Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tough at-bats spark Red Sox rally

"If you're going to walk people," Baltimore manager Dave Trembley told reporters after Wednesday's game, "it's not the time to do it in the ninth inning."

That's true. But if you're going to draw walks, the ninth inning is precisely the time to do it. Red Sox hitters drew three walks in Wednesday's ninth inning, and all three proved critical as the Orioles got a taste of their own come-from-behind medicine.

"Good hitters get on base, grind out at-bats, and you have a lot better chance going forward and scoring runs and having innings like we did late in the game here," said outfielder Rocco Baldelli, whose pinch-hit single tied the game with two outs in the ninth inning. "At no point have I ever seen us in a game where we've just folded up and gone home. We've won some good games. I don't know if any of them were more spectacular in the late innings than this one.

"It's something you don't necessarily expect to happen, but we expect ourselves to try to make it happen."

It started with Dustin Pedroia, the scrappy second baseman whose 10-pitch at-bat against CC Sabathia turned the tide in a come-from-behind win against the Yankees three weeks ago. Pedroia drew a five-pitch walk from reliever Jim Johnson to get himself on base in front of Kevin Youkilis -- and Youkilis hit a fastball into the right-field bleachers to cut the deficit to two runs.

Orioles closer George Sherrill, summoned in a hurry, then fanned Jason Bay and David Ortiz before surrendering a soft single to center field to Jacoby Ellsbury.

First baseman Jeff Bailey reached base in four of his five plate appearances on Tuesday, and he came to the plate for the first time on Wednesday representing both the tying run and the potential third out. It was his chance to be a hero or a goat. He didn't take the bat off his shoulder. Sherrill threw a curveball for a strike on the first pitch but missed the strike zone with each of his next four pitches. He didn't miss by all that much -- Bailey looked back twice at the home-plate umpire on his way to first base -- but he missed just the same.

"I thought Bailey's at-bat was as tough an at-bat, considering the circumstances," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "You have a righty that's running it in on his hands. He knows he's got to move the runner, and he found a way to do it."

Catcher Jason Varitek then saw a 3-0 count turn into a 3-2 count and almost took a hack at a hellacious curveball that looked good for a while only to dive down toward his ankles. He checked his swing. Ball four. Bases loaded.

"(Sherrill) made a bastard pitch on 'Tek," Francona said.

Baldelli then came to the plate, pinch-hitting for Nick Green. He took two curveballs -- one a strike, one a ball -- and then went after a fastball up and in that he somehow punched into center field for a two-run single that tied the game.

"It wasn't like he hit a pea," Francona said, "but he fought it off and stayed in the middle of the field. It looked beautiful."

The Red Sox mustered nothing against the Baltimore bullpen on Tuesday and nothing against rookie starter Brad Bergesen through eight innings on Wednesday. In the ninth inning, though, the plate approach that has so permeated the Red Sox clubhouse paid off in a huge way.

"This is not a team that's going to roll over," said shortstop Julio Lugo, who chopped the go-ahead single through a drawn-in infield in the 11th inning. "We'll never roll over. They've got to get 27 outs, and we proved that. We've got a group, guys that work hard, and you've got to get 27 outs on this team."

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