Manny's blast leads late Sox comeback
Slugger breaks Fenway dry spell in four-run eighth inning
BOSTON -- Manny Ramirez's power had turned nearly invisible in recent weeks. But when the outage ended on Tuesday night, the timing could not have been better.
The star slugger clocked a game-tying two-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, fueling the Red Sox to a 6-5 victory over the Twins.
Just when everyone was starting to wonder when Ramirez was going to start being himself again at the plate, the right-handed masher won Monday's 1-0 game with an RBI single in the eighth and then smoked that dramatic equalizer in Tuesday's equally tight contest.
"It was nice to see him hit the ball out of the ballpark," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "[Monday night], it was what we needed; the infield was in, and he lined it to right. But sometimes, you need a home run."
And without question, this was that occasion.
The Red Sox started that eighth inning down by a score of 5-2. The table-setters set the stage for Ramirez. Jacoby Ellsbury lined a double to left against Dennys Reyes. On came right-hander Matt Guerrier, who was hoping to avoid the precise bloop and a blast that doomed him.
The ridiculously hot Dustin Pedroia (34 hits in his last 70 at-bats) came through with a bloop single to center that moved Ellsbury to third. J.D. Drew hit a grounder to first, bringing home Ellsbury to make it 5-3.
Then, the blast from Ramirez, which came on Guerrier's first pitch -- a 95-mph heater -- and soared over the wall in left-center.
"I was trying to go away," said Guerrier. "I think sometimes, when you get in big situations, you overthrow a little bit, and the ball may do something different than you want it to. The ball kind of ran back in and up. It's the one place you don't want to go."
A gleeful Ramirez shouted as he rounded first. It was Ramirez's second homer in 24 games, and first at Fenway since June 10.
"It was huge for us," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis. "Getting a pitch inside and hitting a fastball out, that was a big hit for us."
But after Mike Lowell struck out, Youkilis came up with a big hit of his own, a double to left-center. Youkilis moved to third on a wild pitch.
Rookie Brandon Moss smashed an RBI single to center, and the Red Sox had the lead.
"It always feels good, especially in a park like this," said Moss. "Fenway Park, in front of the home crowd, there aren't many better feelings."
Considering all that went into reclaiming the lead, closer Jonathan Papelbon had no interest in relinquishing it when he came out for last call in the top of the ninth.
However, his night didn't start particularly well as Nick Punto worked a 12-pitch at-bat which ended on a double to center that would have only been a single if not for Coco Crisp trying to make a heroic, diving catch.
"I have in my mind exactly what I'm going to do in case of that situation," said Crisp. "I got a great jump on it and I went for it, it's not like I hesitated or anything. I thought I had it. I ended up missing it."
Denard Span did his job, getting Punto to third on a sacrifice bunt. Suddenly, the Twins were within a sacrifice fly or base hit of tying the game, and still just one out.
Papelbon didn't buckle. Instead, he fired a 97-mph heater by pinch-hitter Jason Kubel for the crucial second out. And he completed career save No. 99 -- and his 27th this season -- on Alexi Casilla's grounder to second.
"He's able to keep his composure through all of that," said Crisp. "He's one of the best closers in the game -- arguably the best. You have all the confidence in the world when you have a guy like that on the mound."
The win went to David Aardsma, who recorded two outs in the eighth. Boston sliced Tampa Bay's lead to three games in the American League East.
Jon Lester, arguably the most consistent pitcher on the staff in the first half, didn't have great luck in this one. Despite throwing the ball well, the lefty gave up nine hits and five runs over 7 1/3 innings, walking three and striking out six. His next start will come after the All-Star break.
"I feel great," said Lester. "I've been real happy with the way I've bounced back from each start from time to time. The All-Star break definitely comes at a good time, but at the same time, I've been feeling pretty good."
Meanwhile, Nick Blackburn turned in a strong performance for the Twins, holding the Sox to six hits and two runs over 6 2/3 innings.
Although the Red Sox struggled with the bats for much of the night, they were able to get an early run across. Ellsbury led off the bottom of the first with a single to right and scored on Drew's double high off the wall in left.
After mowing down the Twins in the first three innings, Lester ran into some problems in the fourth. With two on and two out, Brendan Harris drilled a two-run triple to right.
"I thought I threw the ball really well," Lester said. "Harris did a great job hitting. He stuck the bat out there, he hit a ball down the line. You have to tip your hat to him."
Punto made it 3-1 with an RBI single up the middle.
Lester didn't give up another run until the seventh, when Span smacked an RBI single to left.
The Red Sox were positively stymied by Blackburn until the bottom of the seventh, when Youkilis skied a one-out triple off the Green Monster. Moss chipped in with a sacrifice fly to left, slicing the deficit to 4-2. Delmon Young made it a three-run cushion in the eighth with an RBI single against Aardsma.
But the lead wasn't quite big enough on a night the Red Sox recorded their 22nd comeback win of the year.
"That's what they do," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "They get it rolling here. It's hard to stop at this ballpark. We've been here before. We've seen it. We couldn't stop it tonight."
That's because, for the second night in a row, they couldn't stop Ramirez when the game was on the line.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.