Guy Spina, the longtime Sox employee now working as the press dining room attendant, had a flashback last night as he watched Mike Lowell lying face down in the dirt at home plate.
``I remembered another No. 25 lying there, number up," said Spina, shuddering at the memory of another Friday night in August, when Tony Conigliaro was struck in the head by a fastball from Jack Hamilton of the Angels Aug. 18, 1967. ``That's the picture that stuck with me."
Fortunately for Lowell, the fastball from Orioles rookie lefthander Adam Loewen that sent him sprawling in the first inning, the ball ricocheting to the mound, caught the side of Lowell's helmet instead of flush in the face, as Hamilton's pitch did to Tony C. After a few seconds in which he persuaded trainer Paul Lessard he was aware of place and time, and even joked with manager Terry Francona (``He said, `Are you OK?' and I said, `I'm fine, Frank' ") as he made his way toward first base, Lowell not only remained in the game but delivered the kind of inspiring performance they'll be talking about for some time at the Fens.
The highlight? Just two innings after being beaned, Lowell took a header into the stands in Jeteresque fashion to collar Nick Markakis's foul pop, holding onto the ball even as he wound up on his back. He also lined an RBI single off the Monster and stole third with a headfirst slide during a seven-run third inning that shot the Sox to a 9-2 victory, making the team's five-game losing streak seem like a distant memory.
``I figured since my head hurt, maybe I could ruin my legs, and since my feet hurt, I'd try to get the middle of my body just to make it a whole thing," Lowell said of paying little heed to life and limb, especially in tracking down Markakis's ball. ``I actually thought I had one more step on that play. I'm just grateful there was padding over there. I hit [the wall] a little quicker than I thought I would."
Lowell, in another poignant twist, is a former recipient of the Tony Conigliaro Award, which is awarded to a player for courage and perseverance, qualities Lowell displayed in his comeback from testicular cancer.
``I was aware of it, I knew the history behind it, but I really didn't want to repeat it," Lowell said of the Conigliaro beaning. ``I feel like my head is lopsided. I never was dizzy, though. I don't really have a splitting headache. I just feel like I've got a big bump on the side of my head."
The Sox showed a similar disinclination to duplicate recent history, a losing streak distinguished by the way they held a lead before succumbing in all five of their defeats. There was no letup last night. Every player in the Sox lineup, including Manny Ramírez, who extended his AL-best hitting streak to 26 games, contributed at least one hit as the Sox had 13 in beating up their favorite whipping boys, the Orioles, who have lost 9 of 10 to the Sox this season and 14 of their last 15. The Sox drew within two games of the Yankees in the American League East, remaining two games behind the White Sox in the wild card.
``I thought we had great energy tonight," Francona said. ``I was really impressed right from the get-go. We needed to win a game and there were a lot of reasons for us not to be real upbeat today and we didn't let that happen. That's a very good sign."
Beneficiary of all that offense from a team seemingly refreshed, despite a 5:30 a.m. arrival at Logan Airport from Kansas City, Mo., was the Mickey Lolich of his day, 43-year-old lefthander David Wells, although Wells, unlike the similarly proportioned Lolich, has no plans to open a doughnut shop after retiring. Wells, who struck out the first two batters he faced, Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora, on called third strikes while throwing the minimum six pitches, became the first Sox pitcher other than Curt Schilling to go at least seven innings in the team's last 19 games in winning his first game this season.
Wells, told earlier this week by Mark Loretta he would have a good outing based on his last turn against Tampa Bay, held the Orioles scoreless until the seventh, when former Sox favorite Kevin Millar doubled and came around on Roberts's two-out double.
``He could be our big boost, that starting pitcher teams look for at the trading deadline," Lowell said of the Boomer, who waved his glove in appreciation at the sellout crowd of 36,191 that rose to its feet as he left the mound after the seventh, just as it had when Lowell fell into the stands.
The Orioles put the leadoff man on against Wells in four consecutive innings, the second through the fifth, but failed to score, going 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position. Wells benefited from a questionable decision to send Jeff Conine on Millar's two-out single to right in the fourth, Conine cut down by Wily Mo Peña's strong throw.
Wells gave up nine hits, walked one, and struck out four before yielding to Kyle Snyder, who pitched a scoreless eighth before giving up a leadoff home run to Corey Patterson to start the ninth. Despite his evident good humor, Wells continued his boycott of the print media, though he gave NESN the benefit of his wisdom.
``It's a lot easier to see the glass half-full when you see a guy pitch a game like that," Francona said. ``It's not a fluke. He can do that. He just needs time."
The seven-run third, which matched the Sox' biggest inning of the season, began when Loewen walked Loretta and David Ortiz. Ramírez, who was credited with a single and RBI in the first when his liner banged off the glove of Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, bounced a single up the middle. Kevin Youkilis forced Ramírez at second, but the next three batters -- Lowell, Peña, and Javy Lopez -- all followed with RBI singles, Lopez's coming off Rodrigo Lopez, the former Baltimore starter relegated to the bullpen. Alex Gonzalez then tripled into the left-field corner for two more runs, making it 7-0.
Coco Crisp grounded out, but Loretta, coming up for the second time in an inning in which the Sox sent 12 men to the plate, lined a single to right to score Gonzalez for the eighth run.
Loretta singled home the team's final run in the seventh.
``Hopefully this will calm things down a little bit," Loretta said. ``I know there's been some anxiety around here. Maybe this will calm things down and we can get back to business."
Since June 23, 2000, the Sox have had only five losing streaks of five or more games, according to Sox PR man Peter Chase, and each time they've ended those streaks with outbursts of nine or more runs. It was Boston's first win by more than one run since July 25 at Oakland, when the Sox won, 13-5.
``None of us were too happy with our road trip -- that's probably the understatement of the year," Francona said before the game. ``And if you have to go through things like this, and sometimes you do, I'll take this group.
``I think they try to do the right thing all the time. That doesn't mean losing is fun -- it isn't -- but I'll take this group and go get 'em. Even when things don't look real positive or bleak, I'll take my chances with this group."