For one night, anyway, the warning track in the right-field corner at Fenway Park resembled the sidewalk outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre. But instead of Hollywood stars gently making handprints in soft, wet concrete, it was Red Sox reserve Eric Hinske planting his face violently into hard, red clay.
Did Hinske leave a lasting impression? Maybe not in the dirt -- he eventually extracted his nose, remarkably still intact. But combine his fifth-inning body slam of a diving catch with a tiebreaking, two-run home run two innings later that gave the Sox a 4-2 win over the Detroit Tigers in the second game of a doubleheader sweep, and Hinske indisputably made his mark.
"I didn't know when I hit the ground whether it had popped out of my glove or not," Hinske said of the catch that took away extra bases from Mike Rabelo and a run from the Tigers. "I glanced up and it was still in there.
"I turned over, and Coco [Crisp] and [Dustin] Pedroia were there and they were like, 'Dude, are you all right?' I said, 'I caught it, man, he's out. Sweet catch.' I didn't know if I was going to be all right or not, but I was fine. And [Curt] Schilling was all the way down the line. He was, 'Hey, great catch.' I'm going, 'Pretty cool.' "
Pretty cool indeed. The Sox are a quarter through the season with a 28-12 record, a 9 1/2-game lead over the Yankees, and a double-digit lead over everybody else in the division. Yesterday, they took two from the defending American League champions, winning the matinee, 2-1, behind the No. 5 starter, Julian Tavarez, who threw more pitches than he has in nearly five years, then winning the nightcap as David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, and Julio Lugo all sat, while a guy who wasn't supposed to play, Hinske, turned into a leading man.
Could this turn into a runaway, even with Josh Beckett headed for the disabled list today?
"We don't think like that, we really don't," said Schilling, who gamely battled through six innings in which the wind was both a help and hindrance. "That's for you guys to write about, in slow news cycles. We're getting ready to play the Braves tomorrow. I think that's one of the strengths of this team. We do understand that most of the clichés apply. We really have to take it day by day. Thankfully, we've been pretty healthy for the most part, and when we haven't been, people have stepped in and made huge contributions.
"It's all about focusing on the day, the inning, the pitch, the at-bat. This is a group of guys that does that very, very well."
Hideki Okajima, which in Japanese means "Most Trusted Reliever," gave the Sox a scoreless eighth inning in the first game and saved the second, retiring the same three batters in both -- Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield, and Magglio Ordonez. "He's been as good as anyone I've ever pitched with," Schilling said.
Schilling gave up eight hits, all of them for extra bases -- seven doubles and a home run. He also gave up just two runs. "This was one of the weirdest games I've ever pitched in," he said.
Sheffield, who terrorized Yawkey Way when he wore pinstripes, came to the plate with 11 men on base yesterday, eight of them after dark. None of them scored.
Sheffield's teammate, Sean Casey, hit what should have been a grand slam in the first inning off Schilling. The ball blew back into play, and into Hinske's glove. "I was running back like I was going to have to jump on the fence," Hinske said, "and it was like it hit a wall and came straight down."
Alex Cora hit a little chopper with the bases loaded in the sixth that was struck so softly, but placed so perfectly, no one could make a play. Hinske -- that man again -- scored the tying run, having reached base on an error by third baseman Brandon Inge.
Hinske, playing because Drew's back was still sore after he ran into the bullpen wall Tuesday night, was asked which meant more, the home run or the catch. To a familiar question, he gave a fresh answer.
"Probably the home run," he said, "because it didn't hurt.
"The back of my neck is kind of sore. They told me I'm going to have whiplash symptoms tomorrow.
"They checked me out underneath the tunnel. They asked me who hit the ball, how many outs there were. I got all the questions right. Unless you have to carry me out on a stretcher, I don't get a chance to play out there that often, so I want to play as much as I can."
Sox manager Terry Francona said he was prepared to put Lugo in left and move Wily Mo Peña to right if Hinske couldn't continue. But he was spared that possibility -- "Lugo's eyes were getting bigger and bigger as I talked to him," Francona said -- just as Tavarez allowed him to give the bullpen a blow in the first game.
House money has Tavarez being odd man out of the rotation when Jon Lester, who pitches tomorrow for Pawtucket in Ottawa, finally returns to the Sox. But that could be another month away. In the meantime, Tavarez cheerfully keeps pitchin' and pointin', yesterday limiting the Tigers to a run on four hits and four walks in seven innings while throwing 104 pitches, his most since Aug. 30, 2002, with the Marlins.
"Look at me," Tavarez said. "I have my uniform and I just enjoy it day after day."
Okajima was 1-2-3 in the eighth, and Jonathan Papelbon put the finishing touches on the win with a scoreless ninth. Run-scoring singles by Manny Ramírez in the first and Kevin Youkilis in the third gave the Sox just enough offense.
Papelbon has been on a mini forced vacation; he had pitched just once since May 6.
"It's good to finally get out there and pitch," Papelbon said after ringing up his 11th save, whiffing Carlos Guillen and Pudge Rodriguez in the process. "It's tough for us [closers] to stay in that sharp mode, especially after the break I've had."
Gordon Edes can be reached at email@example.com.