With the 36,436 at Fenway Park standing in anticipation of a mammoth home run from one of their own Bash Brothers, David Ortiz or Manny Ramírez, they were instead treated to a medium-depth sacrifice fly off the bat of Ramírez in the eighth inning that got the job done as well as any shot over the Monster seats would have.
They had gotten their home run fix the inning before, an unexpected, game-tying clout that cleared the Green Monster but almost never happened. Because Doug Mirabelli thought, on a 3-1 pitch, that he had walked, and started to first base. Called back by plate umpire Jim Joyce, Mirabelli, a bit confused, got his revenge. Of the three-run homer variety. It sent the Red Sox on their way to a 5-4 win that initially seemed unlikely in the face of a four-inning, injury-shortened outing by Tim Wakefield.
And, for at least another day, it kept the Yankees at bay. With the team still a half-game up in the American League East, and with two more games against the Royals this week, Red Sox Nation can hold its panic for now.
``We're a little beat up, a little banged up, deep into our pen a couple nights in a row," manager Terry Francona said. ``We're kind of sitting there saying, `OK, this is a chance for us to show what kind of a ballclub we are.' I think we did that tonight. I called [bullpen coach] Ralph [Treuel] in the fifth inning and said, `Tell those guys to put their seat belts on, because they're all going to pitch and we're going to win.' "
They did, sure. But, in a way, the Red Sox might have lost. And no one, including Francona, is quite sure how long this one is going to last. Because Wakefield, one of the team's most reliable starters, was pulled with an upper back strain, an injury that has pushed his starts back twice, and has left him in pain on the mound.
``I know he gave up runs, I actually thought he was throwing the ball very well," Francona said. ``Starting after that you could see him, at least we thought, kind of gritting his teeth, kind of flinching a little bit. It was grabbing at him.
``He's been out there enough that he knew the situation, had to pitch some innings. Tried to tough it out, and I think he was more than willing to keep toughing it out, but I grabbed him after the fourth and said, `This isn't going to work. This is silly.' "
So off he went, to tests and doctors and a day-to-day status that could land him on the disabled list.
Wakefield left the field with a 3-0 deficit, the result of a soft second inning that featured a hit batter, a line single to right, two walks (including one to No. 9 hitter John Buck on a fastball), and a squibber of a single just past the glove of diving third baseman Mike Lowell, who had been playing in on David DeJesus. The deficit grew to 4-0 in the sixth inning.
But, while the Royals could manage just that single run off Manny Delcarmen in five innings of impressive bullpen work between Delcarmen, Craig Hansen, winner Mike Timlin, and Jonathan Papelbon (27th save), the Sox were keeping to their routine during a Wakefield start. No offense. Doing nothing with unknown righthander Luke Hudson, a pitcher with a 5.79 ERA entering the series, and against whom the entire lineup had a combined 19 at-bats, the Sox could only get a single runner to second base through the first six innings.
Then came the seventh.
Ramírez smashed a pitch from Hudson just feet shy of the Monster seats, getting just a single out of the swing. But, after a Trot Nixon fly to deep center that was run down by Joey Gathright, Lowell followed with a ground single to left. And Coco Crisp, with his single to right, took care of Hudson and scored Ramírez at the same time.
On came Joel Peralta. Out went a pitch off the bat of Mirabelli, only his third of the season.
``The [previous] pitch was a close pitch," Mirabelli said. ``I was starting to walk to first base thinking it was ball four. I took a second to regroup. In that situation, it was just get a pitch and swing at a strike. I was actually coming from 3-1, 3-2, I had no idea what he was going to throw there in that count . . . so I just sold out on the fastball and was fortunate."
So were the Red Sox. And, after that homer, the home dugout seemed to think it had the game covered. The team was, after all, at home, normally a haven in close games.
That was borne out, of course, in the eighth. Mark Loretta singled to lead off, and was followed by Ortiz, who sent a single down the right-field line, pushing Loretta to third. And, after Willie Harris came in to pinch run for Loretta, Ramírez lofted the ball to DeJesus in left for the deciding sacrifice fly off reliever Todd Wellemeyer.
``Once we tied it, once Doug hit that home run, the whole momentum shifted," said Loretta, who admitted he might not have scored on the Ramírez ball, which turned into a relatively close play at the plate. ``We felt like we were in control of the game at that point. That was a good feeling. That was a huge hit.
``It was a game we had to win. It was a good comeback. It was a good character win for us."
IMAGES AND INFO. For a gallery of photos from last night's game and news updates heading into tonight's Red Sox-Royals contest, go to www.boston.com/redsox