wayward Keiichi Yabu pitch with the bases loaded.
Last night's game he won, too, but more conventionally, with a towering solo homer that snapped a 1-all sixth-inning tie in a crucial 2-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics, maintaining a tenuous 1 1/2-game lead on the Yankees, who beat Toronto, 1-0, behind Shawn Chacon (eight innings, four hits).
Ramirez, who had provided an RBI single in the first inning, manufactured the winner by himself, rapidly uncoiling his arms and bat on a lingering Dan Haren curveball with one down in the sixth.
''You throw one of those to Manny, it's like you're at the driving range and all the balls are hit on that green," said Oakland manager Ken Macha. ''They're going to land over there in the same spot. I think there's a parking garage over there."
That ensured a win for Bronson Arroyo, who was as good as he's been on any night this year, bringing a perfect game into the fifth inning in what ended as a seven-inning, three-hit, one-run gem. The Sox are just 10-7 this month but their starting pitching (8-7, 3.43 ERA) has been excellent.
That has allowed the Sox, who have 14 games to play, to keep pace with New York, which won earlier in the day, momentarily closing to one game the lead in the East. And, believe it: The Sox are paying attention.
''I was looking at the schedule, bro," said David Ortiz. ''New York has seven games left with Baltimore. That's bad news."
And, the news isn't good outside the AL East, either. The Indians, 11-1 since Labor Day, won again, maintaining a half-game lead on the Yankees for the wild-card lead.
''If we don't come in first place [in the East] . . .," Ortiz said. He tailed off, making a throat-slash gesture, the implication being that Boston's season would be dead.
''The series we have to play the Yankees here at the end," he added, ''that's going to be World Series [stuff]."
The good news: Pitching wins this time of year, and the Sox, who were winning by football scores in July and August, have won by scores of 3-2 and 2-1 the last two nights, scores more indicative of October.
''When I came out of the dugout tonight to go stretch down the line, I felt like it was October," said Arroyo, who is 13-9 with a 4.31 ERA. ''I could feel the excitement in the crowd. Definitely a little bit of a different vibe than I've felt here in a while."
Arroyo is almost certain to be the member of the five-man staff pitching out of the bullpen when/if the postseason begins for the Sox, but last night, the 28-year-old showed again why he's made the most quality starts (19) of anyone on the team.
Arroyo sent down the A's in order in the first, second, third, and fourth innings. He threw some effective changeups early. ''I was locating my fastball better than I have in a while," he said.
He needed only 50 pitches to work through four innings with a 1-0 lead. But, he needed 30 pitches in the fifth, in which Oakland had two on with no outs and the bases loaded with two outs but managed only to tie the game at 1-1.
Arroyo pitched himself into a jam in that inning, getting ahead of both Scott Hatteberg and Jay Payton, 0 and 2, but walking both to begin the inning. Arroyo, ahead of Hatteberg, threw him four straight balls. Payton, behind, 0 and 2, waged a 10-pitch battle to get a walk.
''I was trying to nibble a little bit because I didn't feel I needed to give in to these guys to get them to swing at something," Arroyo said. ''That put me in a jam."
Arroyo got Dan Johnson to ground to second. Alex Cora began the first of two 4-6-3 double plays.
''Huge," Arroyo said. ''We had no chance if he didn't get the ball to Edgar [Renteria] as fast as he did."
At long last, on Arroyo's 78th pitch, he surrendered a hit. His 17th batter faced, Marco Scutaro, lined a single to left, scoring Hatteberg to tie the game at 1-1.
To begin the sixth, the Sox righthander allowed two hits, with the A's biggest bat, Eric Chavez, coming up. But Chavez grounded to the right side and Cora began another 4-6-3 turn.
''We led the league in hitting into double plays last year," Macha said. ''We don't have a whole lot of team speed and that's what happens."
Still, the play required Renteria to take a hit in midair. Despite his 28 errors (No. 28 came last night), Renteria continues to do the most difficult thing asked of him: turn double plays artistically, regularly, and with apparent ease.
He notched his major league-leading 28th error -- a new career high -- in the eighth when Jason Kendall doubled to right. Trot Nixon threw to Renteria, who lackadaisically attempted to field Nixon's throw on a hop. It skipped by him, allowing Kendall to advance.
But Jonathan Papelbon, who appears to be the bridge to Mike Timlin for as long as the Red Sox play this fall, pitched an otherwise steady eighth.
''He comes in consistently throwing the ball hard and where he wants to," Arroyo said. ''I'm amazed each time he goes out there."
Scutaro, his first batter, reached out and nearly doubled to right, but the ball landed just foul. Papelbon, at 2and 2, came back with a pitch up and in and with intent at 93 miles per hour that sent Scutaro backpedaling. He proceeded to fly out. Papelbon overpowered Adam Melhuse for a strikeout. Kendall doubled and advanced, but Papelbon got Mark Kotsay to fly out.
''We're asking a lot of him," Francona said of Papelbon, who until April had never pitched above Single A. ''I see no reason not to."
Timlin finished it for his ninth save, working a 1-2-3 ninth.
''Everyone's finding their niche as far as roles," Arroyo said. ''Timlin is obviously comfortable in the closer role now. Papelbon is . . . realizing he's going to be in there in the seventh, eighth innings in crucial times. I feel that has definitely helped us out late in ballgames."
Now, if only Ramirez can heat up. His homer was just his third in his last 93 at-bats.
''Sometimes he has that ability to almost sense what's coming and not hit a single," Francona said. ''Amazing, how he can do that."
Summed up Ortiz: ''That's the Manny everybody knows. He's a box full of surprises. You think you got Manny, and he comes out and destroys you."