"We feed off our fans all the time, whether it's coming in late from a road trip, or in the middle of a long homestand," said Red Sox right fielder Trot Nixon. "We always feed off our fans. I think they know that. They're a very important part of the way we play. Obviously, we have to go out on the field and get the job done, but they're always a huge part of us winning ballgames."
So with the Yankees hovering closely, there was perhaps no better time for the Red Sox to open a season-long, 14-game homestand in which there will be no days off.
The Red Sox rode all of the adrenaline provided by the crowd of 35,056 and squeaked out a fairly ugly win.
"It was certainly a long day," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who was ejected for arguing a call in the fourth inning. "But a win is a win, and that's good. That's what we set out to do. It wasn't easy, but it ended up good."
On a night in which grinding it out was a way of life, it was only fitting that it was veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield picking up the win, his staff-leading 13th of the season.
In his last start, Wakefield was drilled on the right shin and suffered a deep contusion. The sixth batter he faced on Friday, Detroit's Dmitri Young, ripped a single off Wakefield's right knee. Francona and trainer Jim Rowe came out to take a look, but Wakefield assured them he was fine, which certainly came as no shock to anybody wearing a Boston uniform.
"The way I look at it, when Wake got hit, he probably could have broke his shin and he still would have stayed in the game," said Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin, who pinned down the save in the ninth. "He wanted to be in there and he wanted to win. It shows a lot what he's made of."
The turning point in this roller-coast game came in the bottom of the sixth, when Boston scored four runs to snap a 5-5 tie. Those runs wound up being huge, considering the way the Tigers rallied against the Boston bullpen, scoring two in the seventh against Jeremi Gonzalez and one in the eighth off Chad Bradford.
The run that put the Sox ahead for good scored on, of all things, a strikeout by Johnny Damon that turned into a wild pitch, allowing Bill Mueller to score from third. Tony Graffanino followed with an RBI single. And Manny Ramirez stretched the lead to 9-5 by raking a two-run double into the corner in left.
"It was a back-and-forth battle," said Timlin, who picked up career save No. 120. "They have a great team. They're hitting the ball well. We just hit the ball a little bit better."
The Tigers did plenty of damage of their own in the fourth, rallying for four runs to take a 5-3 lead. Brandon Inge started the damage with a two-run homer to left. Two batters later, Curtis Granderson struck a controversial two-run homer down the line in right that was first ruled foul by first base umpire Jim Wolf. The umpires then huddled, and crew chief Randy Marsh called it a home run, which irked Francona to the point that he was ejected for the fifth time this season. Television replays were inconclusive.
"You know, what bothered me is that I just got a memo from the league stating that when they meet, it has to be conclusive [to get overturned]," Francona said. "When an umpire in the middle of the field overrules it, that word conslucisve, that's a difficult call for me to swallow right there."
Wakefield and the Red Sox didn't let that turn of events deject them.
"You just try to focus on the next hitter and try to get an out," said Wakefield. "That fourth inning was horrible for me. I fell behind. I walked the leadoff guy. Our offense did a tremendous job today of picking me up."
The Red Sox bounced right back to tie it in the bottom of the fifth, getting an RBI double to right from David Ortiz and a fielder's choice RBI from Nixon.
By the end of the long and draining night, "Dirty Water" was booming over the sound system, meaning that the Red Sox at least had a win to show for their exhaustion.
"We just have to maintain, stay healthy, get the rest that we need and just come out and feed off our fans," said Nixon. "I think that's the best part about having so many games in a row -- we're here at home. It's definitely a situation where we can feed off our fans. They can energize us with the best of them."