THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Full plate of drama once again

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / May 1, 2008

The helmet bounced. Not a large bounce, but one that sent it a few feet from where Manny Ramírez had flung it. That was the first step. The next? A jumping, dancing, wild, over-the-top, joyful postgame celebration, one that mirrored the one held the previous night.

It's a feat the Red Sox are becoming adept at, this winning in their final at-bat. Of their 17 wins this season, eight have come in their last at-bat, the most recent a 2-1 win over the Blue Jays last night that finished eerily similar to Tuesday's 1-0 decision over Toronto.

In that one, it was David Ortiz rumbling over home plate. In this one, it was Ramírez sliding home. But in both cases there were two outs with men on first and second.

"It seemed exactly the same, base hit up the middle to win the game," said Brandon Moss, who almost ended it last night one batter earlier.

Last night's crazy ninth inning made Jason Varitek and Ramírez heroes, demonstrated Rod Barajas's acuity at blocking the plate, and generally made for an excellent game for the 37,710 packing the park on a chilly April night.

Ortiz led off with a single off the glove of second baseman Aaron Hill, who was playing in short right field. Ramírez then pushed Ortiz to second base with a walk.

That's when things became different. Though manager Terry Francona had left Ortiz in to run Tuesday night, last night he replaced him with Jed Lowrie.

"I think David's knee was a little tighter," Lowrie said of the reason for the decision.

After Mike Lowell struck out looking, Moss singled up the middle. But Lowrie didn't get the best jump off second base, and was nailed by the throw from center fielder Vernon Wells, with Barajas blocking the plate perfectly. Lowrie thought he had gotten a piece of the plate, but Barajas shut him off.

"I think it could have been a little bit bigger," Francona said of Lowrie's jump. "But his wheels were probably spinning. He didn't want to get doubled off on a line drive. He's not the fastest guy on the team, either, but he's the one with the healthy legs."

Varitek then came to the plate with two outs and extra innings looming. Varitek also sent the ball up the middle toward Wells. Again there was a play at the plate with the potential winning run barreling home. And this time, Ramírez made it, touching the plate with his hand before the tag and setting off another wild celebration.

"I thought Mossy had enough direction on his ball to keep it away from being directly at Vernon, and Vernon made a good throw and Barajas did a good job blocking the plate," Varitek said. "Obviously, as a whole we're not swinging the bats great right now, but the guy on the mound [Daisuke Matsuzaka] pitched the ball pretty well, too.

"We don't quit. We can't quit in this place. It's not what this organization is built on."

Neither is fleet base runners, though that has changed somewhat with Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury. But apparently those two aren't the only Sox with quick feet. No pinch runner needed for Ramírez.

"As part of the training he did, he did some things to allow him [to appear faster]," Varitek said. "He isn't that much faster. He's stronger and he has the ability to use his legs. He's strong all around. He's been running real well."

There was that stolen base against the Rays over the weekend. Now charging home to beat the throw for the winning run.

And as for that helmet slam?

"I didn't see it," Moss said. "I was too busy screaming."

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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