09/02/2003 11:06 PM ET
Kapler belts key shot in Sox win
Outfielder fills in for Manny and hits game-winner
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- For the fifth day in a row, the Red Sox went to work without their superstar slugger. This time, it was by choice of manager Grady Little, who decided the best chance the Sox had of winning Tuesday night against the White Sox was with Ramirez sitting on the bench.
The bold decision by Little paid off, as the Red Sox pulled out a tense 2-1 victory over the White Sox in a game that featured several key contributors for the visitors.
Most obvious was Gabe Kapler, who snapped a 1-1 tie with a 374-foot solo shot to left off Bartolo Colon with one out in the sixth. Kapler has started four of the last five games since Ramirez became ill at the end of last week with a throat infection.
Ramirez wasn't in Little's lineup, even though, for the first time since becoming ill, he said he was available to play.
But no matter.
"Our team is a team that is a special group of guys," said Sox starter John Burkett, who picked up his 10th win with a strong performance. "We've faced adversity about as good as I think you can. Tonight was no exception."
The Sox (80-58) trudged on without their RBI machine, and won despite mustering just two hits off Colon, who went the distance.
"That's not something we really drew up beforehand, but we got a lot of miles out of the two we did get," Little said.
Fortunately for Boston, both of those hits were homers. Right fielder Trot Nixon hit a solo blast to right in the second.
Making those longballs stand up were some stand-up performances by the pitching staff.
"Trot had a great first at-bat," said Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "Gabe came up big with the other homer. You never think that two will be the end of us scoring runs, but our bullpen did a great job."
So, too, did Burkett. The 38-year-old veteran went six strong innings (three hits, one run) en route to his first victory since Aug. 7.
Despite the lack of wins of late, Burkett has been one of Boston's most consistent starters over the last 10 weeks. In fact, the turnaround started in this very ballpark when he shook off a shaky first inning and outdueled Colon in a 7-4 win on June 17.
"Burky was outstanding throughout the game," Little said. "He changed speeds awfully well, he hit his spots well, he was in complete command the whole time he was out there. A guy like this is invaluable to a ballclub. He's a veteran pitcher and we're glad he's here."
Burkett wouldn't have been in the win column without the work of the pen. Fireballing righty Scott Williamson, in perhaps his most important performance since joining the Sox July 29, rescued Brandon Lyon out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the seventh.
Williamson went 1 2/3 flawless innings (no baserunners allowed), setting the stage for Byung-Hyun Kim's 12th save, which put the Sox four games behind the Yankees in the AL East. Boston remained a game behind Seattle in the Wild Card standings.
"I've been in that situation before and it seemed like I didn't come through," Williamson said. "I'm glad [Little] had the confidence to put me in that situation, and this time the groundball went at someone."
Kim's ninth was not without a scare. Paul Konerko, the leadoff batter, just missed a game-tying homer, as his blast landed a few feet to the left of the foul pole in left field.
Forgive Burkett if he had a queasy feeling in his stomach as he watched Konerko's near-homer from the clubhouse television.
"I thought it was a home run when he hit it," Burkett said. "He was trying to cheat on the fastball and Byung-Hyun threw a slider over the plate, luckily he was cheating a little there. But other than that, Kim threw the ball great."
The White Sox broke a scoreless tie in strange fashion in the bottom of the first. With the bases loaded and one out, Carl Everett looped a popup to shallow right-center. Todd Walker, Johnny Damon and Nixon all converged on the play, but nobody took charge. The ball dropped in and Roberto Alomar scored.
Walker retrieved the ball and fired to third, getting Frank Thomas for the force out. The play was scored a fielder's choice. Burkett got out of the inning -- not to mention the outing -- without further damage.
"This game is one that I'll remember for a while," Burkett said.
The Sox struck back for a quick equalizer in the top of the second, as Nixon -- fresh off his game-winning grand slam Monday -- launched a two-out solo shot against Colon.
Burkett and Colon were both stingy through the next few innings.
But Kapler's third homer since joining the Sox -- and first since June 29 -- put the Sox in front to stay.
It was, of course, ironic, that the man who played Ramirez's position, made the difference in the game.
"Manny is one of our best players," Burkett said. "But we have confidence in every person on this roster. Kap, I love the way he plays. He's a hard-nosed guy. He's giving it his all out there. It was nice to see it paid off for him."
After his latest in a recent line of solid efforts, Burkett gave way to the bullpen for the final nine outs.
Lyon -- making his first appearance for the Sox since July 20 -- opened the seventh. He was greeted unceremoniously, as Joe Crede ripped his first pitch into the gap in left-center for a leadoff double. Miguel Olivo did his job, moving Crede to third with a grounder to second.
After Lyon hit Alomar to put runners at the corners with one out, Little called on Williamson to face Carlos Lee. That moved worked to perfection, as Williamson induced a 4-6-3 double play to get the Sox out of that jam.
Chalk it up as a team victory.
"It was satisfying," Kapler said. "Colon is one of the best pitchers in the league. Stuff-wise, he arguably is the best in the league. He pitched a great game and deserves a lot of credit for going nine strong innings. We seemed pretty focused tonight. What a tremendous job by Burky and the bullpen."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.