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Red Sox 4, Tigers 3

Crawford steals show from pitchers with another walkoff winner

By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / May 20, 2011

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It may have seemed like a crazy notion a year ago when, as general manager Theo Epstein noted, “We were the ones getting walked-off upon a lot.’’ But this year the Red Sox have rewritten the book on walkoff wins.

The Sox pulled off their fourth of the season in last night’s 4-3 victory over the Tigers and their ace, Justin Verlander, who took a no-decision after throwing 114 pitches over eight innings and allowing three runs on six hits while recording nine strikeouts.

The much-anticipated pitchers’ duel between Verlander and Josh Beckett, who departed after the sixth inning with neck stiffness, was overshadowed by a dramatic ninth inning that enabled the Sox to extend their winning

streak to six games and climb three games above .500 (23-20).

In the top of the frame, Jonathan Papelbon exacted a bit of justice when he recorded back-to-back strikeouts of Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera, who had tied the game at 3-3 in the eighth with back-to-back homers off Daniel Bard.

“Obviously there was no room for error for me, again,’’ said Papelbon who loaded the bases in the ninth but got the win, one night after picking up his eighth save of the season, when he stranded the tying run at third. “Their lineup is very, very good and, once again, I kind of backed myself up against a wall and had to find a way to get out of it.’’

In the bottom of the ninth, Carl Crawford came to the plate with one out and the bases loaded and delivered a single to center off Al Alburquerque that scored pinch runner Darnell McDonald.

“Just trying to get a pitch to hit,’’ said Crawford, who went 2 for 4. “We had bases loaded with just one out and I didn’t want to do too much but make good contact.’’

Another textbook walkoff win?

“I don’t know man,’’ Crawford said with a chuckle, after his third walkoff hit of the season and ninth of his career. “We just don’t like to go into extra innings, I know that.’’

The Sox seemed to have the game in hand after Verlander gave up a solo homer to J.D. Drew with two outs in the fourth that broke a 1-1 tie, and then David Ortiz’s mammoth leadoff shot over the Boston bullpen that gave the Sox a 3-1 lead in the seventh.

By then, Beckett was out of the game. With two starters on the disabled list, manager Terry Francona took no chances and summoned Matt Albers to pitch the seventh.

“It was tough to get loose,’’ said Beckett, who threw 82 pitches in cold and damp conditions, holding the Tigers to one run on five hits and a pair of walks to go with a season-low three strikeouts. “Battled through the first few innings. Went down in the third and fifth innings, throwing between innings trying to get loose. It would never loosen up. A little muscle spasm in there. I don’t think it’s anything serious. Better to be cautious with the situation we have with the starters.’’

After Albers threw a scoreless seventh, allowing one hit and striking out two, Bard coughed up the lead when Boesch wrapped his homer around Pesky’s Pole in right, and Cabrera tied it with his blast into the Green Monster seats in left.

The Sox were unable to generate a response in the bottom of the eighth against Verlander, leaving Papelbon to hold the line in the ninth. After loading the bases with one out on two singles and a walk, Papelbon struck out Boesch and Cabrera.

“It’s some of the most electric stuff that you’ll see,’’ Beckett said of Papelbon. “Nobody throws a fastball like that with explosion at the end.

“His fingers are on top of the ball like I’ve never seen them. When you get that kind of stuff, and you put your fingers on top of the ball, and you have the fastball that explodes up and the split that explodes down, that’s tough to hit.’’

It set the stage for another walkoff win, and a second consecutive one-run triumph over the Tigers.

“We’re on this streak because of timely hits, and that’s what happened tonight,’’ Papelbon said. “And we’re pitching good enough to keep us in the ballgame.’’

By the book, it seems.

Michael Vega can be reached at vega@globe.com.

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