08/25/09 12:50 AM ET
Error helps Sox extend Wild Card lead
Boston bats clicking as bullpen hangs on to top White Sox
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Over their past seven games, the Red Sox have averaged 9.2 runs, a string of games that has included four double-digit performances.
On a night a shaky Clay Buchholz -- even with a 9-4 lead -- couldn't go the five innings necessary to earn the win, the latest batting barrage came at the perfect time.
"I think everyone has kind of been waiting for this," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "It's not to say it's going to happen every game, but it's kind of like we've been searching for the offensive identity all year. We didn't have the games like that we envisioned early on. A lot of guys have been firing. I guess it couldn't have happened at a better time."
Yes, it is that time of year -- with 38 games to go -- when each contest becomes critical.
The Red Sox increased their American League Wild Card lead over the idle Rangers to 1 1/2 games and now trail the Yankees by seven games in the AL East.
White Sox starter Jose Contreras held a 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the third. But he then had a sudden implosion, complete with wildness, a fielding malfunction and an ill-timed mistake pitch that Mike Lowell mauled over the Green Monster and on to Lansdowne Street for a three-run homer that snapped a 4-4 tie and gave the Red Sox the lead for good.
"I just feel very comfortable at the plate," said Lowell, who is hitting .344 with two homers and six RBIs in his past eight games. "I think when you're driving the ball and driving in runs, I think anyone would feel good."
It was hard for the White Sox to fathom that the game-changing inning even extended to Lowell.
There was no reason to think Contreras couldn't escape the third without minimal damage. Though Alex Gonzalez led the inning off with a single, Contreras got the next two batters. But bad things piled up from there.
Victor Martinez drew a walk and Kevin Youkilis was hit by a pitch to load the bases. The pivotal play of the inning developed next, as David Ortiz -- given the green light on a 3-0 pitch -- hit a roller down the first-base line. Instead of deferring to first baseman Paul Konerko, Contreras not only got in the way, but he bobbled the ball and a run scored.
"I was running. I don't really know what happened. Did he miss it?" Ortiz wondered. "After that, we started to rally."
A wild pitch from Contreras brought another run home, making it a tie game.
Lowell then worked the count to 3-2 and got the 94-mph heat he was looking for. He knew what to do with it, as he belted his 16th homer of the season.
"I think I've seen it all in baseball," said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. "I thought I'd never see it all, but I did. Hit by pitch, walk, wild pitch, an error and a home run in two-thirds of an inning. That's a record. It had to be a record. I know it was a tough outing for him. The home run came three hours later, after we should have been out of the inning."
Thanks to a sacrifice fly by Dustin Pedroia and an RBI single by Youkilis in the fourth, Buchholz had a five-run lead when he came out for the fifth.
But he couldn't convert the three outs necessary to qualify for the win. With two on and two outs, Konerko pummeled a three-run homer to left, and it was a 9-7 game. That was all for Buchholz.
It was the second time this season that Buchholz was in position to win, but couldn't get the 15 outs required to seal it. He held a 6-0 lead in Baltimore on Aug. 2 and took a no-decision.
"It's tough to swallow whenever the team gives you a six- or seven-run lead and you can't get through five innings with it," said Buchholz. "[I threw] too many pitches. They fouled off a lot of pitches when I was already deep in the count, and they battled up there and got some timely hits."
Fortunately for the Red Sox, the offense had things going from top to bottom. Leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury scored twice, doubled and tripled. Pedroia belted three hits, including a pair of doubles. No. 8 hitter J.D. Drew crushed a home run. And No. 9 hitter Gonzalez had three hits and scored three times.
"When Gonzalez is hitting the ball like that, it changes everything," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "We spread it around. We had some good at-bats."
And after Buchholz's exit, the bullpen got the job done. Ramon Ramirez got five big outs to win his seventh game. Hideki Okajima (one out), Daniel Bard (1 1/3 innings, two hits, one run) and Jonathan Papelbon (scoreless ninth) took it from there.
"We didn't lose the game," said Guillen. "We gave it away."
The Red Sox don't care how they get wins at this stage. They will cherish each one the rest of the way.
"We can win games 12-10, and we can win games 2-1," said Bay.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.