boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
RED SOX 5, INDIANS 3

Red Sox get upper hand

Indians go down swinging in ninth

It was a night for standing, for 36,910-person ovations, for Curt Schilling tipping his cap after seven innings of scintillating splitters, for Trot Nixon's return to Boston, for Kevin Youkilis motoring around third base to reach home plate -- standing! -- on an inside-the-park home run. But, in the end, the standing that the fans of Boston were left with was in appreciation of Jonathan Papelbon wriggling out of a mess with a call that was nearly as messy.

Or maybe that was confusion.

Ask Papelbon, or manager Terry Francona, or Indians third baseman Casey Blake, or Tribe manager Eric Wedge. Each take, slightly different. But in the end, the only one that mattered was the opinion of first base umpire Chuck Meriwether, who dispatched Blake with a strikeout swinging that very likely saved the game for the Red Sox in a 5-3 win over Central-leading Cleveland.

More so than even Schilling, whose splitter hadn't felt this way since 2001 or 2002, and who finished the night with 10 strikeouts and no walks and his first win in four starts. Though, clearly, the team wouldn't have been in that position without the return to form of its ace.

"It's tough," Papelbon said of the ninth-inning call. "I only saw one replay of it. That's a tough call. Personally I thought it hit the bat, but everybody's telling me it hit him in the hand. I guess by the rule he's out. I didn't necessarily see that, to be totally honest. But that's the call that they made. That's the call that we went with."

With one out and men on second and third, Papelbon was protecting a two-run lead and faced Blake, running the count to 1-and-2. It was then that Papelbon threw a pitch that appeared to bounce off Blake's hand. At first, plate umpire Rick Reed called it a hit by pitch, but after reviewing with Meriwether, it was determined that the ball hit Blake while he was swinging -- a strikeout, according to the rulebook.

The Indians disagreed.

"The home plate umpire said the ball hit his hand, the first base umpire said he went," Wedge said. "My argument was I didn't think he swung. I'm not arguing that the ball hit his hand.

"[Meriwether] said the bat had crossed the zone. To me that's a hard thing to do when you're leaning back that way, to get the bat head across the zone. I didn't see it that way."

Despite the ending, it was the beginning that, in all likelihood, will be far more important to the Red Sox' ultimate fortunes. Schilling, to be specific.

"No walks, 10 strikeouts, located his fastball with some finish on it," Francona said. "And really threw, probably, in my opinion, his best split of the year. Had some depth to it, got them off that fastball. That's a good-hitting lineup. He really pitched."

Schilling didn't want the credit after the game, passing it almost entirely on to pitching coach John Farrell. But it wasn't Farrell who struck out the side in the first inning, all swinging, all on splitters, or who allowed just one run on six hits. (That came on a double/single combo by Blake and Victor Martinez in the sixth inning.)

"It's been a rough couple weeks for me from a performance standpoint," Schilling said. "We made some adjustments over this last seven, eight, 10 days. Didn't go real well in the start before this, but tonight it did. And that's huge.

"I'd like to hopefully look back on this last four days as the turning point in a lot of ways for me, physically and mentally."

Schilling said he had made a number of mechanical adjustments before pitching against the Yankees last Wednesday. But none of them took, leaving him with a six-inning, six-run (five earned), 12-hit performance and his first loss since Opening Day, following two straight no-decisions.

But he didn't look like that same pitcher last night.

With the sizzle back on the splitter, which was registering in the mid-80s, and the fastball location spot-on, all Schilling needed was a bit of run support. He got it in the fourth when two runs scored (double to right by Youkilis, extending his hitting streak to 20 games, double to center by J.D. Drew, double to left by Mike Lowell). And later with two home runs, one smashed by Manny Ramírez into the second row of Monster seats.

The other? That would be the unlikely inside-the-park home run by Youkilis, perhaps an ode to the returning Nixon, who was the last Sox batter to complete the feat, having done it July 15, 2005, against the Yankees. Youkilis's, in the seventh, proved to be the difference, though the room provided by a ninth-inning run on doubles by Dustin Pedroia and Julio Lugo didn't hurt.

Especially when that ninth inning came around.

But even with the closer faltering -- Papelbon saying, "Take any out I can at that point" -- the break went to the Red Sox.

As it so often has this season.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES