Sox (and Rays) give Fenway fans lots to shout about
Fans let Manny ramirez (top) and Kevin Youkilis know they were back where they belonged as the two returned. (Globe Staff Photo / Jim Davis)
Eric Gagné paused, with his head rocked backward toward the scoreboard. Confused? Quite likely. While he had done nothing to cause it, a giant cheer had just gone up in Fenway Park last night, rippling through the 36,708 in the stands, prompting an age-old chant. From inside the scoreboard, a "6" had replaced the "1" next to Tampa Bay.
The Devil Rays had taken the lead on the Yankees by a run. And life, for the Red Sox fans populating the park, could not get much better. (Though the Yankees tied it up in the eighth inning, Dioner Navarro homered in the 10th to win it for the Devil Rays.)
With the Red Sox' 7-3 win over Oakland, and that 7-6 Yankees loss, the magic number for Boston to clinch the American League East slipped down to 3, with five games to play.
"I looked up and saw it was blank," Kevin Youkilis said of the space next to "TB" on the scoreboard. "It was blank for a while. You could tell they were trying to cater to Red Sox fans. Then I saw the '6' and saw everyone cheer.
"I knew Gagné had no idea what was going on. He looked so confused out there. I think he was looking for a guy running on the field, to be honest."
But there was no runner. It was good news this time, news that became final after most of the Red Sox - including Gagné, who did not speak to the media - had already exited the clubhouse.
So after a week in which the negatives began to predominate - the sweep in Toronto, the nagging injuries to Manny Ramírez and Youkilis, the shutdown of Hideki Okajima, the onrushing Yankees (and Indians and Angels) - there was cause for celebration.
In Curt Schilling's six-inning, six-strikeout, one-run performance. In J.D. Drew's three hits (which gave him 18 in 14 games). And in the race for the playoffs.
"That was a good win tonight," Youkilis said. "We had some good hitting. Guys did a great job pitching. That's the biggest thing - pitching will take us as far as we can go.
"To come back home, it was great to get a win, start out on a good note. We need momentum going into the playoffs."
Getting Ramírez, Youkilis, and, as of tomorrow, Okajima back doesn't hurt, either. And that was where the cheer - and cheering - originated at Fenway last night.
"It's a good time, all of them coming in," David Ortiz said. "Those guys are part of this team, part of this lineup, and we need them."
But it wasn't just the returnees. Schilling did his part, his newly discovered role of six-inning pitcher not a problem last night for him or for the team. In perhaps his final full start before the playoffs - though he is penciled in for Sunday's game against the Twins - Schilling staked his claim to the No. 2 spot in the postseason rotation with another crisp outing, earning his first win since Aug. 24 at Chicago.
"He gave us six good innings," manager Terry Francona said. "I know I say it all the time, but he hasn't forgotten how to pitch, and you give him a game plan and he really executed it."
And the A's couldn't do much with him, their six hits scattered evenly through his six innings, one in each. Plus, there were those six strikeouts, his most since he fanned 10 May 28 against the Indians. After he gave up a solo home run to Daric Barton, the second batter of the game, on a fat changeup that landed in the alleyway in right field, Schilling allowed only one batter past second base.
To back him, Ramírez singled and scored in the first inning, tying the score at 1-1, but it was in the fifth inning that the Red Sox broke through - without a hit. Starter Chad Gaudin walked the first four batters (Ramírez - who was replaced on first base by Brandon Moss - then Ortiz, Mike Lowell, and Drew), before being removed in favor of Lenny DiNardo. But Drew's walk had already driven in a run, and Jacoby Ellsbury would add another with a sacrifice fly to right field.
The Red Sox added a run (Drew single, passed ball, Ellsbury single) in the seventh before smashing the game open in the eighth, immediately after Jonathan Papelbon had come in for one pitch, getting Gagné out of his two-on, two-out jam. In the bottom of the eighth, after Julio Lugo drew a walk from brother Ruddy, Dustin Pedroia doubled to right. Bobby Kielty sent Lugo home with a sacrifice fly to left.
And that was all followed by the 33d home run of the season for Ortiz, a two-run shot that extended the lead to 7-1, before the A's closed the game with two runs off Bryan Corey in the ninth.
All kidding aside ("I told him he wasn't going to fool anybody unless he changes his name and cut the dreadlocks off," Ortiz joked about Ramírez batting in the No. 2 slot), there was a noticeable lift in the ballpark from the time the left fielder's name was announced as he stepped to the plate in the first inning. There was another lift when Youkilis came in to pinch hit for Eric Hinske in the fifth inning. And another, clearly, when the Yankees score went up on the board.
"We had a tough road trip," Ortiz said. "But we're still on top - and we've got to keep it that way."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.