So, was Jonathan Papelbon doing his best Muhammad Ali or Smokin' Joe Frazier impression yesterday afternoon as he pummeled Manny Ramírez near the first-base bag after another walkoff win by the Red Sox?
``I was Mike Tyson," proclaimed Papelbon, who with two scoreless innings in a 10-inning, 8-7 Red Sox win over the Baltimore Orioles reclaimed the title of reliable closer that he'd briefly relinquished this past week. ``That's the fun part of it. He knew what was coming. Below the belt? Naah. Right in the gut."
Ramírez's hitting streak was close to being down for the count when he came to the plate in the home 10th, his afternoon to that point consisting of two strikeouts, a double play, and a base on balls. But given a reprieve when Wily Mo Peña (two-run triple) and Doug Mirabelli (two-run home run) erased the last of a 7-3 deficit in the sixth, and with the Sox bullpen buying him time with 4 2/3 scoreless innings, Ramírez rapped a ground-ball single through the left side.
That hit accomplished three things: It extended the longest hitting streak in the American League to 27 games, it led to the winning run when Orioles left fielder Brandon Fahey couldn't pick the ball up and was charged with an error, and it made a winner of Papelbon, who'd grown weary of the taste of blown saves, having given up leads in each of his last two outings.
``It wasn't like I was devastated or thought the world was coming to an end," said Papelbon, whose Red Sox remained two games behind the Yankees in the East. ``I know what's up.
``The fans, they don't really understand. It's good for them to understand everything is going to be just fine. I had all the confidence in the world in myself. The great ones -- [Mariano] Rivera, [Trevor] Hoffman -- they go through bumps in the road. What distinguishes the great player from the average player are the ones who get out of ruts quick. That's my whole goal."
That goal became eminently more reachable because of yet another astonishing play by Sox shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who cut down Fahey when he imprudently tried to stretch his 10th-inning double into a triple after deciding Ramírez was slow in retrieving his opposite-field hit into the corner.
``I really don't want that play to be overlooked because that was an unbelievable relay," said Mike Lowell, who took the throw at precisely the spot Fahey aimed his headfirst slide. ``The only way he's out is if he does it that quick and throws it right on the money. If he throws it high and slides in, he's safe."
Merely serendipity that Gonzalez, who caught the ball, turned and threw, seemingly all in one motion, was able to put the ball in the only spot where it mattered?
``It's his hands," Lowell said. ``He's got the best hands I've ever seen. [White Sox manager] Ozzie Guillen, when he was coaching the Marlins, he said [Gonzalez] had the best hands he'd ever seen. That's coming from a good shortstop who's seen a lot of great shortstops. I've always said I've been spoiled, man, playing alongside him every year."
This is the first time, of course, that Lowell has played with Ramírez behind him in left, and he acknowledged Manny's part in nabbing Fahey.
``I think Manny baited him, perfectly and purposefully," Lowell said with a wink and a nod.
Fahey, a rookie, insisted he would try to take the extra base again if presented the opportunity, and Sox manager Terry Francona also praised him for his aggressiveness. But that wasn't praise that came out of the office of Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, whose team has now lost 10 of 11 meetings this season with the Sox, and 15 of 16 going back to last September, even though they'd built a 7-3 advantage against former Oriole Jason Johnson.
Asked if Fahey had made the right play, Perlozzo snapped, ``He was out, wasn't he?"
He wasn't much happier with Bruce Chen, the Orioles' sixth pitcher of the day, who entered the game and promptly walked the first two batters he faced, Mark Loretta and David Ortiz, to bring up Ramírez, underscoring why he woke up this morning with an 0-7 record and 6.80 ERA.
``You can't keep putting guys on," Perlozzo said. ``He walked the first two guys. That's a recipe for disaster."
Hard to blame anyone, of course, for dodging Ortiz, the king of the walkoffs, who snorted when asked if Chen wanted any part of him.
``What do you think?" Ortiz said. ``He didn't even try to come close to me. I thought I saw the closer [Chris Ray] warming up and then I'm thinking, `If I get on base or get myself out, they might bring their closer in to face Manny.' "
They didn't. Perlozzo had Ray warming up earlier, in advance of a potential save situation, but not on the road with the score tied. Ray, Perlozzo said, has had a tired arm of late.
``Whatever," said Ortiz, unaware of the explanation. ``Thank you."
Johnson, rocked for seven runs and failing to last the sixth, when Brian Roberts's two-run single off Julian Tavarez made it 7-3, owed a debt of thanks to Peña, who in addition to his triple into the triangle, doubled into the left-center gap and scored in the second, and cleared the Monster in left-center with a leadoff home run in the fourth. The triple, which came off Orioles reliever Chris Britton, was immediately followed by Mirabelli's home run, which touched down on Lansdowne Street.
Mirabelli has homered in each of his last two starts since missing five days with a twisted ankle. Peña, meanwhile, has nine home runs -- as many wins as Bronson Arroyo has in Cincinnati -- including three in the last five games. Coco Crisp had the Sox other home run of the day, his first since July 7, but it was Peña's show of power that left 'em wanting more in the Fens.
Needing a single to complete the cycle, Pena struck out in the eighth.
``Sometimes it looks like he's hitting it with his arms 500 feet, especially that triple today, through the wind and 420 feet," Lowell said, shaking his head. ``I guess I'd like to know what the bat feels like in his hands. His power is ridiculous."
Another heavyweight contender in the making. He'll just have to keep an eye out for Papelbon.