After three low-key nights, nights of little talk and lots of heads hunched over plates of postgame food, there was reason for loud music last night in the visitors' clubhouse at Safeco Field.
For the first time in too long, or after a seven-game losing streak, the Red Sox finally won a game on the road. And they did it in the late innings, breaking open a tie game in the eighth, against a pitcher, Felix Hernandez, with the potential for no-hit stuff.
Perhaps it helped that Safeco sounded like home, the applause of the 35,818 tilting far toward the side of the Sox, though that also had been the case in Oakland. In the end, the reasons didn't matter. It was a 5-3 win - a win over a slumping Mariners team, but a much-needed win nonetheless.
"It's satisfying to be able to shake hands here," manager Terry Francona said. "We've had our share of - I don't know - meltdowns isn't the right word, but frustrating losses. But we put together a good inning. Cause the way Felix was throwing, that was some impressive stuff we were looking at."
Bartolo Colon was dominating on the mound for Boston, throwing nearly all fastballs, with a few sliders mixed in.
"I thought his movement, his life, on his fastball was good," Francona said. "And he got strong. That's been kind of Bartolo's thing as he's gone in his career - as he gets in the game, he gets real strong. I thought his ball was running back, coming back for strikes. He made a lot of good quality pitches with life.
"He threw a couple sliders tonight that had some depth to them. We're all hoping that getting his legs under him, he'll have that mix. But let me tell you something, he looked so confident in that fastball, and he's locating it and spreading out the plate. I'm sure he's making the plate looking a lot wider than it is."
Colon did acknowledge that he had to work in more offspeed pitches, especially his changeup. But last night, he had enough to win. And his offense helped out, finally.
In an eighth inning that looked like it might be a disaster for the Red Sox after Julio Lugo's attempted sacrifice bunt nabbed lead runner Sean Casey at second, it was Dustin Pedroia coming up big, followed by the middle of the lineup. With two outs and Lugo on second, Pedroia rifled an offering from Hernandez to left field for a ground-rule double. That scored Lugo with the tie-breaking run. After David Ortiz, who earlier had homered off Hernandez, was intentionally walked, Manny Ramirez stepped to the plate.
Ramirez - playing in the 2,000th game of his career - lined a single into right field, bringing home Pedroia with the third run.
The Sox made it a four-run inning as Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew hit infield singles, and Jason Varitek walked to force home the final run.
Colon thus outlasted Hernandez, in a surprising turn of events. On Colon's 84th (and final) pitch of the night, in the seventh, Ichiro Suzuki ended an excellent chance for the Mariners. With two down and men on first and third, Suzuki swung at the first pitch and lofted it to center field to end the opportunity. And to put Seattle just a bit closer to its seventh straight loss.
"I felt good," Colon said through interpreter and first base coach Luis Alicea. "At the beginning I felt more strikes, that's why I felt like I was ahead of the hitters. I was very happy that, even in a situation where I got two guys on, they gave me the opportunity to pitch to Ichiro."
Hernandez had gotten through 3 2/3 innings in just 34 pitches, and hadn't given up a single run. Until Ortiz stepped to the plate and, on a 1-and-0 fastball, deposited the pitch beyond the fence in straightaway center, beyond the grasp of even Suzuki.
But Ichiro did his best Spider-Man - or Willie Mays - not long thereafter. With Drew on first base in the fifth, Varitek drove a ball straight over the head of Suzuki, toward the wall. Suzuki, his back to home plate, made an incredible basket catch. His legs went up, his glove went out, and he nabbed the ball before he crashed headlong into the padding.
"I actually thought the ball had a significant chance to go out, so when I saw him run I'm like, 'What is he doing?' " Varitek said. "Then he makes just one of the best catches I've seen."
But Colon, making just his second start for Boston, was on his game as well. Having been allowed just 74 pitches over five innings his first time, he seemed intent on making his pitches count, entering the seventh with just 71.
The Sox held the lead through the top of the sixth, but the Mariners came back, with a single and a hit by pitch to lead off the bottom. That was followed by a sacrifice bunt from No. 3 batter and designated hitter Jose Vidro - not exactly what the Red Sox would have Ortiz do in that situation - which helped out when Raul Ibanez grounded to second to score Suzuki.
Otherwise, Colon whipped through the lackluster Mariners. "Command," Varitek said, noting that Colon was "cleaner" with the location on his two- and four-seamers. "We were able to mix in his slider. We actually didn't throw a changeup - wasn't really necessary.
"He was much sharper. Anybody in their first outing is going to have a little nerves, a little excitement. As long as it's been for him, he probably had a lot."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org