Walk this way, take two

Walk this way, take two

BOSTON -- Holding a three-run lead, Red Sox closer Keith Foulke found himself just one strike away from pinning down his ninth save of the season. Imagine the closer's frustration when that one strike never came, and Foulke gave up four runs in the span of maybe five minutes, putting his team in a 5-4 hole entering the bottom of the ninth.

The fuming Foulke rooted his teammates on from the dugout tunnel, perhaps because he was a little too perturbed with himself to socialize on the bench. It was there, watching on television, that Foulke got the ultimate pick-me-up.

Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek took a 1-1 fastball from A's closer Octavio Dotel and curled it around Pesky's Pole in right field. That one swing with one out in the bottom ninth was good for a two-run walk-off homer, sending the Red Sox to a wild 6-5 victory and setting off the second mob scene at Fenway Park in less than 24 hours.

"It makes it a lot easier," said Foulke. "The team won. You never want to have to go out there and battle in the bottom of the ninth to scratch out a victory, but the team won, so that's the important thing."

It was a walk-off sequel for the Sox, with eerily similar circumstances. Again, it was David Ortiz getting things started with a free pass from Dotel. And it was nearly the same ending, only Kevin Millar (who belted Tuesday's two-run game-ender over the Green Monster) just got under a Dotel slider and hit a routine fly to left.

That left it up to the captain, who sent everyone home happy. Instead of traveling more than 3,000 miles to Seattle on the heels of a demoralizing defeat, the red-hot Sox headed out on the wings of a sizzling stretch, which has seen them win 10 of their 12 games with Curt Schilling and David Wells both on the 15-day disabled list. Varitek's blast capped a three-game sweep of the A's and a 5-1 homestand.

But the Sox weren't thinking about the big picture when that bottom of the ninth inning started. Instead, their minds were focused squarely on trying to lift the spirits of Foulke, who was as clutch as any player during Boston's historic run to the World Series championship last October.

"Everybody got up and said, 'Hey, it's our time. He picks us up all the time, let's pick him up.' It doesn't mean you're trying to do more than you normally would," said Varitek, "but there was definitely the energy from our bench."

Don't look now, but the 21-13 Sox are starting to get their swagger back.

Back-to-back walk-offs
From SABR home run guru David Vincent
The Red Sox had won two consecutive games with walk-off home runs only once in franchise history: July 21-22, 1935. Wes Ferrell, a pitcher acting as a pinch-hitter, turned the trick in Boston's 7-6 win over Detroit on July 21 and its 2-1 victory over St. Louis on July 22. Ferrell was 25-14 with a 3.52 ERA in 41 games (38 starts) and hit .347 (52-for-150) that year.

The most recent team to accomplish the feat was the Tigers, who did it in three straight games from June 26-29, 2004.

Boston's set of walk-off homers in two straight games against the same pitcher (Octavio Dotel) was only the sixth in baseball history. The most recent: the Orioles, who hit walk-off homers against Oakland's Mike Fetters on July 22-23, 1998.

(courtesy Boston Red Sox)

"We really don't care how we win, just as long as we win," said Sox leadoff man Johnny Damon, who extended his hitting streak to 17 games. "We picked [Foulke] up. He's going to get his stuff right. And when he does, we're going to be pretty close to being unbeatable."

This looked like it was going to be a smooth and uneventful win for the Sox. Matt Clement was crisp and effective, going seven innings and allowing five hits and a run while walking just one. He was on the verge of running his record to 5-0 before everything fell apart for Foulke.

The Sox broke out to a 4-0 lead after three, scoring two against Oakland lefty Barry Zito in the second (Varitek RBI double, Bill Mueller RBI single off the Monster) and two more in the third, thanks to the 398th homer of Manny Ramirez's career.

"I felt pretty good, and I felt like I caught a second wind there in the sixth and seventh, which is important to me at this point of the season," said Clement.

Sox manager Terry Francona went to the bullpen in the eighth, and Mike Timlin and Mike Myers got through it without incident. Then it was on to Foulke, who was unscored on in his previous three outings after going through a lengthy funk.

He struck out Erubiel Durazo to start the inning, but a walk to Bobby Kielty was the first sign of trouble. Scott Hatteberg then hit a 4-6 fielder's choice, and Foulke needed just one more out. Marco Scutaro kept things going with a double to left-center, moving Hatteberg to third. Keith Ginter brought the A's within one by drilling a two-run single to left-center.

Still, Foulke got ahead of Eric Byrnes 0-2. Byrnes worked the count to 2-2, fouled off three straight pitches and then roped a two-run homer over the Green Monster, stunning the crowd of 35,375 and putting Oakland in front for the first time all afternoon.

Varitek comes through
Athletics at Red Sox, May 11
Jason Varitek's walk-off home run capped a three-hit performance and the Boston catcher is batting .343 (.320 with runners in scoring position) with seven homers, through May 11. A look at his plate appearances:
2nd1-2, 1 OutRBI Double
3rd2-2, 1 OutSingle
5th3-0, 1 OutWalk
7th2-2, 2 OutStrikeout
9th1-1, 1 OutTwo-run homer
Varitek increased his season RBI total to 15, through May 11. He now has 104 homers in his career.

"It was a horrible outing," said Foulke. "It doesn't matter what I did yesterday or the day before. It's all about today, and today was horrible. I made a bad pitch and it got hit."

Dotel knows the feeling. It has happened to him two days in a row during a trip to Fenway he'd love to forget.

It was the first time Varitek had ever faced Dotel, so he was thinking more about trying to gauge the right-hander's release point than trying to hook one around Pesky's Pole.

"He threw me a sinker away first pitch, a ball that cut in on me a little bit," said Varitek. "It broke my bat."

Then, Varitek dug down and broke Dotel's heart.

"I was trying to use the middle of the field. I didn't want to try to do too much. The pitch got in on me a little bit, and I'm thankful for Pesky's Pole being down there. If I had gotten fully extended, I think I would have pulled it foul."

Instead, he snuck it right in there, giving the Sox a memorable win.

"Today had a chance to be a real disheartening loss," said Francona. "We play the game out. David gets on again. Millar had another ball he hit, just got under it. 'Tek hits a home run. We come away with a win. What we did, we picked up a guy who has picked us up time and time again. And it ends up being a good team thing."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.