CLEVELAND - Red Sox assistant general manager Jed Hoyer stood on Progressive Field - before the game, when the sun was still shining and the temperature had yet to drop to Iditarod levels (39 degrees by midgame) - and harked back to the last time the Red Sox were here.
"I was getting flashbacks," he said.
By the end of the night, so were the Cleveland Indians. They couldn't close out the Sox in the AL Championship Series last fall despite holding a three-games-to-one lead, and last night, in their first meeting here since Josh Beckett's dominating Game 5 performance reversed that series, they couldn't hold onto a three-run lead at midgame, or a one-run lead in the ninth.
And as if Cleveland fans needed another reason to boo Manny Ramírez, who has been gone eight seasons but still gets treated here as if he set fire to the Cuyahoga River on his way out of town, the Sox left fielder rubbed it in a little more in last night's 6-4 win by breaking a 4-all tie with a two-run home run in the ninth.
"I don't know," Ramirez said of the longstanding animus directed his way. "I can't control that. I just like to come and play the game and go home."
The home run, which followed a bloop single by the prodigal DH, David Ortiz, came on the first pitch Ramírez saw from Joe Borowski, who somehow saved a league-high 45 games last season despite a 5.07 ERA but isn't fooling anyone so far this season. Borowski has been taken deep three times in four innings in 2008, including a walkoff grand slam by Torii Hunter of the Angels.
The home run pitch was clocked at 82 miles an hour, an ominous reading for a man with Borowski's history of arm trouble.
"It really doesn't matter with the garbage I was throwing," Borowski said when asked about facing Ramírez, "especially against him."
Or anyone else who batted for the Sox in the ninth. Julio Lugo, who had played the clubhouse foil for Ortiz during his protracted slump but was stuck in an 0-for-16 slide of his own, doubled off Borowski to lead off the inning. Coco Crisp, who already had bunted for one hit and was thrown out trying to bunt for another, laid down yet another bunt and very nearly beat that one out, too, while advancing Lugo to third.
Dustin Pedroia, who had walked and scored on an opposite-field double by Kevin Youkilis in the first inning and singled off the foot of starter Jake Westbrook to drive in Lugo with the team's second run in the seventh, tied it with a fly ball deep enough to score Lugo.
Ortiz, whose opposite-field single in the first was his first hit in his last 18 at-bats and fourth in 44 at-bats this season, dropped a pop single to left against an overshifted defense, setting the stage for Ramírez, who now is tied for 24th place with Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff on the all-time homer list with 493.
"That's just part of our all-around game, swing for power, bunt, use a total game," said Crisp, who has bunted safely for hits in each of his last three starts, his place in the lineup last night inspired by prior success against Westbrook (6 for 8, .750).
The win went to Mike Timlin, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth after his first two appearances this season disastrously began with home runs. A relief?
"I've got to be more consistent before I can tell you that," he said.
Timlin wasn't the only Sox reliever to make a timely about-face. Julian Tavarez, last seen nearly blowing a five-run lead against the Tigers, replaced Jon Lester with the bases loaded in the fifth and the Indians already leading, 4-1, and struck out Ryan Garko and pinch-hitter David Dellucci to end the inning.
He then put up two more scoreless innings to give the Sox a chance to draw closer, Youkilis's first home run of the season making it 4-3 in the eighth.
Youkilis connected off Rafael Betancourt, who had struck out Ortiz and Ramírez with two men on to end the seventh.
But forced to play double jeopardy, the Indians could not survive another dose of Manny.
"It was fun at the end," Francona said. "There's something to be said for perseverance. Tavarez did a great job. If he stumbles anywhere, we're in trouble, but he gave us a chance."
This is where Lester made his first start last July after coming back from cancer treatment and beat the Indians, 6-2. He was sharp for one turn through the batting order - the only base runner through three innings was Grady Sizemore on a leadoff walk in the first - and had a 1-0 lead.
But the Indians nibbled away for two runs in the fourth on a leadoff walk and singles by Travis Hafner, Victor Martinez, and Ryan Garko, and Lester paid dearly when he walked the first two batters in the fifth, as the Indians scored twice more to expand their lead to 4-1.
The free passes went to Casey Blake, the No. 9 man in the order batting .143, and Grady Sizemore. Asdrubal Cabrera bunted the runners over, and Hafner lined a single to right to score both runners. Martinez's ground ball found a hole through the left side for another single, and when Lester walked Jhonny Peralta - his fifth walk of the night, tying a career high - Francona came to get him.
Lester declined comment.
"I thought he started out strong, and all of a sudden he walks a couple and created a rally without them swinging the bats much," Francona said. "We just have to get him to pound the zone more, he's got the stuff."