DETROIT -- With Matt Clement temporarily quieting the debate over whether he is still qualified to pitch in the big leagues, represent the city of Boston, and retain membership in the human race -- if you don't think these things are interconnected, turn on your radio -- and four of his teammates reaching the seats in
``Game 7 tomorrow night," said Kevin Youkilis, who hopes his bruised left forearm won't keep him out of the lineup tonight, when the Sox send Josh Beckett to the mound to renew acquaintances with Mike Mussina and the Yankees after the Sox took two of three from the Tigers with an 8-3 win yesterday. ``Game 7 the next day and the next day and the day after that. World Series, right?"
Anyone within earshot could hardly miss the point the irritated Youkilis was making. Taking two out of three from the Tigers, who still have baseball's best record but have been taken down a notch after losing three of four to the Yankees and dropping this series to the Sox, should not be dismissed casually just because the schedule now calls for the Sox to return to 161st Street and River Avenue.
Especially on an afternoon in which Clement rebounded from two miserable starts by giving the team six good innings before catcher Jason Varitek essentially decided for him that he was through, signaling to the dugout three pitches into the seventh, the Sox holding a 4-3 advantage at the time. Clement, who faced the minimum of nine batters in the first three innings and credited a more compact delivery for his crisper outing, did wonders for his credibility by leaving the tying run on third in the sixth after the Tigers had opened the inning with three straight hits, including a double by Marcus Thames.
``You know what, I try not to get too wrapped up in that," Clement (5-4) said of his doubters, whose numbers have grown exponentially. ``I've waded through a lot of seasons. Sometimes there are more positives than negatives, sometimes it's even, sometimes it's the other way around.
``Three starts ago, I was pretty good in Philadelphia. It wasn't like I was worlds away, or had 10 starts in a row that were bad. I've got a lot of faith in me. I'll keep battling and get better."
The Sox offense, meanwhile, with the help of longballs from Alex Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz (back to back), and Manny Ramírez, plus a late-inning meltdown by Tigers reliever Jason Grilli, fashioned the Sox' most one-sided win since May 15, the last time the Sox won by at least five runs.
Gonzalez's two-run homer in the second, his third of the season, gave the Sox a 2-0 lead against righthander Zach Miner, making his big-league debut. Youkilis led off the fifth with his seventh of the season, second in three games here and first this season, he said, to the opposite field. ``You can't hit 'em in Boston, you kidding me?" Youkilis said of being righthanded and hitting the ball into the seats in right. ``Unless you're Manny Ramírez, nobody's going opposite."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland brought in a lefthander, Jamie Walker, and Ortiz, who two nights earlier had thought for certain he'd hit a ball to center that had no return address, only to see it caught, hit his 16th home run.
``I thought I got no chance to hit a ball out of here, bro," Ortiz said. ``That's got to be 480 out there, that center field, I swear to God, bro. A lot of center fields say 420, but this one looks farther than all of 'em. How about that ball Magglio [Ordonez] hit here today? Unbelievable, man."
Ramírez hit his 14th (and No. 449 of his career) off Roman Colon, the third of six Tiger pitchers, to make it 5-3 in the seventh.
That was still the score in the eighth when Grilli entered, plunked Youkilis with a 1-and-2 pitch to load the bases, then walked Ortiz, Ramírez, and Trot Nixon in succession, forcing home three runs.
``Our bullpen collapsed," said Leyland, who in the midst of the Ramírez at-bat staged an ejection worthy of Lou Piniella, getting tossed while still in the dugout, then standing directly at home plate and with sweeping gestures pointing out to plate umpire Paul Nauert the location of the pitches he was alleged to have missed.
Leyland shook his head when asked if venting gave him any comfort.
``When you smoke three packs a day, and you're out of breath after saying [to the umpire], `You're [expletive],' no, it didn't feel good," Leyland said.
But we interrupt this recitation of the day's events to bring you the latest installment of the Yankee-Sox soaps, namely that center fielder Coco Crisp will be facing the man he replaced, Johnny Damon, for the first time in a Sox uniform. Crisp, who went hitless in his last 10 at-bats here but made a nice leaping catch of Ordonez's drive to the wall in the eighth inning yesterday afternoon, missed the first seven Yankees-Sox games this spring because he was on the disabled list with a fractured finger.
Damon did come over and introduce himself, Crisp said, when the Yanks were in Boston.
``Nice guy, nice guy," Crisp said. ``Cool. Got charisma and all that stuff, you know. Good ballplayer. Cool, yeah."
But to cast this in comic book hero terms (Coco vs. The Idiot)?
``If they want to build it up to that, it's only going to be like that in the media, it's not going to be me and him," Crisp said. ``If they want to build up statistically, `Here's the matchup, here's Damon, here's Crisp, here are the stats,' the fans can buy into it. But as far as me and him competing, he's competing for himself and so am I. If they want to match me up against Juan Pierre or him or anybody else, it can be done."
As for his intro to Sox-Yankees?
``We'll see," he said. ``It is the biggest rivalry in baseball. There's going to be something there to feed off of, and feel different. We'll see."
Yes we will.