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BOB RYAN

Finally, time to give it a rest

Jason Varitek’s long day behind the plate came to an unpleasant end when Alex Cintron scored the winning run in the 19th.
Jason Varitek’s long day behind the plate came to an unpleasant end when Alex Cintron scored the winning run in the 19th. (AP Photo)

CHICAGO -- The scoreboard in right-center field was full of ``F"s, as in final scores. Even the West Coast games were complete. As a matter of fact, the Sunday night game between St. Louis and Houston was underway.

All-Star break getaway planes were being missed. Stomachs were growling. It goes without saying that most of the 39,335 who had been in attendance at U.S. Cellular Field were on their way home, with many able to watch several innings on television long after they had vacated their seats.

But the ballplayers kept playing. What choice did they have? You know that business about the great beauty of baseball being that it doesn't have a clock? Well, we noticed.

It coulda/shoulda/woulda been over after nine innings, but Jermaine Dye hit a two-out, game-tying home run off -- believe it or not -- Jonathan Papelbon. It coulda/shoulda/woulda been over after 11 innings, except that the White Sox came up with a pair of runs off Javier Lopez and Mike Timlin after the Red Sox had scored two in their half.

And then it locked in and went on and on and on until the White Sox put together four base hits in the 19th, the last of which, a single to left by Tadahito Iguchi, brought home Alex Cintron with the winning run in a 6-5 victory the White Sox will always be happy to pull out of the memory bank.

Yup, 19 innings, the longest game, both by innings and time (6 hours 19 minutes) since U.S. Cellular Field opened in 1991.

``I wish I could go to [censored] Bahamas, right now," declared White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen, ever the wordsmith.

``I thought it was an unbelievable game while we were playing it," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. ``It would be more fun to look back at and talk about if we had won."

The winner was Cliff Politte, who had been going so poorly (16 hits and 11 earned runs in his previous seven innings) his manager had been forced to defend the guy's right to draw a breath on this earth. The loser was Rudy Seanez, who was being let out of the pitching closet for the first time since June 30. Suffice it to say that both managers did everything they could to avoid using either man. Guillen even went to a starter (Javier Vazquez) for relief help for the second time in two days before turning to the righthanded Politte for the 19th.

Francona did not have to resort to that, but he did go through everyone in the bullpen before bringing out Seanez to start the 17th. The scuffling righthander got through the 17th with the aid of a nifty 5-3 double play turned by Alex Cora and he sailed through the 18th in 1-2-3 fashion.

His problems began with one out in the 19th when Cintron, who had entered as a pinch hitter for Juan Uribe in the 10th, singled to left. Then came the kind of break that so often plays a role in games like this. Rob Mackowiak hit a nubber on which Cora was unable to make a play. Scott Podsednik loaded `em up with a line single to left and Iguchi, who way back (literally hours before) had started the White Sox' comeback with a solo homer off Curt Schilling, ran the count to 2-and-2 before hitting a sharp single through the shortstop/third base hole to end it.

Oh how close this came to being a glorious Red Sox triumph. They were one out away from sweeping the defending champs when Dye came to the plate against Papelbon, who had allowed but two runs all year, neither of them in enemy parks.

Papelbon got a quick strike on Dye. And then . . .

``Against a top closer like that, you've got to go up there and be aggressive and hope he makes a mistake," Dye explained. ``A split elevated and I got some good wood on it."

It was a fairly soft fly ball down the left-field line that was fair by about 15 feet and it landed in the White Sox' bullpen. In Fenway it would have been a single off the Wall, but comparisons like that, however interesting to note, are nothing more than part of baseball's endearing charm. The game was tied. What we did not know was that an entirely new one was about to begin.

It looked as if it would terminate in the 11th, when the Red Sox scratched out two runs off the fearsome Bobby Jenks, the big blow being a two-out, two-run single by Mark Loretta. But this time neither Lopez nor Timlin could get the job done.

Lopez was brought in to face Jim Thome, whom he had struck out the day before in a big situation. This time Thome belied his grip-it-and-rip-it reputation by, as he put it, ``slowing down," and poking a double to left.

That two-bagger led to a two-run inning, although Timlin did come tantalizingly close to getting out of it. With one run in and the bases loaded, Cintron hit a chopper to second. Loretta fed Alex Gonzalez for the force at second, but A.J. Pierzynski went fairly far out of the baseline to get the shortstop and Gonzalez's leaping throw to first was a hair late as the tying run scored.

It would take eight more innings for someone to score.

``In the 15th I told the umpires we should have a Home Run Derby to win this," Guillen said. ``I saw that Italy won the World Cup [on penalty kicks] and I thought we should do the same thing."

In the big scheme of things, the White Sox deserved to win this game. Jose Contreras had pitched a baffling six innings, during which the Red Sox managed more walks (five) than hits (four) off the Cuban. But they never quite finished him off. They might have blown the game open back in the third, when, with two runs in, the bases loaded, and Contreras's pitch count escalating to an amazing degree (114 in six innings), David Ortiz elected to go for the Big One by swinging at a 3-and-0 pitch. He got the ball up, all right, but it was just a routine fly to right.

The White Sox were down, 3-0, after four to Schilling. They were down to their last out in the ninth. They were down two runs in the 11th. C'mon, you've got to give them their props. And they definitely needed this game more.

``You feel worse when you lose," said Guillen, ``especially when you've lost two in a row. This was a big game for us."

A game like this always has some fascinating stats. Try the Red Sox seeing 299 pitches and the White Sox 270.

Try Trot Nixon going 0 for 9 and Jason Varitek -- now there's a man who needs three days off -- going 0 for 8 with a walk. Kevin Youkilis went 0 for 5 with four walks. He also had 19 putouts. OK, I promise to stop. But I do love my stats.

It was a great baseball game. Or games.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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