It's not often that in the 10th inning of any game at Fenway Park, the word "silence" can be used to describe the atmosphere. It was appropriate, though, on Saturday night, after Daisuke Matsuzaka blew a 4-1 lead in the sixth and the Fenway faithful were in full-on "waiting until something bad happens mode."
It'd be hard to blame the 37,614 in attendance — after the Red Sox lost by two touchdowns on Friday night and the Yankees had already won on Saturday afternoon, spirits weren't exactly high surrounding Boston's baseball team.
Yet thanks to a solid rebound from Matsuzaka (he retired the final seven batters he faced, four via strikeouts), three nearly perfect innings from the team's two best relievers and a 400-foot blast from an unlikely source, the crowd went home happy and the Red Sox live on to see another day.
And while not everyone in the crowd might have expected Jed Lowrie to come through with a towering blast to lead off the bottom of the 11th, it didn't surprise manager Terry Francona one bit.
"His first year up here [in 2008], I think he drove in 40 runs in a hurry," Francona said when asked if Lowrie's power came unexpectedly. "[He's got] gap power, but he can drive the ball out of the ballpark. So no, that's not a surprise. That's why we wanted him to be healthy, because he can be that type of hitter.
"He can do that," Francona added. "Just gotta keep him healthy."
For Lowrie, it was a bit more than just one swing on one night. Once deemed a can't-miss prospect, Lowrie's career has been beset by injuries and illness. Wrist injuries limited him to just 32 games in the majors last season, and a bout of mononucleosis in spring training kept him out of action this season until late July.
The significance of Saturday's homer wasn't lost on Lowrie, who had to fight to keep a smile off his face after the game.
"I don't think that I didn't take situations or results like this lightly before, but it feels a little better," Lowrie said.
Lowrie explained that he's feeling as good as he's felt in years, which he attributes to a secret recipe known as hard work.
"It's been such a long two years, I think I've lost perspective on what is 100 percent," he said. "So I'm just going to continue to do what I've been doing and know that that's going to take me to where I want to go."
There weren't many expecting Lowrie to be the hero when the game started — namely because he wasn't in the starting lineup. Francona said before the game that the team is being careful with him, as he had played two straight games. He had just missed four games in a row after dealing with heat stroke in Texas.
Yet in a major lineup shuffle in the eighth, with the winning run on second in pinch runner Ryan Kalish, Lowrie stepped in to bat for Daniel Nava, who himself had just been entered in the game as a pinch hitter for Yamaico Navarro. Lowrie walked, the Red Sox couldn't score, and Francona was left with a new look to his defense.
Darnell McDonald slid from center to left, Kalish took over in center, Bill Hall took over for Navarro at second and Lowrie went to first base for just the third time in his career.
It wasn't ideal, but it worked. For Francona, who's been managing a MASH unit all season, that was all that mattered.
"We have some guys that can move, so we tried to take advantage of it," Francona said. "Versatility — if that's what we need, that's what we'll do."
That didn't look so good, however, in the top of the 11th. With Jonathan Papelbon on the mound, the closer induced a towering popup off the bat of John Buck, but Lowrie booted the easy catch. Buck, who had doubled earlier and driven in a run on a sacrifice fly to center, was given a second chance. So, too, was Papelbon, who recorded the out in flashier form, getting Buck to chase a splitter in the dirt for the third strike.
That was just part of a pitching performance from the Red Sox that was good enough to win. Matsuzaka made it through eight innings, giving up four earned runs and striking out eight. His one mistake was a 1-0 pitch to Lyle Overbay, which was promptly deposited over the right-field fence to the game at 4-4.
Daniel Bard entered in the ninth and retired the side on eight pitches. He allowed an infield single to lead off the 10th, but the runner , Travis Snider, was eliminated one pitch later on a heads-up play by Marco Scutaro. One pitch later, Bard and the Sox were out of the inning, courtesy of a 5-4-3 double play.
Yet when a game ends with a ball sailing into the bullpen, it becomes the main attraction.
"That's a pretty good feeling," Lowrie said, adding that he wasn't sure if his hit had enough juice to make it over the fence. "I can't really say I had one thought. It was just relief and excitement and a lot of emotions in a short amount of time in one trip around the bases."
After such a crushing loss just 24 hours earlier, that's a bit of an understatement. With the Red Sox, every day seems like it could be the one that ends the season, and the 16-2 pounding they took on Friday night had the city and the ballpark on edge.
One swing changed that, and at least for another day, those standings out on the Green Monster remain significant.
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