Third comeback the charm for Red Sox
Gonzalez helps Boston take win streak to seven
BOSTON -- They were a strike away from defeat, and had already seen two comebacks go for naught. They were also decidedly short-handed, missing two star hitters -- Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez -- and also ace closer Jonathan Papelbon.
But by the end of a zany Wednesday night at Fenway, the Red Sox didn't let any of that prevent them from one of their wildest and unlikeliest wins of the season.
The 9-8 triumph ended when Alex Gonzalez dropped a flare in front of Angels left fielder Juan Rivera for a walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
"When I hit it, Juan was way back," said Gonzalez. "I didn't hit it hard, but I hit it in the perfect spot."
The Red Sox swarmed Gonzalez between first and second base. Brought back into the fold last month for his defense, Gonzalez has given Boston several big hits.
"I think he feels good about himself," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "You can see him having fun playing. He doesn't show a ton of emotion, but you can tell he's really enjoying himself, and I think the more you succeed in those situations, the confidence level certainly does rise."
The bloop that fell in was just one of several indicators of how right things are going for the Red Sox, who have won seven in a row to stretch their American League Wild Card lead over the Rangers to 6 1/2 games. The Red Sox trail the Yankees by that same amount in the AL East, but are just five back in the loss column.
Gonzalez was set up by the team's other two shortstops, as Francona unloaded his bench. First, Jed Lowrie, who has had recurring left wrist woes all season and hadn't taken an at-bat for the Red Sox since Aug. 6, was called on to pinch-hit for Dusty Brown.
Lowrie stepped up in a big-way, lining an infield single down the third-base line that loaded the bases.
"I realize the situation and I know what's going on," said Lowrie. "It's hard not to recognize that when everyone at Fenway's on their feet. You'd be a robot if you didn't recognize that. But once you go into the box, it's about getting the job done."
Then it was up to Nick Green to keep hope alive. Green was a key cog earlier in the season but has been used sparingly since the Red Sox re-acquired Gonzalez from the Reds on Aug. 14. Green fell behind, 0-2, and nearly struck out, barely checking his swing for what was ruled ball one. The Angels thought he went around, and started screaming from their dugout. Did Green hold up?
"I have no idea. I almost fell down," said Green. "I couldn't hear anything [from the Angels' dugout]. I don't know what they were saying. I was worried about myself, so I'm sure they were not very happy."
The Halos were even more furious when Green drew a game-tying walk on the definition of a borderline pitch from closer Brian Fuentes. Perhaps it was just low.
"What was the count -- 3 and 4, to Green?" Angels manager Mike Scioscia asked a media crowd gathered around his desk in the visitors' clubhouse.
Playing against Los Angeles, the team they will likely meet in the Division Series for the fourth time in the past six years, Boston gave their cross-coast rivals something to think about.
The Red Sox trailed, 3-0, going into the bottom of the sixth, 7-5 heading into the bottom of the eighth, and 8-7 with one strike left in the game.
"I guess sometimes when you win games like this, you get people thinking," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who started the winning rally by drawing a walk off Fuentes with two outs and nobody on in the ninth.
Youkilis had a bad back, Martinez was in Cleveland dealing with a family situation, putting the game in the hands of some of the less-heralded players.
"I can't believe what a great game that was," said right-hander Paul Byrd, who started for Boston, giving up nine hits and three runs over 5 1/3 innings. "It wasn't just the superstars who came through. You had guys like Nick Green coming up to the plate cold, and Jed Lowrie getting the job done. Alex Gonzalez again gets another big hit for us. It was just a total team effort. It was awesome to watch. That's a great team over there."
That 3-0 deficit disappeared when the Red Sox rallied back with a five-spot in the bottom of the sixth to take the lead. Jason Bay sliced the deficit to one with a two-run single up the middle. Los Angeles had a golden opportunity to turn a double play when the slow-footed Mike Lowell hit a grounder to second. Instead, it turned into an unfortunate situation for the Angels when shortstop Erick Aybar dropped the throw from Howard Kendrick, meaning everybody was safe.
Rocco Baldelli delivered a game-tying single to right. With two outs, Gonzalez looped in a liner to right that was good for a two-run single, giving the Sox their first lead of the night at 5-3.
"We come back, they come back, it's two good teams," said Francona. "A lot of things happened tonight. Playing at home in these types of games helps."
Momentum again took a wild shift, this time to the detriment of the Red Sox. Ramon Ramirez's slider had such wicked movement that not only did Kendry Morales swing and miss at it for strike three of what looked to be the third out of the seventh, but Jason Varitek got handcuffed. Morales reached on a what was ruled a passed ball.
Disaster ensued, as the Angels rallied for four runs in an inning that once appeared to be over.
"It was a slider that kind of broke the other direction," said Varitek. "It just hit off the end of my glove."
As it turns out, it was just another temporary setback.
With runners at the corners and one out in the bottom of the eighth, Casey Kotchman worked a nine-pitch at-bat against Darren Oliver that ended in an RBI fielder's-choice grounder. Gonzalez then drew a walk -- his first in 96 at-bats since rejoining Boston. That set the stage for Jacoby Ellsbury, who ripped an RBI single to right to tie the game.
Papelbon (tightness in his back) was not an option in the ninth, and the Angels took the lead against rookie reliever Daniel Bard, who had retired the first two batters of the inning. But Chone Figgins and Aybar delivered clutch singles for the Angels. In a big spot, Bobby Abreu came through, belting an RBI single to left that snapped a 7-7 tie.
Bard was in line for the loss, but instead rode the heroics of his teammates to the win.
"They say 'team win,'" said Bay. "I think that was every bit of a team win. We got everybody in there. Unbelievable game. We haven't had a game like that in a while. Very good game -- playoff-type atmosphere. There were so many things that made it more than just a Sept. 16 ballgame. I think it kind of showed with the celebration. It was just a back-and-forth game. Every win now is crucial, but that one felt pretty good."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.