The game-winning rally began in the eighth, with the Sox trailing, 5-2, two men out and nobody on. Jacoby Ellsbury started things innocently enough with a single to left. Jed Lowrie, who continues to impress whenever he plays, got the Red Sox within two on an RBI double to right.
Up next was Ortiz, to whom Rangers manager Ron Washington elected to pitch with first base open, even though Manny Ramirez was ejected in the second inning.
Ortiz drilled one to short right field, but the Rangers were in their shift. Second baseman Ian Kinsler fielded the ball and fired to first, but Ortiz rumbled down the line just in time to be safe.
"That was one of those ones, when the play is in front of you and Kinsler is back there," said Sox first baseman Sean Casey. "You run a little bit faster than you really are."
Meanwhile, Rangers first baseman Ben Broussard, miffed at the call by first-base umpire Gary Darling, completely lost his concentration after taking the throw, allowing Lowrie to score all the way from second to make it 5-4.
"I got caught up in the play," said Broussard. "I thought we had the out, and I was running off the field. Then I saw he was safe and I turned and said, 'What the...' Then I turned around, and the guy was sliding into home. A rookie play. Regardless of what happens, I have to be aware of the runner, and I didn't do it. No other excuses."
The mental mistake was one the Rangers never recovered from.
Francona then enlisted Dustin Pedroia, who had been enjoying his first day off of the season, to pinch-hit for Joe Thurston, and the right-handed hitter smoked the ball to perhaps the only part of Fenway Park that would allow Ortiz to even think about scoring from first. Pedroia's gapper just to the right of the triangle area had Ortiz again in full sprint mode, and he made it home without a throw to tie the game.
"I was trying to get a pitch out over the plate," said Pedroia. "I know C.J. Wilson throws real hard. I didn't want to try to pull him; he'd probably jam me. I ended up getting the pitch where I wanted to, and I hit it well."
And Ortiz just kept chugging.
"He's pretty impressive when he goes first to home," said Casey. "Once you get the big train rolling, you can't stop that locomotive sometimes. You've got to put the brakes on a while back. Once he gets going, he's all right."
Wilson, who hadn't allowed a run in his first eight appearances, completely imploded in this one. With the bases loaded, Casey walked on a 3-2 pitch to force in the go-ahead run.
"I was trying to get Wilson to give me something I could hit," said Casey. "He throws pretty hard. He was kind of nibbling on the corners and up a little bit. I was waiting for a pitch out over the plate. I got to 3-2, and he ended up throwing one high."
Tim Wakefield, who gave up two homers and five runs, wound up getting the win for the Sox. He went eight innings, throwing just 86 pitches.
"There was no reason to take him out, in my opinion," said Francona. "That's more strikes than I've ever seen him throw."
Jonathan Papelbon saved it in the ninth, giving the Sox a four-game winning streak. They will go for a sweep of this four-game series in Monday morning's 11:05 ET Patriots Day contest.
Wakefield's third pitch of the day was promptly deposited over the Green Monster by Kinsler. The Rangers got another run in the second on a fielder's-choice grounder by Gerald Laird.
Something else went against the Red Sox in the bottom of that second, when star slugger Ramirez was ejected for arguing a called third strike. With Coco Crisp still sidelined with a sore right leg, Thurston replaced Ramirez in left field.
While the Red Sox couldn't come through with the big hits when they needed to against Millwood, the Rangers got a big one from Milton Bradley in the sixth. The designated hitter launched a three-run homer to make it 5-0.
Finally, the Boston bats produced something of substance against Millwood in the bottom of the seventh. Lowrie, making the start in place of the resting Pedroia, led off with a double off the Monster. Ortiz singled Lowrie home. With two outs, J.D. Drew drove Ortiz home with a single to right to make it 5-2.
The Red Sox, as it turned out, did just enough to keep themselves in the game and get rewarded for it later.
"There's something to be said for just plugging away and not feeling sorry for yourself and trying to play the game," Francona said. "Some good things happened. Actually, some great things happened."
None bigger than the big man doing his tour de force around the bases.
"We play this game all nine innings," said Pedroia. "We play to win. I don't think anybody was quitting, that's for sure."
And to Pedroia, Ortiz's baserunning was a prime example.
"There's not a guy on this team that doesn't take every at-bat, every out personally," said Pedroia. "We want to win. All 25 guys, we're all pulling for each other and we all care about one thing, and that's winning."