By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 7, 2007
BOSTON -- Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
The Fenway Park crowd realized it was not going to get its towering, game-winning homer from David Ortiz, whose shoulders slumped with everyone else's in the old stadium when the catcher stuck his glove out for the intentional walk. But it could settle for one from Manny Ramirez, and the chant of "Man-ny! Man-ny" started going up from the stands near the Boston Red Sox' dugout even before balls three and four had reached the catcher, sending Ortiz to first base.
It was the bottom of the ninth inning, more than four hours into Game 2 of the American League Division Series, and several hours later, a pair of chartered jet planes would sail into the sky for the cross-country flight to Southern California, toward Game 3. And if anyone on board were to catch a glimpse of a fleeting object on the distant horizon of the stratosphere, it might be the ball Ramirez launched into the sky.
On the second pitch he saw from Los Angeles Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, Ramirez absolutely crushed one. The ball sailed over the Green Monster, over the seats that top the iconic wall, over a billboard, a light stanchion, a parking lot and heaven knows what else. The three-run home run gave the Red Sox a 6-3 victory, and sent Ramirez's teammates hurtling out of their dugout to greet him in a teeming scrum at home plate.
"In that moment I was just trying to see the ball and trust myself," Ramirez said, in a rare meeting with reporters. "He's one of the best closers in the game and I'm one of the best hitters in the game."
The Red Sox now have a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-five series, which resumes Sunday afternoon in Anaheim, Calif., with Boston's Curt Schilling facing Jered Weaver.
The ninth-inning rally began with shortstop and No. 9 hitter Julio Lugo lining a single into left field, remained alive as a hit-and-run play took Lugo safely to second base on a ground ball, and deflated briefly as the Angels chose to walk Ortiz, the Red Sox' sultan of the walk-off homer.
"One of the reasons [Ramirez] got to swing is because David is such a great hitter and clutch hitter," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said. "It's tough to let David beat you."
For all his annual 40-homer production, Ramirez has had few signature moments. The walk-off homer Friday night was only the fourth game-ending hit of his career, regular season and postseason combined.
But on a 1-0 pitch, he unloaded on Rodriguez, one of the top closers in the game, who had been brought into a tie game following the hit-and-run grounder that sent Lugo to second base.
"One of the best feelings ever," Ramirez said. "Sometimes you get me, and sometimes I get you. And I got him this time."
The winner was Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who entered in the eighth inning like a can of Red Bull, energizing a crowd of 37,706 that had settled gently into its seats as the respective bullpens traded zeroes. He ended the eighth inning with a strikeout, with two runners in scoring position, and came bounding off the mound, screaming at the top of his lungs and pumping his fists wildly. The crowd followed suit, and did so again when Papelbon set down the Angels in the top of the ninth.
The novelty of Daisuke Matsuzaka's first postseason start for the Red Sox had long since worn off by that point -- much like the novelty of Matsuzaka himself had over the summer -- and there had scarcely been anything to get excited about at Fenway Park since the Yankees' loss in Cleveland went up on the out-of-town scoreboard hours before.
The Red Sox were trailing by a run in the bottom of the fifth, with the tying run on second base and one out, when Ramirez fouled back a pitch from Angels starter Kelvim Escobar. Catcher Jeff Mathis tracked it toward the section of seats near the Red Sox' dugout, reaching over a row of photographers with his mitt and leaning in toward the first row of fans.
The ball was perhaps inches from his mitt when a young fan in the front row, with the benefit of superior positioning, reached above it to snag the ball out of the air. Mathis slammed his fist into his glove angrily as the fan celebrated, and the game -- and the Ramirez at-bat -- went on.
Perhaps rattled, Esbobar went from being ahead in the count 0-2 to issuing four straight balls, walking Ramirez. The next batter, Mike Lowell, smashed a fly ball to deep center -- which would have been the third out had Mathis caught Ramirez's foul ball -- scoring Dustin Pedroia from third with the tying run.
New England, meet Danny Vinik, 17, the son of a Red Sox limited partner. Unlike other infamous fan-fly-ball encounters -- Jeffrey Maier at Yankee Stadium in 1996, Steve Bartman at Wrigley Field in 2003 -- Vinik appeared well within his rights to catch the ball where he did, clearly out of the field of play. Fortunately for him, it was the home team -- his father's team -- that benefited.
"I still can't believe it," Vinik said, when he spoke to reporters outside the Red Sox' clubhouse, while the game wore on. " . . . Just unbelievable, amazing."
The Red Sox had long since ceased believing Matsuzaka, their $103.1 million Japanese import, was some sort of godsend, delivered from the heavens to carry them to the World Series title on the strength of his right arm. (No, that's Josh Beckett.) Matsuzaka went 15-12 in his rookie season, tiring toward the end, and earned the Game 2 start more for his unfamiliarity to the Angels' hitters, who had never faced him, than for his achievements.
It was only after Matsuzaka departed, following 4 2/3 imprecise, laborious innings, that things got interesting. Four Red Sox relievers, capped by Papelbon, crafted 4 1/3 innings of hitless baseball, keeping the game tied and setting the stage for what everyone knew would be another Big Papi moment.
This time, however, when Ortiz reached home plate, where the crowd of teammates was gathering, he simply dissolved into the scrum and turned around toward the onrushing Ramirez, ready to smack someone else on the head for a change.