boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
BOB RYAN

No clock, but quite a time

Zakim Bridge. Storrow Drive. Jamaicaway. Exit 14 on Route 3 South. Newington, N.H. Route 495, North and South. These are, I'm sure, some of the places where yesterday afternoon Red Sox ticket-holders were listening to Joe and Dave on their car radios when they should have been cheering themselves hoarse along with the savvy ones who stayed to watch the Red Sox Comeback Of The Year.

Don't these people know that baseball is the no-clock game? And haven't they already seen enough of the 2007 Red Sox to know that you don't bail on these guys, even if they're trailing, 5-0, with one out and nobody on in the ninth?

"This team, the game is never over until it's over," Yogied Julio Lugo, who delivered the tying and winning runs with a bases-loaded, two-out chopper to first that Kevin Millar and pitcher Chris Ray, with an assist from the fear of Lugo's flying feet, turned into a single/error on the pitcher. Millar, moving to his right, fielded the ball cleanly, but he knew he'd have to hurry a throw to get the speedy Lugo and his toss was a tad behind Ray. The righthander was unable to catch the ball. Jason Varitek already had scored the tying run and Eric Hinske followed with the winning run, and the Red Sox had an improbable 6-5 victory we'll be referencing all season.

Now for every sports winner there is a sports loser and the man who was going to have a hard time sleeping after this one was Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo, who was done in by both a questionable baseball custom and his own adherence to the relentlessly maddening 21st-century Book of Managing.

I shall explain.

The semi-unknown Jeremy Guthrie was on the mound to start the Sox ninth, and why not? He may have been a guy the Orioles picked up on spring training waivers from the Indians, but for 8 1/3 innings he had been an unfathomable mystery to the Sox, who had only managed three hits and who had not had a ba se runner since a one-out walk to Coco Crisp in the sixth put men at first and second. When Lugo grounded routinely to short to open the ninth, Guthrie was two outs from a career-first complete game.

But then Crisp lofted a pop fly to the left of home plate. Bear in mind that a ferocious wind had been blowing in all afternoon, making all balls hit in the air certified adventures. Guthrie moved toward it, as did third baseman Chris Gomez. But unofficial baseball law prohibits pitchers from catching popups unless it's an extreme emergency, and so Guthrie joined Gomez in watching catcher Ramon Hernandez circle under it. The backstop got his glove on it, but he couldn't hold it, and Crisp was safe at first.

Tough break, to be sure. But, hey, it was still 5-0, one out, and a man on first. Guthrie had done nothing wrong. He had only thrown 91 pitches. The last actual hit had been an Alex Cora single to center in the sixth. So, of course, Perlozzo yanked Guthrie from the game.

Welcome to 21st-century baseball. I mean, what if Guthrie had given up a 420-foot out? That would have been OK?

"We were pretty much giving him a 1-2-3 opportunity, and that was the plan of the ballgame," Perlozzo said. "But, unfortunately, the guy got on base the way he did and we definitely had a few fresh arms [in the pen] and I didn't want anything to get out of hand. He wanted to stay in, but that was definitely my decision. My decision."

Duly noted. And likewise duly noted is the fact the next six Sox batters reached base off the "fresh arms" belonging to Danys Baez and Ray. I'm not second-guessing. I was first-hoping from the minute Guthrie left the mound: Sam Perlozzo deserved to be punished.

Big Papi got things started with a wall double off the Granite City sign in deep left-center. That scored Coco. Wily Mo Peña, in the game because Manny Ramírez had a hammy thing, singled Ortiz to third. J.D. Drew walked to load 'em up. Kevin Youkilis, definitely not the man a pitcher wants in that situation -- you know it's going to be a long at-bat -- took a cloooose pitch on 2 and 2 and then forced the second run home on a 3-2 pitch that almost hit him.

Varitek was next. The captain smoked a gapper to right-center for a double that scored two and made it 5-4. At this point you might say the joint was jumpin'. Hinske was intentionally walked to load them again, and that move looked positively Einstein-y when Alex Cora grounded not very hard to second and Brian Roberts boldly elected to go home for the force and was rewarded when plate umpire Gary Cederstrom said his throw had beaten Youkilis.

So now it was up to Lugo. He got ahead, 2 and 0, took a called strike, and fouled off two pitches before taking one high for ball three. Then he hit the ball toward Millar and set out for first. He decided to slide (feet-first, fortunately), and we'll never know what would have happened had Ray caught the throw. Lugo insisted he'd have been safe, and that was the apparent judgment of the official scorer, who granted Lugo a base hit and RBI, with an error by Ray allowing the winning run to score.

"It's amazing, here of all places," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "A dropped popup, and the next thing you know . . . combination of some magic here and some really good players that don't quit. Again, it was on a day when it was awfully quiet, we didn't mail it in at the end, and kept playing. That's a tough game to win, and you won't win a lot of them, but winning today was pretty special."

The most pleasantly surprised person of all was lefty J.C. Romero, who had pitched a nice top of the ninth (walk, strikeout, 5-4-3) but who wasn't exactly thinking about picking up a W as he left the mound.

"Honestly, with this team anything is possible," he said. "I've seen 'em in my time on the other side. The other guy [Guthrie] was dealing. But the way this team approaches the game is that we don't think about what anyone thinks, or whether people in the stands left the game. And it was Mother's Day. I know my mother back in Puerto Rico was watching and she was enjoying this."

And if you were one of those people sitting in your car when you should have been standing in front of your seat, here's the deal. For your penance say five Joe Castigs and give me a good Act of Diamond Contrition.

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

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES