Manny won this game for us, but not necessarily in the way you'd think.
In the sixth inning, Chris Britton came on in relief for the Orioles and struck out Big Papi for openers. He and Manny had put up a tandem goose-egg so far in this game, and for his part, Manny had already grounded into one rally-killing double play. Homers by Wily Mo Pena (whose stock is going up in Boston by the minute) and Coco Crisp had brought the Sox within two in the fifth, but in the top of the sixth everything had once again gone pear-shaped, and with Manny at the plate against Britton, the score stood at 7 to 3, Baltimore. With the way this offense had been put-putting along, just this afternoon itself without even mentioning the last two series, it was not a clearly surmountable gap.
And then, Manny put in a textbook at-bat against Chris Britton, living up to all the "You can't throw the same pitch to Manny twice" hype and then some. The pitch-by-pitch replay of that at-bat according to the ESPN Red Sox Clubhouse is as follows:
Strike (swinging), Strike (foul), Ball, Ball, Foul, Foul, Foul, Foul, Ball, Foul, Ball, M Ramirez walked
And that last part is the kicker. It could have been a productive at-bat even if it had ended in a K, but earning himself a base after making Britton sweat through eleven pitches just twisted the knife for the final finishing touch.
Britton wasn't exactly toast after that--he responded by getting Kevin Youkilis, who followed, to fly out. But by the time Mike Lowell got to the plate, he had seen enough of Britton's repeated fastballs to know exactly what pitch to wait for. He singled.
Then, the Dominican Duo's third companero came to the plate and tripled to send in two runs. Manny still had yet to put up a tally that would continue his hit streak, but he had singlehandedly turned the game around--first by cracking Britton open in his at-bat, second by getting on base, and third by eventually scoring a run to bring the Sox back within two.
There was still work left to be done, of course--Doug Mirabelli went deep to officially tie the game an inning later, and Manny himself would extend his career-best hit streak to 27 games with the game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th--but as soon as Ball Four hit the catcher's glove in that sixth inning, a fire had been lit, and the man who did it was Manny Ramirez.
Let us also not overlook Manny's defensive gem in the ninth, either. Brian Fahey smacked a double off Jonathan Papelbon, setting teeth on edge all over the Olde Towne, with memories of That Tampa Bay Game still fresh in everyone's minds. But then, Fahey got a bit greedy, and tried to stretch his hit into a triple, and Manny gunned him down. With the bases empty and another out up on the board, Papelbon got Melvin Mora to ground out to second, ending the inning and the Orioles threat.
The last few nights, if ever I was tempted to aim my frustration at one player in particular, it was Manny. He seemed to be doing his best to ruin the team's chances--there were times in that Royals series it began to seem deliberate. But tonight he is back in my good graces. Someone needed to sack up today, and Manny did it.
Game time tomorrow is two bells. I'll be at the ballpark with my buddy Brian, with bells on.
P.S. Anyone who wants to argue that our vocal frustration doesn't actually affect the players should read this. Once again, Mike Timlin has my respect. And some of my healthy fear.
P.P.S. Let me also just reiterate how much it warms my heart to see Dave Wallace pop out of the dugout to try to calm an ailing pitcher on the mound. What a great victory for him after all he's been through.