Tuesday's ninth started with Eric Gagne looking to just build momentum. He did exactly that by striking out the side, rendering a two-out double by Brendan Harris meaningless.
"He was pitching the ninth tonight, regardless," Francona said. "Save situation [or not], that was his inning. I thought he used his off-speed early, right through. He gave up a double, but I thought he pitched the way he needs to pitch. [I] saw the dugout, the way it reacted -- it was a big inning.
"Again, this is a veteran guy who has a lot of innings under his belt, but you can see why his teammates reacted to him getting that out."
Though he went to 3-0 on his first batter, Carlos Pena, Gagne regrouped to strike out the Devil Rays first baseman.
"It's good, it's awesome," Gagne said. "I'm not going to cuss today, so it's a good day. It just feels good to go out there and get people out. I gave up a double, but I made some great pitches, and I just have to keep building from that."
If nothing else, the Red Sox had gotten a good inning from Gagne. And on a night when Jon Lester returned to the Fenway mound for the first time in nearly a year, the good vibes were just beginning going into the bottom of the ninth with the Sox down, 1-0.
Manny Ramirez struck out, but Mike Lowell followed by working a 2-0 count on Rays closer Al Reyes. Lowell didn't watch another pitch go by. Instead, he drilled his 16th homer of the season over the Green Monster to send Fenway and his own dugout into delirium.
"Reyes is a guy who is successful on location," Lowell said. "I was just trying to get something out over the plate, and he missed in on the first pitch, missed away on the second, so I actually hit in good hitter's counts three at-bats today, and I hadn't done anything before that, so you really want to get something you can drive."
Following a strikeout of Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox were one out away from extra innings before Jason Varitek drilled a shot to right that he thought would end the game.
"To be honest, yeah, I thought it was out," Varitek said of the hit, which went for a ground-rule double.
But Coco Crisp worked the count full against Reyes before delivering the knockout punch with a clean single to right field. With third-base coach DeMarlo Hale frantically waving Varitek home, Delmon Young's throw flew up the first-base line, and the Red Sox had their biggest win so far of the second half.
"It was big, because when you get that good of a pitching performance, it's nice to come away with a win," Varitek said, referencing Lester's one-run, two-hit, seven-inning gem. "We've had to fight through a lot of different types of games, and we haven't that kind of win in a while, and that was big. Lowell's homer was beyond huge."
Lester, who got a tough no-decision, summed up the ninth inning and his own night.
"It's great," Lester said. "It has been a while since I have been a part of that. I think last year I got up here and in the first two games, we had walk-offs. It's fun."