Seemingly buried in a six-run hole after three innings on a night when Tim Wakefield was destined for a rare early exit, Boston nearly came all the way back against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday. The rally fell short and the Twins prevailed, 9-8, when Joe Nathan got Manny Ramirez, who was out of the starting lineup with a sore right hamstring, to ground out with two outs in the ninth in a classic matchup of power closer vs. power hitter.
But if it hadn't been for Nathan's outstanding reaction play on Coco Crisp's smash through the box with one out in the ninth, Boston might well have pulled off the improbable.
The Red Sox (24-16) were down, 9-6, when the ninth inning opened. Nathan, who came in having converted 19 consecutive save opportunities, surrendered back-to-back singles to Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell with one down. J.D. Drew hit a liner over center fielder Carlos Gomez's head for a run-scoring double and Nathan's streak was suddenly looking perilous.
It appeared to get even better for the Red Sox when Crisp hit a wicked bouncer that ricocheted off Nathan. But the big right-hander kept his composure, found the ball behind him and got a friendly bounce to grab it bare-handed off the turf for the flip to third.
Drew, who felt the ball would bounce farther away and understood the importance of getting to third with one out, took off. Nathan's off-balance throw to third cut down Drew and took steam out of the rally.
"When I saw the ball kick up in the air, I felt it was coming at me," Drew said. "I wouldn't say it was a bad read, just an unfortunate read."
With a runner at first and two outs, manager Terry Francona called on Ramirez to pinch-hit. A stolen base by Crisp put the Red Sox just a single away from a tie, but Ramirez bounced out to shortstop.
"Nathan made a great play," Francona said of the ball hit by Crisp. "We gave ourselves a chance in a game where it didn't look like a lot of teams would have a chance. We didn't get a win for it, but that's what you're supposed to do. We gave it a shot."
The big deficit came quickly as Wakefield surrendered a three-run homer to Craig Monroe and a two-run tater to Adam Everett in the second inning. Wakefield went only 2 2/3 innings, his shortest start since Sept. 28, 2003. It was only the third time in his last 243 starts that the knuckleballer has pitched less than three innings in a start.
"I thought his ball had movement, but it was up," Francona said. "When he gets his knuckleball up, they can leave the ballpark."
Wakefield agreed that movement wasn't a problem.
"I felt great and thought I had good stuff," Wakefield said. "It was one of those nights that you like to forget. I made a good pitch to Monroe. He just ran into it for the three-run homer. With Everett, I threw a fastball up and it cost me. It was just a matter of not making the right pitches at the right time."
There's something about the Red Sox and comebacks on Mother's Day. Last year on Mother's Day, they were without a run entering the ninth inning, but rallied from five down and scored six runs to beat the Orioles in walk-off fashion. This time, Boston got within 8-6 in the seventh when Crisp hit his second homer in two nights, a two-run shot over the baggy in right field.
After Monroe's second homer of the night made it a three-run cushion for Nathan, the Red Sox revved it up once more before Nathan saved himself and his team with the fielding play that cut down Drew at third.
"J.D., obviously, did the right thing there," Crisp said. "You've got to try and get to third with one out there as the tying run. Nathan just made a heck of a play."
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.