It took only one night for the Red Sox to prove the other half of Terry Francona's dictum, "Late heroics are better than no heroics."
No ninth-inning thunder last night. Not so much as a muffled roar for the Sox, who succumbed, 3-0, to the Toronto Blue Jays, who salvaged the last game of their three-game set behind A.J. Burnett and two relievers before 37,821 in Fenway Park.
But there were fireworks - after an apparent game-ending fly ball by Coco Crisp was nullified by second base umpire Bruce Dreckman, who called a balk on closer B.J. Ryan before he threw the pitch. The umpire ruled that Ryan had not come to a stop before throwing plateward.
"We saw it," Sox manager Terry Francona said of Dreckman's call. "He threw his arms up and we knew it was going to take a second."
With the crowd already headed for the exits and the Jays lining up for postgame high-fives, Jays manager John Gibbons, who had already begun strolling onto the field to slap some hands, flew into a rage when informed of Dreckman's call. He confronted the umpire, and was ejected.
"Their whole team was on the field," Sox catcher Kevin Cash said. "It was kind of like us [Wednesday] night, when we all ran out and Jed [Lowrie] was thrown out at the plate."
The fans returned to their seats, the Jays to their positions, and Brandon Moss, who had drawn a two-out walk, was given second base on the balk. Crisp, with his reprieve, promptly got everyone out of their seats again by singling sharply to right, sending Moss to third.
"We're all sitting there, going, 'What if?' " said Cash, with Lowrie coming to bat as the potential tying run and Jason Varitek grabbing a bat and heading to the on-deck circle, with hopes of pinch hitting for Cash with a chance to win it.
"Unbelievable," Cash said.
Ryan fell behind Lowrie, 3 and 1, but came back to whiff the rookie to end it.
Time of game: 2 hours 44 minutes, or five minutes longer than the 2:39 official scorer Mike Shalin had announced in the press box before Dreckman's balk call tacked on the extra time.
"I'm sure the balk was called in plenty of time," Cash said, "but [Ryan] threw a pitch, and everybody was going to look up at the ball, not paying attention to what the umpire is doing."
Gibbons, whose team had lost eight of nine, including consecutive walkoffs to the Sox, regained his equilibrium by the time reporters entered his office, but hadn't changed his opinion of the umpire's judgment.
"It was a crap call, come on," he said. "The game's over, everybody's shaking hands. But it was a helluva ballgame."
As wacky as the ending was, it was not without precedent. Bill Ballou of the Worcester Telegram instantly was reminded of a Sox game against the Yankees Sept. 18, 1993, in which the Sox apparently had won on Mike Stanley's fly ball to Mike Greenwell, only to have the play negated because umpire Tim Welke called time out. A 14-year-old from a church group had run onto the field, joined moments later by one of his buddies.
At the time, the Sox were leading, 3-1. They lost, 4-3, as Stanley singled, the first of four straight Yankees to reach safely, the last being Don Mattingly, whose two-run single won it.
"I remember it," said Joe Cochran, the team's longtime equipment manager. "Stano ended up playing for us, and I used to bust his chops all the time about it. I remember the security people took those kids down through our dugout. Our guys were giving them a ration."
The Yankees, meanwhile, were lobbying for the kids to get a hero's treatment. "We all think he'll be on Letterman," Stanley said of the original trespasser.
The funky finish could not obscure the flip side of all that fabulous starting pitching the Sox delivered through one full turn of the rotation. Tim Wakefield didn't quite match the splendor of the previous four starters, who combined to allow just three runs in 30 innings. But Wakefield (2-1) yielded just three runs in seven innings.
Still, Wakefield came away the loser, because the Sox haven't exactly stung the ball in recent days, and last night did not get a runner to third base until the replay of the final out. In their last five games, the Sox have scored four runs, and after collecting just four hits last night, are collectively batting .153 (23 for 150) with four extra-base hits, including David Ortiz's home run Wednesday night and Mike Lowell's double last night.
They managed just three hits in 7 2/3 innings off Burnett, who can't stay healthy but has not lost to the Sox in five starts. Their best chance to score was snuffed out when Jays second baseman Aaron Hill made a terrific diving catch to take away a hit from Moss with two on and one out in the fourth. Hill picked himself up and tagged second to complete the rally-killing double play.
The Sox put two runners on in the sixth with one out when Ortiz singled and Manny Ramírez walked, but Lowell flied to the track in left and Moss struck out.
"We took more good swings than the linescore will show," Francona said, "but we just saw three really good arms the last three days [Roy Halladay, Dustin McGowan, and Burnett]."
The Blue Jays took a 1-0 lead in the third when Alex Rios blooped a single to right, stole second, and scored on Scott Rolen's single past Kevin Youkilis into right field.
The Jays ran themselves out of a potential big inning in the fifth. David Eckstein led off with a double and Rolen was hit by a pitch. Matt Stairs hit a drive to the wall in left-center, Eckstein holding up in case the ball was caught. He took off when he saw that it would reach the wall, but did not see that the ball had taken a crazy bounce to Crisp. Rolen was just a few strides behind Eckstein, who was rounding third until he saw coach Marty Pevey throw up the stop sign.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who had taken the relay, ran right at Eckstein, and the Jays ended up with two runners on third base, Eckstein getting tagged out. Vernon Wells followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0.
Rios led off the seventh with a home run that made it 3-0. "The ball Rios hit didn't even spin," Cash said.
Wakefield, who walked four and hit two batters, had trouble not only commanding his knuckler but the cut fastball he likes to throw when he's trying to establish command of the knuckler. "You grind it out as best you can," he said.
And hope something happens. For one crazy moment, it looked like it might.
Gordon Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.