Cora, Manny key comeback
Tavarez tosses solid 5 1/3 innings, keeps game close
TORONTO -- The heroes ranged from overdue (Manny Ramirez) to unsung (Alex Cora). Perennial All-Star Ramirez and steady utility player Cora combined for a somewhat unlikely 1-2 punch that delivered the Blue Jays a late-game knockdown.
For the Red Sox, it added up to a thoroughly satisfying 5-3 victory on Thursday that sent the visitors home on a positive note heading into a showdown with the Yankees at Fenway this weekend.
Any time you trail Roy Halladay by two runs entering the eighth, the story generally doesn't have a happy ending. But this was very much the exception to the rule.
"I think it was great," said Julio Lugo, who abruptly ended his first day off of the season by pinch-running in the ninth and scoring the go-ahead run on Cora's triple. "You see how tough we are. We fell behind and never gave up. We came back and won it. That says a lot about us."
By the time it was over, the storylines were all over the map.
Ramirez's first homer of the season was probably the biggest the Red Sox have had in the young season. Cora not only came up with the big hit, but he also withstood a jarring takeout slide from Lyle Overbay to turn a crucial double play in the eighth. Julian Tavarez put aside 11 days of rest to stay in the game against Halladay.
But the road back began with one loud crack of Ramirez's big bat. The star slugger couldn't have picked a better time to hit his first homer of 2007. With the Sox down by two runs and Coco Crisp on second with two outs in the top of the eighth, Ramirez leveled a 2-0 pitch from Jays reliever Shaun Marcum and put it over the wall in center. Just like that, it was a 3-3 game.
Ramirez's drought had taken on comical proportions in the clubhouse, with Tavarez instructing the left fielder to start hitting home runs in batting practice so muscle memory would take over in games.
Speaking of batting practice, that was what Marcum felt like he threw the second that ill-fated offering left his hand.
"The location was terrible," Marcum said. "I think my little sister probably could've hit it as far, if not farther. It was a changeup right down the middle, up in the zone, down the middle, pretty much on the tee."
The Red Sox didn't care what type of pitch it was. For once Ramirez's bat gets some life to it, he usually turns that into a tear.
"The hope is now -- you've all seen Manny take one swing and then get in a groove for a long time," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "That would be tremendous. That was an exciting win for us. It's one of those games where it's at the end of a trip, a short trip, but we're going home, and the game didn't get in the way of the rest of the day."
Crisp started the rally with a bunt single, his second of the game.
"He's trying to make something happen, and he did," Francona said. "It was great. You look up in the box score, he'll have a couple of hits and he'll feel good about himself. He played a big part in our win. When one of our guys lays down two bunt base hits in one game, we should probably win. That's probably going back a ways."
Indeed. The last Boston player to drop two bunts down for hits in one game was Darren Lewis on July 16, 1998.
With one out and David Ortiz looming, Jays manager John Gibbons made the difficult decision of lifting ace Halladay (95 pitches) in place of lefty Scott Downs. The removal of Halladay didn't hurt initially, as Downs struck out Ortiz on a 3-2 pitch.
But after one more move to the bullpen, Ramirez changed the complexion of the game with one swing, producing home run No. 471. It was the 26th time Ramirez has cleared the wall at Rogers Centre, his highest total in any road venue.
"Manny, he showed up today," quipped Cora. "Huge. Hopefully that puts a lot of stuff in people's mind. They'll think about walking David [Ortiz] when Manny's going to do that. It's a good team victory."
And so typical of Cora was it for him to be talking about everybody on the team but himself. But his play on both sides of the ball made the difference in the win.
The Jays almost reclaimed the lead in their half of the eighth. Vernon Wells greeted Mike Timlin with a double and moved to third on a grounder by Frank Thomas. But Timlin's strength is inducing double plays, and that's exactly what he did. It just turns out that this one rated about a 10 on the degree of difficulty scale.
Aaron Hill slapped one back to the box and as Timlin made the throw to second, his timing seemed a little off with Cora. However, Cora stayed balanced as he waited for the throw, stayed on the bag, withstood a big hit from Overbay and nailed Hill at first by the narrowest of margins.
"He wasn't as close to the bag as I thought he was," said Timlin, who got the win. "I let it go -- I kind of short-armed the ball a little bit. He picked me up. Alex is a tremendous player. Great glove. Knows the game, knows where to be. It just shows you what kind of mind Cora has out there."
Every now and then, Cora's bat even packs a little wallop. With the final score still to be settled, the left-handed hitter drilled Jason Frasor's pitch to the gap in left-center. Lugo never stopped running. Neither did Cora. By getting a triple instead of settling for a double, Cora was able to score an insurance run on Crisp's sac fly.
"Little things end up being big things on a day like today," Francona said. "Lugo, we give him the day off, it's one of those things where, 'Hey, you ready?' and he sprints out and runs 270 feet. That's impressive. He was going from the crack of the bat, and he scored. That's big."
In came Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth for his fourth save in as many opportunities. But not before a 10-pitch drama with Alex Rios, who represented the tying run. The talented outfielder flew to right, and finally the Red Sox were home free.
"Rios, we're still trying to figure him out," Francona said. "He's just turning into a superstar. Some of the pitches Pap threw to him, he shouldn't have been able to get to, and he was getting to everything. That's probably as close as I've come ... when [Greg] Zaun went to second, if they were ahead in the count, we probably would have walked him. That's how good I think he is."
But this was just one of those days where the Red Sox encountered a lot of obstacles and somehow avoided them. All that was left to do was clear customs and gear up for the Yankees.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.