Boston's season was slipping away by the second Thursday night, but two men refused to let that happen. All-Star sluggers Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz pulled the Red Sox back by the sheer force of their prodigious talents and personalities, combining for two key home runs and the game-winning hit in Boston's 5-4 win over Toronto.
"We don't like to see him. We don't like to see the guy behind him either," said Toronto manager John Gibbons, responding to a question about Ortiz. "They have a lot of guys in that lineup we don't like to see. In crunch time -- especially against us this year -- if it's not the hit to score a run, it's the hit that put them in position to score the run.
"Money player. That's all he is. A money player."
The Red Sox trailed for most of the game and seemed to be on the verge of a dangerous precipice. Had they lost, they would've fallen two games behind the Yankees in the American League East with just three games to play. By extension, that would've meant that Boston (93-66) needed a sweep this weekend to win the division.
That was the exact lay of the land in the sixth inning, when Toronto held a 4-1 lead. Ortiz led off that inning and managed an infield single, passing the baton to Ramirez. The Jays (78-81) went to Jason Frasor at that point, and on the reliever's second pitch, Ramirez greeted him with a homer into Toronto's bullpen.
Even then, the road team held a one-run edge that didn't evaporate until the eighth. That's when Vinnie Chulk came into the game and allowed a homer to the first batter he faced. Ortiz did the honors, lifting the game-tying shot over the Green Monster. Ramirez followed with a walk and advanced as far as third base, but Chulk escaped with three straight outs.
"We weren't going to give them anything to pull, and they both put good swings on the ball and hit opposite-field home runs," said Gregg Zaun, Toronto's catcher. "Obviously, I know they have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark to all fields, [but] it's tougher to go the other way and hit a ball out.
"Ortiz has pulled quite a few home runs this year, and Manny wasn't having good passes at balls away all series. I just figured I'd stay out there, and they threw the ball pretty much where I wanted."
Fittingly, Ortiz came up in the next pressure spot, with runners on first and second in the ninth inning. The atmosphere was electric, with Toronto closer Miguel Batista on the mound and the crowd keeping up a steady chant of, "MVP, MVP." Ortiz singled through the left side of the infield, living up to the chant and ending the game.
The Fenway faithful didn't just file out to the streets, though. While Ortiz stood on the field and conducted an on-camera interview, the fans continued to serenade him.
Gibbons was asked if he considered using southpaw specialist Scott Schoeneweis against Ortiz, but he said the left-hander was too drained from Wednesday night.
"He's been used so much," Gibbons said. "It's a big game and we wanted to win, but we've got to think about him, too."
And besides, it might not have mattered. For his career, Ortiz is 5-for-13 against Schoeneweis with five singles.
|"Not one bit. Not the way we played. You play 162 games. They all hurt, but we'll go out of here holding our head high. I'll tell you that."|
|-- John Gibbons, when asked if Thursday's loss was demoralizing|
"It opens a realm of possibilities, but it doesn't ever prevent the fact that those guys are superstars. They're going to come up big in big moments like they always do."
Those moments may have decided the game, but they didn't erase a game effort from the road team. Eric Hinske and Frank Catalanotto had big offensive games for the Blue Jays, combining for all of their offense. Hinske doubled three times and provided Toronto's first run by stealing third and scampering home on a throwing error.
Catalanotto, who missed the cycle by a single Wednesday night, did the rest of the work. He doubled in one run in the third inning, and one inning later, he homered into the Boston bullpen to score two more. As the left fielder rounded the bases, one of the Sox's relievers -- perhaps influenced by the fans behind him -- threw the home-run ball back onto the field of play.
Toronto held that lead until Ramirez and Ortiz took over, but the assorted Jays refused to see this as a demoralizing loss.
"Not one bit. Not the way we played," said Gibbons. "You play 162 games. They all hurt, but we'll go out of here holding our head high. I'll tell you that."
"We had fun here. It was fun trying to play spoiler," said Hinske. "It was the first time we got to play in a playoff atmosphere, and hopefully, we can get in that situation sometime ourselves.
"Manny hits a big home run, David hits a big home run -- that's the way it goes."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.