Jays get late homers to tie (Glaus) and beat (Wells) Sox
It's not quite as simple as Oki-Doki anymore. There will be times, like last night, when it's Oki, duck.
An inning after Manny Delcarmen was taken deep by one Toronto strongman, Troy Glaus, for a tying home run, Hideki Okajima gave up a tiebreaking, two-run home run in the ninth to Vernon Wells, another Blue Jays big bopper who picked a bad time, for the Red Sox, to break out of a horrific slump.
Wells, who came into the game with just five hits in his last 45 at-bats and had been hitless in 14 at-bats until singling in the fifth, had three hits in a 6-4 Toronto win that ended Boston's winning streak at four before a disappointed crowd of 37,106 in the Fens.
The Sox, who flew to Baltimore after the game for a four-game set against the Orioles that begins tonight, had their American League East lead over the Yankees trimmed to six games, with both teams having 22 games left. The Yankees are off today before opening a three-game series in Kansas City.
There isn't a team in baseball playing worse than the Orioles, who are 3-14 in their last 17 games, have been outscored, 154-74, in that span, and last Saturday were no-hit by Sox rookie Clay Buchholz in his second big league start.
But that was of little comfort last night to Okajima, who hit Gregg Zaun with a pitch to open the ninth and, after a sacrifice bunt, was taken over the center-field wall by Wells, who made the Sox pay for their failure to build a bigger lead than the 4-3 advantage Jason Varitek gave them with a two-run home run in the sixth.
Okajima ended July with an 0.87 ERA, and was having songs written about him. In 14 games since, he has allowed eight runs in 13 2/3 innings, an ERA of 5.27. Eric Gagné, imported to ease the load on Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, said he plans to throw a bullpen session today. "I feel bad we're down a man," Gagné said.
It was preposterous, of course, to presume that Okajima would remain unhittable from April to October.
"We always said the second time around the league, people are going to make adjustments, and they have," said Alex Cora, who made two big defensive plays early but failed to get down a bunt in the fifth, when the Sox had two on and no out, lined into a double play before that, and grounded into a force play with the potential go-ahead run on board in the eighth.
"[Okajima] is not going to be as dominant as he was in the first half, but he's still done a good job for us. Vernon has been struggling the whole season, but he can still do damage, and when you leave a pitch up in the zone, you know what he can do."
With Papelbon having worked each of the last three games, the Sox had little alternative but to jigger their bullpen rotation, though manager Terry Francona wasn't inclined to reveal the identity of last night's closer of choice in advance.
"That doesn't make a lot of sense to tell Gibby," Francona said before the game, referring to his counterpart, Toronto manager John Gibbons. "We'll have a good one. Hopefully, we'll be in that situation, and we'll have a good one."
It didn't quite work out that way. Delcarmen, called upon to protect a one-run lead in the eighth, gave up a tying home run to Glaus, who hit one that paid the toll at the Allston-Brighton Turnpike exchange.
"I tried to go down and away," said Delcarmen, who fell behind Glaus, 2 and 0, "and the ball ran in on him like a two-seamer."
Okajima tried to get a changeup past Wells. "A fat pitch," he said.
Francona before the game made one of those decisions designed to make the second-guessers froth - he gave hot-hitting rookie Dustin Pedroia the night off, even though Pedroia had at least two hits in each of his last five games. He had Pedroia ready to hit for Cora in the eighth, but when Coco Crisp failed to bunt over Varitek, who had lined a single off the ankle of Toronto reliever Casey Janssen, he let Cora hit, figuring that there would be more holes available for the lefthanded-hitting Cora, especially in a potential hit-and-run situation.
But Cora rolled out to short for a force play at second against Jeremy Accardo, who replaced the sore-footed Janssen, and Julio Lugo also grounded out. The inning before, the Sox had the bases loaded on two walks and David Ortiz's bloop single, but Janssen whiffed J.D. Drew (lots of boos) and Kevin Youkilis.
"Overall, I feel terrible," said Curt Schilling, who actually pitched pretty well outside of a three-run fifth in which the Jays capitalized on a walk and four straight singles. "We lost a game we should have won."
Cora wasn't enchanted with his failure to execute a bunt - Varitek also was slow to get back to second when he was doubled off on Cora's liner, and Ortiz was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the third.
"But this wasn't like Cleveland, where I cost us a game when I missed a [hit-and-run] sign," Cora said. "I didn't do the job, but I don't think one play cost the game. Turn the page, and come out tomorrow."
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.