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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

This walkoff was a slam dunk

Now a new twist to an old story line: the walkoff error.

And another sleepless night for Dominic DiMaggio.

Sometime next winter, when you crack open the Whitman's Sampler of Red Sox 2006 Walkoff Wins, you'll no doubt remember a stunning Saturday in the Park when anything and everything was possible. On a postcard-perfect afternoon, the slumping Sox got back on track, at least temporarily, with a 10-inning, 8-7 victory over their favorite cousins from Baltimore.

The game was won when Manny Ramírez got his first hit of the game -- extending his hitting streak to 27 games and moving within seven of the franchise record (held by the Little Professor, who hit in 34 straight in 1949). Ramírez's hit was boxed around by Orioles left fielder Brandon Fahey, allowing Gabe Kapler to score from second and giving the Red Sox their eighth walkoff win of this strange season.

This was a day in which Wily Mo Peña belted three more heat-seekers (baseball lifer Terry Francona says Peña hits the ball harder than anyone he's ever seen) and missed hitting for the cycle by a measly single. This was a day in which the garage door in center field opened in the middle of a Coco Crisp at-bat. This was a day in which Manny's streak almost stopped. It was a day in which the Sox made a terrific relay (Ramírez to Alex Gonzalez to Mike Lowell) to wipe out a potential decisive run. And it was a day in which the outcome was inevitable once the Orioles failed to score off Jon Papelbon in the top of the 10th.

Inevitable. Truly.

Here's who the Red Sox had coming to bat in the 10th: Mark Loretta, who has two walkoff hits this year; David Ortiz, who is to the walkoff what Baltimore is to the crab cake (five this year); Ramírez; who is the modern-day Jimmie Foxx; Kevin Youkilis, who does magical things when fans chant his name; Mike Lowell, who is a doubles machine; and Peña, a 24-year-old slugger who threatens the lives of fools who attempt to barehand his missiles into the Monster seats.

Here's who the Orioles had on the mound: Bruce Chen (0-7, 6.80 ERA). Better meatballs than The Chateau in Waltham.

Given this alignment and collision of talents and non-talents, the outcome was inevitable. Like Michael Jordan in the open floor. Slam dunk.

Youkilis (0 for 4), who was due up fourth in the inning, said, ``I was asking Tito to do something to change my luck and get me going at the plate and he said, `You're not even getting up this inning.' "

The manager was right. Loretta walked. Ortiz walked (not quite intentional, but pretty close), then Ramírez cracked a single to left to extend his hitting streak. The hit was not destined to be a game-winner. Kapler, running for Loretta, was held at third. But when Fahey bobbled the ball, Kapler scored without drawing a throw. While ``Dirty Water" boomed from the speakers, Manny was mobbed by teammates.

``You can feel the intensity pick up before an inning like that," said Ortiz, who is to be commended for not chasing Chen's low-and-away slop. ``When you play at home, you got to find a way to win it."

When you've lost 5 of 6 and 12 of 19, you've really got to find a way to win it -- especially against the moribund Orioles. The Sox are 10-1 against Baltimore this year. Good thing. The Yankees beat the Angels, 5-2, yesterday and no doubt will be in first place when they get here for five games next weekend.

Early in the afternoon, this did not look like a happy day for the Nation. Jason Johnson (55-98 lifetime) pitched the Sox to a 7-3 deficit and left in the middle of the sixth. The Sox rallied to tie it in the bottom of the inning, pulling even at 7-7 on a monstrous homer to left by Doug Mirabelli.

And speaking of monstrous homers, we must talk more about Mr. Peña, who has staked his claim to right field for the immediate future (it hurts to say this, but it's hard to imagine the Sox re-signing Trot Nixon in the wake of Wily Mo's recent performance). Before his sixth-inning two-run triple, Peña hit a rocket double off the Wall in the second and another mythic shot over everything in left-center in the fifth.

Mass. Pike drivers, already trained to operate in fear, have new concerns when heading eastbound if Peña is at bat.

``I like to watch him swing the bat," Ortiz said, with Peña standing nearby, eating vanilla ice cream out of a flat-bottom waffle cone. In Peña's gigantic hand, the cone looked like an edible orange thimble.

We all like to watch Wily Mo swing the bat. And it would have been fun to see him go for the cycle one more time in the 10th. But that wasn't going to happen. Youkilis wasn't going to get up to the plate and neither was Lowell or Peña. Boston's Walkoff Wonders were stacked up in front of them, and like the rest of the 35,768, Wily Mo, Lowell, and Youk could only watch as the Sox won another one in the home half of the final inning.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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