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RED SOX 7, MARINERS 6

Punctuation Mark

Loretta's walkoff homer in the ninth caps an exciting victory for Red Sox

Mark Loretta hit his first career walkoff homerun to lift the Sox over the Mariners.
Mark Loretta hit his first career walkoff homerun to lift the Sox over the Mariners. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)

There are few cliches more worn than the one Kevin Youkilis rolled out yesterday afternoon, saying of the season, ''It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."

Yesterday, however, that was as inaccurate and unintentionally humorous a statement as any, for it was Youkilis's bottom-of-the-ninth sprint that saved the day, and it occurred at about the same time as Robert Cheruiyot's gallop through the neighborhood on his way to a Boston Marathon record. With two outs and the Sox down a run, Youkilis punched an Eddie Guardado pitch to the right of diving second baseman Jose Lopez. Youkilis, digging, lunged for the bag.

''I yelled, 'Safe!' " Youkilis said. ''[First base coach Bill] Haselman yelled 'Safe!' too."

And he was, at 2 p.m. Cheruiyot would finish at 2:07 p.m. in Copley Square. In the interim, at 2:02, Mark Loretta would go where he'd never gone before: a) over the Monster and b) out of any park, anywhere, for a walkoff shot. Thus: Sox 7, Mariners 6. Commence the mosh pit at home plate.

''I've never experienced it before, not in Little League, high school, just complete euphoria," said the 185-pound Loretta. ''You almost have to step back and say, 'Is the game really over?' Do the math real quick."

The math indicated that the game and the Mariners were finished, for the third time in four days. The Sox were 9-4 on the season. And they'd won their 18th consecutive one-run game inside the walls of Fenway Park, which was pulsating, as the Sox rewarded the 36,188 who arrived early (first pitch 11:07 a.m.) and stayed late. In fact, they stayed extra late; most remained for 10-15 more minutes, chanting and cheering.

''I didn't get to see it," Youkilis said of Loretta's blast, into the second row of the Monster seats. ''I was running like no other. You see on the replay Loretta is fist-pumping. I'm still running like crazy."

Youkilis eventually picked up third base coach DeMarlo Hale and downshifted for the last leg of his journey, which was the only moment yesterday when the Sox were afforded a chance to relax. Seattle scored, and the Sox answered. Consider the scoreboard after eight innings:

Seattle 11000210

Boston 11000201

In the first, Ichiro Suzuki snapped an 0-fo-12 in the series, doubling to left and scoring on Raul Ibanez's sacrifice fly. David Ortiz, with two down and the count 3-and-1 in the bottom of the inning, swung through a changeup, then crushed a full-count inside fastball over the visiting bullpen.

''They were pitching me backwards," said the Sox DH. ''Offspeed, then try to surprise me and sneak a fastball."

The tie was ephemeral. Lenny DiNardo, making his second career start, walked Adrian Beltre, who was 1 for his last 22, with one out in the second. Yuniesky Betancourt plated him with a double to center.

Trot Nixon, back in the lineup after missing five games with a strained groin, singled to right leading off the Sox second, on his way to a 3-for-4, two-double afternoon. Alex Cora, playing shortstop to give Alex Gonzalez a day off, knocked him in with two outs and the count full, lining a Gil Meche curveball to center. Again, tie game.

DiNardo managed double-play grounders in the third and fourth, and worked a 1-2-3 fifth as David Wells's replacement in the rotation. The 26-year-old lefty, who hadn't started since spring training, threw 80 pitches and, as manager Terry Francona said, ''That was just about the limit."

Francona, in the sixth, went to Rudy Seanez, who fanned Ibanez (93 m.p.h. fastball) and Richie Sexson (slider). But Kenji Johjima nicked him for a single, and Carl Everett (Seattle is team No. 8 for Everett) hurt him, rocketing a full-count fastball halfway up Pesky's Pole. Everett did the umpire's work for him, twirling a finger to signal a home run, and a 4-2 lead.

But Ortiz again evened matters with another homer, one similar to the ball he hit in Game 3 of last year's division series vs. Chicago. He got one up in the air, to center, and the fielder drifted and drifted until the ball clanged off the platform of the camera stand, for his fifth homer in seven games and his 21st career multi-homer game. All square, at 4-4.

But Cora made an uncharacteristic error, dropping a Willie Bloomquist liner hit right at him to begin the seventh, and Bloomquist came around to score without the benefit of a hit against Julian Tavarez. A sacrifice bunt advanced him to second. He stole third on Tavarez. And Suzuki scored him on a ground out to Loretta.

Nixon, who didn't at all look like a man who'd gone five days without an at-bat, came up with two outs in the eighth, the Sox behind, 5-4, and fell behind 0-and-2. He battled back to a full count and dumped the eighth pitch into right for a double. Jason Varitek, up next, swung and missed at an excellent J.J. Putz splitter to go to a 2-and-2 count, then singled to center, plating Nixon. Again, tie game.

Keith Foulke, who'd worked a 1-2-3 eighth in a mere eight pitches, came back for the ninth and got a quick out. Beltre then popped one foul that Youkilis couldn't come up with. It was a difficult play, as the ball clanged off the wall near the tarp, but it was makable. Given life support, Beltre singled and advanced to third on a Bloomquist laser single to center just over Foulke's head. Francona opted for Mike Timlin, with runners on the corners and one out and former Sox infielder Roberto Petagine pinch hitting.

''With Mike's sinker and the way Roberto swings the bat," Francona said, ''I thought it was our best chance to get a double play."

The infield was in when Petagine grounded one toward Loretta, who made the play but had to dive.

''When Loretta had to leave his feet, there goes the play at the plate," Francona said.

That looked to be the ballgame, as Guardado, with a 6-5 lead, was painting corners in the ninth. He fanned pinch hitter Wily Mo Pena swinging at an 88 m.p.h. fastball. He got Dustan Mohr, looking (that's eight K's in his last 11 official at-bats) at what amounted to the same pitch. And then came Youkilis's Patriots Day run.

''You're watching on TV," said DiNardo, who was inside the clubhouse. ''Your body kind of jerks a little because you're right there with him."

Loretta's swing followed. The Beatles sang Get Back Loretta. Yesterday, Way Back Loretta fit better.

''That's what we live for in this game, to see walkoff home runs and walkoff hits," Youkilis said. ''That's what we live for, when dire times come and guys answer it."

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