Manny bails out Sox, Dice-K
Slugger crushes two homers; free passes haunt Matsuzaka
BOSTON -- What's the matter with Daisuke Matsuzaka? That question, as difficult as it is to answer, is more mysterious than haunting for the Red Sox at the moment.
Despite a third consecutive shaky outing by Matsuzaka, the Red Sox won for the rookie's third straight start, this time edging the Mariners, 8-7, on Thursday night. Matsuzaka took a no-decision, giving up seven runs over five innings.
The man who decided the game was Manny Ramirez, who had the breakout game he was due for, clubbing two homers, the latter of which snapped a 7-7 tie in the bottom of the eighth. Ramirez's game-winner -- a towering drive over the Boston bullpen in right-center -- was struck off Chris Reitsma.
So while the dissection of Matsuzaka will continue in earnest leading up to his next start in Toronto on Wednesday, the talk of what is ailing Ramirez's lethal bat will fade into the background, just like the pair of laser beams the star left fielder belted into the Fenway night on Thursday.
"I thought the timing was perfect," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I mean, the first one he hit didn't end up going out that far but to get it out tonight [with the wind blowing in] ... And then the ball he hit to right, the ball was absolutely leaned on. I mean, he hit that ball like a power left-handed hitter. I can see why he admired it."
With the game on the line in the ninth, the Sox did not go to closer Jonathan Papelbon, who threw 35 pitches two nights ago. Instead, after Brendan Donnelly (1 1/3 scoreless innings) opened the inning with a walk, J.C. Romero came on to convert his third career save, and first this season. In fact, Romero became the fourth pitcher to save a game for the Sox over the first 27 games of 2007.
"A lot of fun, a lot of fun," said Romero. "I've never been able to close in front of these fans over here. They're used to seeing Papelbon or lately [Hideki] Okajima, but all you can do is give them what they're looking for so they get to know you."
This one was big, when you consider that Papelbon, Okajima and Mike Timlin, the latter of whom was placed on the 15-day disabled list before the game, were all unavailable.
"We felt J.C. was a good match because of his changeup and his three-pitch mix," said Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "J.C. is good at getting the ball down and in to right-handers, which we felt we could attack with Richie [Sexson]."
After inducing a 3-6-3 double play off the bat of Raul Ibanez, Romero ended it by getting Sexson on a grounder to third.
If there was a setup man on this night, it was Ramirez, who bashed the 48th multi-homer game of his career.
Ramirez is now hitting .235 with five homers and 17 RBIs, though just about anyone who has watched him on a daily basis this season would make a case for those numbers not being indicative of the way he's swung the bat.
"Ironically you could say every ball he's hit this whole season has been hit hard," said Sox center fielder Coco Crisp. "A lot of times when he goes 0-fer or something he's hit two or three balls hard. Manny's been doing that a lot. It's about time he got his due with the ball dropping or going over the fence."
The Sox needed all of Ramirez's wallop in this one. Wily Mo Pena also provided some help, going 4-for-4 to give his batting average a 101-point spike to .273.
Matsuzaka couldn't have gotten off to a rougher start, putting his team down a five-spot before it took a single swing. He walked the first three batters of the game, leading to a 35-pitch inning. The Mariners sent 10 batters to the plate and managed five runs, despite producing just two hits.
What happened to Matsuzaka in that horrific frame?
"I wonder," said Matsuzaka. "I don't really know what happened myself."
Aside from the three walks, Matsuzaka also hit a batter and gave up a two-run double to Jose Guillen. There was also some sloppy defense at shortstop by Julio Lugo, who committed an error on Kenji Johjima's grounder to short and then couldn't hang on to a pop fly in shallow left by Yuniesky Betancourt. The latter play was ruled an RBI single.
"He didn't have a good feel on the baseball with any of his pitches," said Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "It was great we got five out of him to be honest with you. He was well off his mark. We need him to go out there and just be himself."
Thankfully for Matsuzaka, the Red Sox continued a recent theme of being generous with run support when he pitches. They immediately roared back in the bottom of the second against Mariners left-hander Horacio Ramirez. Varitek put the Sox on the board with an RBI single to center. A walk to Pena loaded the bases and the slumping Dustin Pedroia drew a walk to force in a run. Lugo promptly walloped a two-run double to right and just like that, the Sox were only down one. David Ortiz blooped in an RBI single to left and Matsuzaka took the mound for the third with a clean slate, the game tied at 5.
Ramirez untied it with one of his best swings of the season in the fourth, launching a two-run homer into the Monster Seats to make it 7-5.
"When you're down 5-0, that's a lot of ground to gain," Varitek said. "We were able to contribute throughout the lineup. Manny hits a big home run to put us ahead. Then they tie it and he hits another big home run to put us ahead. "
Just when it seemed Matsuzaka had settled down, he got into another jam in the fifth. Again, a walk -- this one to Ibanez with one out -- started his trouble. Sexson followed with a single to left and Guillen just sort of dunked a hit in to short center field, in between three Red Sox defenders, to cut the deficit back to a run. Betancourt then hit a soft grounder to Lugo, who was screened on the play, and threw to first too late. The infield hit made it a tie game again.
With a flight to Minneapolis looming for the wee hours of the night, Ramirez created his own type of flight pattern.
"It's huge for us," said Varitek. "They pitched the ball real well in the latter innings. For Manny to come up big right there is huge for us. We could have been out there for a long time."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.