The Red Sox scored six runs in the ninth off Baltimore relievers Danys Baez and Chris Ray. They had been held to three hits through 8 1/3 innings by Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie. It was the first time a Boston team had overcome a five-run deficit in the final inning since April 10, 1998, against Seattle.
"Just how you draw it up," manager Terry Francona said.
What began with all the elements of an idyllic Sunday afternoon had quickly turned quiet, then ominous, for the Red Sox fans. Starter Josh Beckett, seeking to start the season with his eighth straight win, left the game before he could technically earn one. The diagnosis, announced during the fifth inning: an avulsion on the right middle finger, leading to "irritation of the skin."
Beckett allowed two runs and struck out seven in four innings of work. It was not a blister, he said, referring to the problem that plagued him earlier in his career. Francona said it would be a couple of days before the team would decide on Beckett's next start.
"My skin just tore," Beckett said. "There is nothing there. It's not like I got a blister under my callus. It's just one of those deals where you have to wait and see."
Meanwhile, Guthrie did his best to stamp out the home team's spirit, if any remained. The right-hander allowed just three hits through 8 1/3 dominant innings against Boston's lefty-heavy lineup. He had thrown just 91 pitches when Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo pulled him after catcher Ramon Hernandez made an error on a one-out Coco Crisp popup in the ninth.
"I'm glad he got taken out," said first baseman Kevin Youkilis, "the way he [was] pitching."
For this bunch, which made comebacks a habit long before Sunday afternoon's thriller, no victory seemed too remote, no comeback beyond belief.
"Me and Tim Wakefield looked at each other on the bench in the ninth inning when they took Guthrie out," Beckett said. "We said, 'We're going to win this game.' We both believed it."
Designated hitter David Ortiz initiated the rally by driving a long double off the right side of the Green Monster. That moment made believers of both catcher Jason Varitek ("Woke up the crowd") and Youkilis ("We had a chance").
Outfielder Wily Mo Pena, who'd entered the game as a defensive replacement for Manny Ramirez in the previous inning, singled in the next at-bat. J.D. Drew and Youkilis walked, then Varitek drove them home with a double. Infielders Eric Hinske and Alex Cora both reached base -- on an intentional walk and a forceout at home.
Then, with two outs, Julio Lugo came to the plate. He grounded into the hole between first and second, finding no-man's land and crossing up the infield. All he had to do was beat the pitcher in a footrace. He slid. Ray, covering, dropped the ball, and the Red Sox won.
"You're always thinking in your backyard, you know," Lugo said. "Bases loaded, last inning ... hitting a grand slam.
"I just want to get a hit," he said. "When I make contact, I just want to beat it out."
After seven batters, two pitchers and a messy play at first, the Red Sox had found a way to win -- again. This time, Lugo played the hero. He turned away from first and scampered back toward a hopping pile of joyous teammates.
"I always liked Boston," said Lugo, who signed a free-agent deal in the offseason. "That's one of the things they're special for. They have a bunch of guys playing together. And that's how you win it. That's how you win championships, that's how you go to the postseason.
"You need 25 guys playing together. And that's what we have here."
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.