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Red Sox 8, A's 5

Showing he’s all business

Distractions aside, Papi propels Sox

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / July 31, 2009

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Any other day, especially given the struggles he’s had this season, a late-inning, game-winning home run by David Ortiz would have meant cheers, a curtain call, and a boisterous clubhouse.

But this wasn’t any other day.

Ortiz’s three-run homer in the seventh inning yesterday powered the Red Sox past Oakland, 8-5, salvaging what looked for a while like a losing homestand. The blast off Craig Breslow brought the cheers, and the curtain call. But because Ortiz had been linked hours earlier to being on the list of 104 major leaguers who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, the postgame clubhouse scene was hardly boisterous.

With Ortiz surrounded by cameras, and a plane waiting to take the team to Baltimore, it was brisk, slightly brusque, and very businesslike.

“I wasn’t distracted. We weren’t talking about it. We’re having enough problems trying to win games right now to worry about other things,’’ said Dustin Pedroia. “[Ortiz] swung the bat great. He’s been swinging the bat well.

“We need that right now, and hopefully he can keep it going and we can go on a run.’’

The win meant a four-game split with last-place Oakland and four wins on the seven-game homestand. The Sox now take to the road for a nine-game trip, all against the AL East: Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New York. Boston’s 5-8 record since the All-Star break has sent the Sox into second place, looking up at the Yankees.

All of which made Ortiz’s heroics even more meaningful. The game-changing homer is something Sox fans have grown used to seeing, but it was the first time this season that he delivered one of his big swings. He also, according to Mike Lowell, who was with Ortiz in the on-deck circle, called his shot.

“I was next to him, and he told me he was going to hit a home run,’’ Lowell said. “He’s probably offensively the biggest key to our team. He’s that one bat that you definitely fear. If he gets going, our offense really seems to be able to put up runs.’’

Ortiz’s blast came with the Sox trailing, 5-3, and came about because of a little luck. After Pedroia grounded into a double play, Kevin Youkilis sent a lazy fly that looked to be the final out toward right fielder Jack Cust. But Cust lost the ball in the sun and didn’t get a glove on it, allowing Youkilis to stroll into second with a double. After Jason Bay walked, Breslow was summoned to face Ortiz.

With the count 2-and-1, Ortiz sent a fastball to the deepest part of the park, two rows beyond the Sox’ bullpen. It was his 14th home run of the season; 13 have come since June 6.

For five innings, it didn’t look like the Sox would need such a comeback. Jon Lester had been solid, allowing four hits and no runs without walking a batter. With the streak he was on coming in - three earned runs or fewer in 10 straight starts, with a 1.83 ERA over that span - even the smallest lead seemed safe.

But Lester found trouble in the sixth, giving up three walks, three hits, and four earned runs. Rajai Davis provided the big blow, a two-run single. Just like that, a 1-0 Sox lead had turned into a 4-1 deficit.

“I don’t think he had the explosive stuff that he’s had recently,’’ said manager Terry Francona. “They weren’t hit hard, but they took a toll on his day’s work.’’

The Sox responded with two runs in the home half, Ortiz scoring on a ground-rule double by Lowell, and Lowell scoring on a single by Jason Varitek (3 for 4, three RBIs).

Oakland pushed its lead to 5-3 off Manny Delcarmen in the seventh after Nomar Garciaparra (3 for 4) stroked a one-out single to right. Eric Patterson replaced Garciaparra and promptly stole second. He scored on the next pitch when Tommy Everidge singled up the middle.

That merely set the stage for Ortiz and the Sox.

The Sox added two in the eighth on back-to-back doubles by J.D. Drew and Varitek and a sacrifice fly by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Despite giving up the seventh-inning run, Delcarmen earned the win. Jonathan Papelbon gave up a ninth-inning single, but picked up his 26th save.

It was Ortiz’s day, though, for a variety of reasons.

An hour before the game, whispers had Ortiz’s name being on the infamous list from tests of six years ago.

Minutes after the game, his teammates preferred to talk about his home run.

Said Lowell: “It was a big hit because I think this is a significant victory, we can end a homestand on a good note, and we’ve got a big road trip ahead of us. I think it was an emotional win, something we can carry on into [tonight].’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.

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