The Red Sox waited seven innings to jump-start their offense on Wednesday, but a three-inning rally to end the contest helped Boston earn a 5-4 victory over Baltimore at Fenway Park, completing a sweep of its American League East rivals.
The win took on added importance later that evening, as the Yankees beat the Rays, 8-4, trimming Tampa Bay's AL East lead over Boston down to three games. The Red Sox also increased their AL Wild card lead to five games over the Twins, who lost to the Jays and fell into second place behind the AL Central-leading White Sox, who beat the Indians.
It was the 455th consecutive sellout at Fenway, tying the Cleveland Indians for the most consecutive sellouts. The Red Sox's streak began on May 15, 2003, matching the Indians' stretch between 1995 and 2001.
Much like this particular streak, the Sox's win on Wednesday took time to develop. But the ninth inning set the stage for a walk-off win that created an eruption of the 37,373 on hand.
"I think it's fairly obvious how we feel about this ballclub," manager Terry Francona said. "Today was another example."
Cora began the inning with a single off Orioles reliever Jim Miller, putting the game-winning run at first base. He advanced to second on a wacky bunt attempt by Coco Crisp -- the ball seemingly hit a pebble as it was about to go foul, remained fair, and Crisp wound up safe at first.
With two on and none out, Boston was in prime position to make a move. Jacoby Ellsbury stepped to the plate.
"We just keep battling," Ellsbury said. "As long as you keep battling, keep on grinding, it's going to work out."
Ellsbury was asked to do exactly what Crisp did the play before -- bunt and advance the runners. He plopped one down the third-base line, just short enough that Miller thought he had a play on Cora at third.
When Miller's attempt went wide of third baseman Aubrey Huff, Cora triumphantly marched home and handed the Birds their sixth straight defeat.
"I was just trying to get a big lead and run as fast as I can," Cora said. "I got a good jump. All of a sudden, I look up and the ball was in the corner. We put pressure on them and ended up with the 'W.'"
It was a fine ending to a game that had Cora's fingerprints all over it. He went 3-for-4 with the game-winning run, but also played exceptionally in the field.
Perhaps Cora's biggest contribution came with Boston trailing, 4-2, in the eighth inning. With Baltimore batting and Huff at second base with no outs, Oscar Salazar sent a ground ball toward Cora at short. He immediately fielded the ball and tossed it to Jed Lowrie at third, who tagged Huff out.
"You don't make that play unless you're already making it before the ball's in your glove," Francona said. "He was going to third and he almost got Lowrie out. You don't see that play all that often, but it's a game-saver."
Justin Masterson then forced Luke Scott to hit into a double play, ending the inning and sending the game into the bottom of the eighth.
"I just took a gamble," Cora said. "I thought if they scored one run, it'd be tough to come back."
He was right. That one run would have made the game a 5-2 contest. Without it, the door remained open for a Red Sox comeback.
And of course, just like virtually every other game this homestand, Dustin Pedroia was the catalyst.
Pedroia already homered in the seventh inning to cut the Orioles' lead to 4-1. In the eighth, with David Ortiz on first, Pedroia sent a double down the left-field line. It put the tying run on second, which Mark Kotsay brought home on a triple.
"It was a good win," said Pedroia, who went 3-for-4 and was just a triple shy of the cycle. "We didn't play too good in the first six innings."
The late-inning heroics took starter Daisuke Matsuzaka off the hook for the loss. Matsuzaka battled through six innings, hurling 112 pitches and leaving with a 4-0 deficit. He only allowed three earned runs but had three innings of 25 pitches or more.
"My pitching was one thing, but right now we need to win games," Matsuzaka said. "So to pull it off the way we did today, after falling behind, I can't ask for more than that."
Neither can the Red Sox, who were nearly delirious after Cora crossed the plate. The Sox gathered on the infield to celebrate, while some were oblivious to the situation.
"I forgot that [Cora] was the winning run," said Crisp, who began the play at first. "So I was running around the bases like an idiot trying to score."
Whether it's a 14-2 drubbing on Tuesday or a 5-4 nail-biter on Wednesday, the Red Sox are not making one victory out to be bigger than another.
"How many [wins] have we got -- 81 or 82?" Cora asked. "They're all amazing. To get the 'W,' it doesn't matter how we do it."
Mark Remme is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.