Renteria lifts Sox into AL East tie
Shortstop delivers tie-breaking two-run single in ninth inning
BALTIMORE -- It was the most appetizing blooper the Red Sox have seen all year. And it came in the top of the ninth inning early Saturday evening at Camden Yards, helping to deliver the Red Sox a crucial 4-3 victory over the Orioles.
With the bases loaded and one out, Edgar Renteria fought off the first pitch he saw from hard-throwing Orioles closer B. J. Ryan and basically squirted it into short left field, driving home two runs to snap a 2-2 tie. And it delivered to the Red Sox the most important tie of all, the one that put them back in a dead heat with the Yankees for the top spot in the American League East.
With eight games left, the rivals are both 90-64.
The feeling in the Boston dugout could not have been more electric if Renteria had clubbed a 400-foot home run.
"It's a wonderful game," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. "He actually got [jammed] and found a way to get that ball where no one was standing. You know what, that was a big, big hit at that time. He could have come up and lined one at somebody. That's what makes this game special. You have to have some breaks go your way. We had some great at-bats before that."
The inning started with Trot Nixon, who drilled a one-out single to left. Then came Tony Graffanino, who sliced an opposite field single to right, putting runners at the corners. Johnny Damon worked Ryan for a walk, putting the game in Renteria's hands.
As Renteria's single fell in, Nixon waltzed in from third and energetic rookie Adam Stern, sent in as a pinch-runner, roared home behind him to give Boston what turned out to be a pivotal two-run cushion.
For Stern, who will fly to California on Sunday for surgery on his right labrum, it was a meaningful end to a frustrating rookie season.
"Last game, it was nice to at least to contribute a little bit," said Stern. "To go out on a note like that is pretty good, and now I have to go under the knife."
It was a tension-filled day for the Red Sox, who took the field knowing that the Yankees had already lost.
"It gave us a little life, knowing we could tie up the standings again," said Red Sox closer Mike Timlin. "We went out and played hard. The Orioles always play hard against us. It was a tough game."
But after taking an early 2-0 lead, the Red Sox couldn't put the Orioles away.
And, dramatically, the Birds made it a new game in the bottom of the seventh with one swing. It came from Melvin Mora, who belted a two-run homer off Red Sox phenom Craig Hansen, who was making his second Major League appearance.
For Hansen, who was drafted by the Red Sox in June, it was the first time he's been scored on as a professional.
"Just basically going inside, I just left it up and he got the best of me at that point," said Hansen.
But the other young gun of the Red Sox -- Jonathan Papelbon -- kept it a tie game in the eighth. He struck out Luis Matos and then flailed his right fist with excitement as Jason Varitek's peg to second base nailed pinch-runner Ed Rogers in a stolen-base attempt to end the inning.
"I knew that was a big, huge moment in the game," said Papelbon, who earned his second Major League win. "I knew that if we could just get a little bit of momentum into the direction of our dugout and get it in our hands, I knew that it could maybe swing the game."
And with a series of swings in the ninth, the Boston batters did just that.
Timlin walked the leadoff batter in the bottom of the inning and gave up an RBI double to Jay Gibbons, but settled down to get Javy Lopez on a flyout to right to end the game, giving a New England-infested crowd at Camden Yards reason to roar.
"If we would have won, I would have said it was nice to win a game on the road," Gibbons said. "That's truly how it is right now. Today was the worst I've ever seen it. You look up in the stands and it was hard to find an orange shirt."
The Red Sox appreciated the support, looking for every edge they can find at this time of year.
"It sounded like Sox Nation out there," said Millar. "It was a great atmosphere for us, a great W."
Matt Clement, despite struggling with his control, was in position to get the win. Clement didn't allow a run over six innings, scattering four hits and walking six.
"That was walking a tightrope," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "His stuff was really good. Thankfully, he has the ability to compete like hell. You're not going to see too many pitchers wiggle out of that."
Clement hardly seemed bothered by the fact that the bullpen blew a save for him for the fifth time this season. After all, the Red Sox have come back to win all five of those games.
And to do it against a pitcher of Ryan's caliber made it all the more gratifying.
"We had to," said Francona. "He's one of the best and we beat one of the best. Guys that haven't hit him before hit him. I think a lot of teams lose that game. We're not a lot of teams."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.