NEW YORK -- Hours before last night's game, Terry Francona was philosophizing about Manny Ramírez, and the Red Sox manager made this point: ``Manny has an extraordinary ability to put at-bats, plays behind him. We've all seen plays on `SportsCenter.' He turns the page and hits a homer. Part of it is he knows he's good."
How relevant that statement appeared in the eighth inning, as a white dot arched off Ramírez's bat into the Bronx night. Two innings earlier, Ramírez had laced a broken-bat single to center and with misplaced aggression attempted to take second on Johnny Damon, whose arm is weak but not that weak. Ramirez was out, of course, and returned to the dugout, his smile conveying ``oops" and ``oh well."
But now, in the eighth, the ball was headed for the distant ``399 FT" marker in left-center, with the Sox trailing by a run.
The Yankee in the neighborhood, Melky Cabrera, calculated his takeoff, leaped, and came up with a stunning piece of mid air retrieval work.
``That," David Ortiz told Ramírez after the game, ``is why when I hit my [homer], I hit it 500 feet."
And that was why the Sox didn't play on last night, instead absorbing a 2-1 loss before a sellout Yankee Stadium gathering of 55,141 who saw perhaps the best-played game between these teams this season. Sox rookie David Pauley, who in his only previous major league start was rocked for 11 hits and six runs in 4 1/3 innings, pitched with poise that even he acknowledged was ``a little bit" surprising.
As good as New York's Chien-Ming Wang was (7 IP, 8 H, 1 ER), the 22-year-old Pauley (6 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 R) was nearly as good. In fact, Pauley probably should have sent the game to the eighth with the score tied at 1-1.
For six innings he'd been calm, economical, and expert in managing damage, allowing just six hits, one in each inning. He'd held the Nos. 1-4 hitters (Johnny Damon, Cabrera, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriguez) to just one hit, a bunt by Damon leading off the first. Those four Yankees, through six innings, were 1 for 12.
Pauley appeared on his way to a 1-2-3 seventh when Miguel Cairo, the No. 9 hitter, chopped a ball just to Pauley's left. The pitcher appeared to have it but it disappeared under his glove. A charging Mark Loretta couldn't come up with it, either, and Cairo reached with two outs.
``I just didn't get my glove down, and it scooted right under it," said Pauley, who otherwise would have been through seven with this line: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 K's, 2 BBs, 1 HR.
Damon, up next, shot a single to left. Pauley then walked Cabrera on four pitches, loading the bases and leading Francona to go to the bullpen. With the bullpen missing Mike Timlin (on the DL with a strained shoulder) and Keith Foulke (day-to-day with a stiff back), Francona went to Rudy Seanez, who had not allowed a run in 10 outings spanning 12 innings. His reward was facing Giambi, who began the night leading the American League in OPS (1.093).
``I'm not going to throw one and lay it right in there and let him crush it," Seanez said. ``You don't want to give him a shot."
So Seanez, who throws low-to-mid 90s, threw only changeups and sliders. He fell behind 2-and-0 and got back to 2-and-1 when Giambi took a wicked cut that had ``third deck" written all over it. But what looked like a fastball was an 86 mile-per-hour changeup, and Giambi swung through it. Seanez missed to go to 3-and-1, then got a fortuitous call on a changeup to go to 3-and-2. With the count full, he opted for a slider and missed, walking in the deciding run.
``That's terrible," Seanez said. ``You never want to do that."
But, he contended, it would have been worse to throw a fastball down the middle.
``All of a sudden you've got four," he said, alluding to what might have happened if he missed with a heater. ``I'm not about to give in."
Jason Varitek, who guards pitch strategy even better than he guards the plate, would not explain the rationale behind the no-fastball approach.
``You have pitching strengths, you have the situation, you have all different things," he said. ``That's all I'm going to say."
Seanez then fanned Rodriguez (0 for 4, 2 K's, 2 ground outs) on three pitches, leaving the bases loaded and keeping it a one-run game. But Mariano Rivera worked an impeccable ninth for his 12th save.
The loss, however unjustly, went to Pauley. He scatted his hits, limited his walks to two, and held the Yankees hitless (0 for 5) with runners in scoring position. The only pitch he really paid for was his first offering in the fifth inning, when he left an 89-mile-per-hour sinker up to Bernie Williams, whose swing may have lost some power but hasn't lost anything in fluidity. Williams left the yard, to right-center, tying the game at 1-1.
``Great, man, just great," Ortiz said of Pauley. ``Outstanding. He has great stuff, and he really used it tonight. When you have a young kid living all those moments, it's going to do nothing but help him later in his career."
But Pauley was up against Wang, who was stingy. He allowed just one run, on an Ortiz rocket into Row 1 of the third porch in right with one out in the third. Ortiz, who's been worn down by the infield shift deployed during his at-bats, said, ``If you don't beat it that way, how you going to beat it?"
The Sox easily could have had more if not for Andy Phillips. Phillips, a rookie, beat them Monday night with his bat, rocking Josh Beckett for a three-run homer. Last night, he beat them with his first baseman's mitt.
In the third, with Ramírez on first, Phillips leaped to snare a Trot Nixon liner, then stepped on the bag to double off Ramírez. In the seventh, with Mike Lowell (single) and Kevin Youkilis (walk) on, Alex Cora lined a sizzling shot at Phillips, who reached up to glove it.
``Phillips made some great plays," lamented Varitek. ``They did it with defense tonight."
And no defensive play was better than Cabrera's on Ramírez in the eighth. Ramírez, upon returning to the dugout, offered Ortiz a classic and blithe response.
``No pop," Ramírez said.