BOSTON — The Rangers were asked to pick their poison.
Jonny Gomes doubled to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning with the score tied 3-3 on Thursday. At that point, Texas manager Ron Washington had to decide whether to let left-hander Michael Kirkman pitch to the right-handed-hitting Dustin Pedroia or walk Pedroia to face the always dangerous David Ortiz in a lefty-lefty matchup. Washington opted for the latter route, and the result was an exciting — yet somewhat predictable — walk-off victory for the Red Sox.
“Not at all. Nope,” Ortiz said when asked if he expected the Rangers to intentionally walk Pedroia in the ninth. “You don’t wake up the monster like that.”
Well, the Rangers apparently didn’t get the memo. Kirkman intentionally walked Pedroia with first base open, and Ortiz jumped all over the first pitch he saw — a sinker down and on the inside corner. The slugger sent the pitch sailing into the Rangers’ bullpen, putting an exclamation point on a hard-fought victory.
“I don’t know if guys take it as an additional challenge,” Red Sox skipper John Farrell said of Ortiz stepping up after the free pass to Pedroia. “I do know David’s come up in those situations many times over the course of his career, today being as far as we’re concerned this season one of the more exciting ones this year. But this was a hard-fought series — a very good series to win.”
The Red Sox took two of three from the Rangers, who are right up alongside Boston in the American League standings. It’s still early, but winning a series like that is important, especially considering the Rangers swept the Red Sox in Arlington the last time the two clubs met.
The series wasn’t nearly as lopsided this time around. The Red Sox scored 17 runs on 19 hits in the series opener, but they were then held in check Wednesday en route to a 3-2 loss. The Sox nearly let the rubber match slip away, too, as missed opportunities became the theme of the night. But when the Red Sox needed to come through, they showed the fight that’s been a hallmark of their game all year.
The Red Sox, who trailed 3-0 after Adrian Beltre drilled a home run into the Monster seats in the third inning, cut into the lead when Pedroia smacked a two-run double off the center field wall in the home half of that frame. Boston then tied the game in the seventh inning when Mike Napoli beat out Elvis Andrus’ throw to first base to avoid a potential inning-ending double play.
The Red Sox never really garnered much momentum throughout the game, but once Andrew Bailey stranded a runner at second base and kept the Rangers off the scoreboard in the top of the ninth, the stars seemed to be aligning for a Boston victory.
“Where we were in the order, it’s certainly good to see him at the plate in that situation. Two nights ago, our left-handers took some good swings against Kirkman, and [that] was the case again tonight,” Farrell said. “Jonny Gomes with a big night in his own right to set the stage for the ninth, but with David in those key moments late in the game, he’s produced so many times over. After a couple of opportunities that were missed earlier on by he and Nap, it was good to finally cash in.”
Gomes had four hits in the victory, as did Jacoby Ellsbury, who played in his first game since May 30. Jose Iglesias also reached base four times via three walks and a single.
The play everyone will remember most, however, is Ortiz’s three-run blast. It was his 11th career walk-off home run, and his 10th as a member of the Red Sox. It was also his first since Aug. 26, 2009.
“They don’t like to mess with Papi late in the game. They stopped doing that,” Ortiz suggested when asked about the lengthy gap between walk-off dingers. “I think this might be the first time I got a pitch late in the game in that kind of situation. Pretty much most of the time it’s either a walk or something else, so I just keep my patience.”
This time, the walk preceded Ortiz’s late-game at-bat, and the eight-time All-Star did get a pitch to hit. Next time, the Rangers might opt for a different strategy — although they were pretty much doomed by that point, anyway.