With chants of "Manny! Manny!" ringing in his ears, Manny Ramírez erased visions of his three-pitch strikeout against Mariano Rivera Sunday night with an RBI single to right field in the eighth inning last night, accounting for the run in a 1-0 win by the Red Sox over the red-hot Twins before 37,912 at Fenway Park.
The Sox returned home after a 3-7 trip in which they lost six games by one run. Last night, they reversed their fortunes - and picked up a game on AL East-leading Tampa Bay - behind the combined shutout by Daisuke Matsuzaka, who received a no-decision for his 7 1/3 innings, Hideki Okajima, who escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth, and closer Jonathan Papelbon, who worked a flawless ninth to record his 26th save.
Boston's major league-best 10th shutout improved its record in one-run games to 12-16 (10-2 at home).
With Ramírez hitting .182 in his previous 21 games, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire decided to pitch to Ramírez in the eighth with Dustin Pedroia, who doubled leading off the bottom of the inning, on third base with one out and first base open.
"How's Manny been doing lately?" asked Gardenhire. "We'll take our chances. He's a great hitter, but you don't want to walk him and get to the next guy. Keep putting more people on base in this ballpark, I don't think that's too wise, either. Manny, Lowell, and then Youkilis, pick your poison. Manny's been struggling a little bit."
Pedroia extended his hitting streak to a career-high 15 games with a double high off the wall down the left-field line, igniting the winning rally on what had been a frustrating night for Sox batters against Twins starter Scott Baker, who pitched seven shutout innings before giving way to Brian Bass.
Ramírez was aggressive in his at-bat against Bass, the opposite of the bat-on-the-shoulder approach he took against Rivera the night before as a pinch hitter. He was down against Bass, 0 and 2, before evening the count. In his usual manner, he went with the outside pitch and sent it into right field through a drawn-in infield, driving in Pedroia.
Even Mike Lowell, who was on-deck, wasn't surprised about the decision to pitch to Ramírez. "Manny hasn't been tearing the cover off the ball, and especially because there's a monster coming up behind him," the third baseman kidded.
Sox manager Terry Francona was just happy to see someone come up with a big hit at the right time.
"I didn't care who it was, just push a run across and make it stand, but it was great," said Francona. "We needed something, anything, so we can leave here on a night with a little frustration offensively, but we got a win."
Okajima, who had allowed 12 of 15 inherited runners to score this season, walked his first batter, Justin Morneau, loading the bases. The embattled lefty went to a full count on pinch hitter Craig Monroe, but Monroe fouled out to first baseman Kevin Youkilis. Delmon Young then grounded into a fielder's choice. Inning over. And, essentially, game over.
Okajima referred to his poor June as an "akumu," which is Japanese for "bad dream." He said he was "trying too hard" when he walked Morneau. Well aware of his problem with inherited runners, he said he was determined to keep the Twins off the board.
"For him to get out of that tonight was big for him," said Francona. "He faces a real dangerous hitter, walks him, but then makes some real good pitches after that. You could just see the energy in the ballpark pick up after that."
Matsuzaka, who lowered his ERA to 2.84, was economical (108 pitches) and certainly on his game in his longest outing of the season. He cranked at least one fastball up to 95 miles per hour and he was consistently at 93-94. He left the game to a standing ovation.
The lack of control that often had cut short Matsuzaka's starts seemed to be cured. He tamed a Twins team that had won 18 of 22 games, holding Minnesota to six hits and three walks.
Baker, who gave up just five hits (his fewest in a start since June 5), got out of his biggest jam in the fourth. J.D. Drew and Ramírez singled to open the frame, and after a strikeout by Lowell, Youkilis walked to load the bases. But unfortunately for the Sox, two of their coldest hitters were next. Coco Crisp, who entered the at-bat in an 0-for-11 skid, popped to third and Jason Varitek continued his slump with a pop fly to center, which prompted some boos.
"Boy, he located well," said Francona. "We had him on the ropes that one inning and we didn't get anything."
Papelbon, who gave up the winning single to Yankees rookie Brett Gardner Sunday night in the 10th inning, rebounded with an overpowering fastball and retired the side on a strikeout, foul out, and ground out to record his seventh save in his last nine appearances.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.