Varitek sends Sox to Bronx on high note
Captain's pinch-hit homer leads Boston to sweep over Tribe
CLEVELAND -- A few hours before game time on Tuesday, the subject of Jason Varitek's playing time came up in manager Terry Francona's office. Francona was open about the fact that he sometimes wonders whether it's wise to use the catcher as a pinch-hitter in games that he doesn't start.
"Then it's not really a day off," reasoned Francona.
By the top of the ninth inning in a tie game, Varitek's bat was looking pretty appealing to Francona. The captain then came off the bench as a pinch-hitter for Kevin Cash and promptly put the Red Sox in front with a solo homer just over the wall in left-center against Indians reliever Jensen Lewis.
His hit was the biggest in a back-and-forth 5-3 victory over the Indians, giving the Red Sox a sweep in this two-game series and giving them some momentum en route to New York, where they will play two games against the Yankees. The Sox now have a four-game winning streak and are back in first place in the American League East.
As for Varitek, he warmed up for his big at-bat not by swinging his bat, but by warming up pitchers in the bullpen.
"I kind of like to catch so that I'm in the flow," said Varitek, who turned on a 1-1 sinker from Lewis. "If my body is loose to catch, my body is loose to do other things."
In this case, it was loose enough to club the game-winning homer. The Red Sox also won Monday's game with a ninth-inning homer, that one off the bat of Manny Ramirez.
Red-hot Kevin Youkilis (.385) provided an insurance run in the ninth with an RBI single.
On a night Francona didn't want to use closer Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima pinned down the save with a flawless bottom of the ninth that included two strikeouts. It was the first save of the season for Okajima.
Before the late-game drama, the big story of the night was Jed Lowrie. The highly touted infield prospect drove in three runs in his Major League debut, including a two-run single to put the Red Sox in front -- at least temporarily -- in the top of the seventh. That hit was the first of Lowrie's career.
Lowrie became the first Red Sox player to drive in three runs in his big league debut since the late Merl Combs belted a three-run homer on Sept. 12, 1947.
As Lowrie got to first base, he clapped his hands and then pumped his fist.
"I can't even describe it," said Lowrie. "It's one of those moments in your life you're always going to remember. Big relief more than anything else to get out there, get the first one and kind of let the rest happen from there."
Lowrie is on the roster because third baseman Mike Lowell is on the disabled list. And it was Lowell who, from the top step of the dugout, gave Lowrie a little advice just before the at-bat about facing Indians lefty Rafael Perez.
"Right before I went up there, Mike Lowell went out there and told me that the guy likes to throw sliders and cutters in," said Lowrie. "He threw me a fastball away and then everything else was a slider in, and I was able to put the barrel on it and get it through the hole."
But the Red Sox couldn't hang on to the lead in the bottom of the seventh, which meant no win for starting pitcher Tim Wakefield, who gave up seven hits and two runs over six innings.
The inning started with promise, as lefty Javy Lopez retired the first two batters. But Travis Hafner was hit by a pitch and Victor Martinez belted a single to left. On came Manny Delcarmen, who walked Jhonny Peralta and hit Ryan Garko to force home the tying run.
Early on, both teams struggled to score runs. Lowrie drove in the first run of the game with a fielder's choice grounder to short in the top of the fifth. However, the lead didn't last long either. Martinez ripped a two-run single up the middle in the bottom of the fifth to put the Indians in front at 2-1.
It was Lowrie who tied the game in the top of the seventh, hustling on a grounder to short to avoid the double play and driving in Jacoby Ellsbury from third.
"I tell you what, I thought he played the game," said Francona. "I don't think it looked like it was going too quick. I'm sure he had a heartbeat. He came up with a huge hit. He played the game. He was where he was supposed to be. He helped us win. That's why he's here."
Wakefield hung tough to at least put his team in position to win.
"It was one of those nights where I felt good early, and I lost a little bit of control late in the game and I had to work out of jams," said Wakefield. "Coming out of the game with six innings and two runs, I tried to keep us in there as long as possible."
As has long been the case, a start for Wakefield meant a day off for Varitek. Well, in this case, at least a partial day off.
Again after the game, Francona maintained how tough a debate it was for him to have Varitek catch even an inning on a day he's supposed to be resting.
"I worry about him, but in a game like that, that one swing obviously changed the game," Francona said. "I don't think people quite realize we can't have him catch 162. I do struggle with that, but it doesn't look like 'Tek is. I might be, he's not."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.