Walk-off plunking wins it for Red Sox

Walk-off plunking wins it for Red Sox

BOSTON -- It was the type of bizarre ending that could only happen between two teams fighting hard for coveted berths in the postseason.

There the A's were, a sea of green jerseys, five of them in the Fenway Park infield, desperately trying to prevent RBI man extraordinaire Manny Ramirez from driving in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning with the bases loaded and one out.

And there the Red Sox were, rushing out of the dugout to celebrate another walk-off win, but suddenly realizing they needed to remind Ramirez to touch first base for that 3-2 victory to become official. For more than a decade, Ramirez has been winning games with hits. This time, he won one by getting hit.

Keiichi Yabu's 1-1 offering struck Ramirez on the left elbow, undoubtedly sending shivers of pain through his arm. But pain never felt so sweet for the Red Sox, as they capped a bizarre final frame with the desired result.

"Any way possible. Manny was hurting a bit, but at least he helped win us the ballgame," said Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon. "I think everyone was kind of stunned and weren't quite sure what happened. So here I am, running like a goofball all happy, and Manny is wincing in pain. It's awesome."

The path to awesome was long and winding -- starting with a rain delay of one hour and 37 minutes -- but ultimately enabling the Red Sox to cling to their 1 1/2-game lead over the Yankees in the American League East.

This time of year, you do what you need to do. And that's why A's manager Ken Macha went to his desperation defense with Tony Graffanino -- who opened the winning rally with a double to right -- on third base with one out in the 10th. Keith Ginter came out of the dugout to replace left fielder Jay Payton and play right in front of second base. That left the A's with two lonely outfielders.

Reliever Juan Cruz, perhaps in a sign of what was to come, hit Edgar Renteria on the right arm. The A's then unsurprisingly elected to issue an intentional walk to Mr. Clutch, David Ortiz, who had already delivered a dramatic equalizer, crushing home run No. 43 to right field in the bottom of the sixth.

Ortiz was hoping he'd have a chance for an encore.

"I was expecting something else. But I guess they've been watching ESPN a lot," quipped Ortiz, who has belted game-winners with regularity of late. "I saw a lefty warming up, so I thought they'd bring him in, but they didn't. I'm so happy that Manny got hit."

It was the first time a game-ending run had been forced in by a hit batter in the Major Leagues since Aug. 23, 2002, when Paul LoDuca took one for the team in a Dodgers victory over the Braves.

"You are sitting there watching, waiting and expecting something," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I think it stunned us all. It's over. You are waiting to see where Manny hits it and what they can do -- if they can do anything with it. Then you're making sure he goes and touches first."

The game was a dogfight all the way. Yet again, veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield was huge for the Red Sox. He went nine innings and scattered seven hits, allowing two runs. It was the fourth consecutive start in which he's gone eight innings or more.

"He's been pretty incredible for the last couple of months," said Damon. "We just need to score him some runs. He's been awesome. Not just recently, but he's been around for a very long time. He's what Boston is all about."

So, too, is Ortiz, who has merely belted 12 home runs in his last 19 starts. This one was the only significant rip the Red Sox had all night against A's starter Joe Kennedy, who allowed six hits and one earned run over his six innings.

"Yeah, he's pretty amazing," Damon said of Ortiz.

As for Wakefield, he's simply on a well-timed roll.

"I felt better as the game went on," Wakefield said. "I told Terry after the ninth that I had enough in my tank to go back out there, and he said that I had thrown 112 pitches and [Mike] Timlin was ready to come into the game."

Timlin did his job, mowing down the A's in the top of the 10th.

Once the Red Sox got to the Ortiz-Ramirez portion of the order, the A's had a sinking feeling.

"Those are the last two guys in the world you want to face with a runner at third and one out in a tie game," said Payton. "Nine times out of 10, they're gonna get the run in."

Macha certainly did everything in his power to prevent it, all but placing a brick wall in front of home plate.

"They're trying to go down and in to get the ground ball. It's like a cat-and-mouse game," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. "These are playoff games. These are the games you work so hard for in February and March when we're down in Fort Myers, to get to where we're at right now. We control our own destiny. We've got to win baseball games and we'll see what happens."

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