HOUSTON -- Right before “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” began playing in the middle of the seventh inning on Wednesday night, a different tune rang out over the Minute Maid Park speakers.
It was Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” and it was playing because another Boston Red Sox hitter had struck out to end an inning.
To that point, the Red Sox had ended six of seven innings with runners in scoring position.
Missed opportunity stacked upon missed opportunity as the Houston Astros -- the same Astros who have the worst record in baseball -- appeared to be headed for a shocking upending of the Red Sox in the rubber game of the series.
Stephen Drew had other things in mind.
Just two outs shy of a 5-4 loss, Drew crushed an 0-1 curveball deep to right for a go-ahead three-run homer, giving the previously choking Red Sox a wild 7-5 win in Clutch City.
“This team has done it all year,” Drew said. “Everybody has fun, but everybody knows their role. Everybody has been clutch in late innings. This is what good teams do.”
The Red Sox came from behind for the sixth time in their past seven wins, improving to 18-7 in games decided in the last at-bat. With their 70th win in 116 games this year, the Sox eclipsed 2012's season total of 69.
Despite the fact that they were playing the Astros (37-76), the stakes felt high on Wednesday night. For the third straight night, the Red Sox trailed against the Astros; for the second consecutive night, they found a way to win.
“Credit to Houston -- they pushed us to the hilt in this three-game series,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “I’m just proud of the way we continued to fight back and show a lot of character and a lot of grit.”
With a fatigued and injured bullpen and a skimpy bench, Farrell pulled out all the stops in this one.
The dugout made a seventh-inning phone call to the bullpen to inquire about a pitcher, except it had nothing to do with needing a mound replacement.
“They called down to the bullpen and said, ‘Hey, do you think Drake [Britton] is faster than David [Ortiz]?” Britton said. “And they said, ‘We think so.’ They asked me, ‘Hey, how fast are you?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Knowing Britton was unavailable for work after pitching 2 1/3 innings on Tuesday night, Farrell was looking for the speediest baserunner within arm’s reach. After Brandon Snyder and Mike Napoli had already been used as pinch-hitters in the game, catcher Ryan Lavarnway was the only bench player left.
“It was a big surprise when they called down and told me to get my legs loose,” Britton said. “They said, ‘If David gets on, you need to be ready to pinch-run for him.’ And I said, ‘I’m sorry -- what?’”
The wide-eyed 24-year-old did as instructed, but he was nervous. He hadn’t run the bases in more than six years. The last time he did it was during a high school baseball tournament, which happened to be played at Minute Maid Park.
Britton went to Tomball High School, which is about a half-hour from the stadium.
When Ortiz led off the ninth inning with a single to right, Britton’s name was called. He hurriedly tried to find a helmet, struggled to find one that fit and finally found a match -- one that belonged to Daniel Nava, who was on his last day of paternity leave.
After Matt Carp lined out, Jonny Gomes walked, moving Britton in scoring position.
He said his heart was pounding at the thought of trying to beat out a play at the plate, but he remembered the advice his coaches gave him before he ran onto the field.
“They told me to be smart and don’t do anything stupid,” Britton said.
Britton didn't have to use his instincts or beat out a throw, as Drew made things easy with his towering home run.
Britton didn’t seem to mind.
“It was awesome, especially because he hit a home run, and I got to trot around the bases,” Britton said.
For the Red Sox, it was a happy ending to a game loaded with frustration.
Shane Victorino’s ejection in the top of the seventh inning was the tipping point before the Red Sox decided to climb out of the 5-2 deficit and work their magic.
Victorino declined to comment on the ejection.
“Shane obviously had a little bit of a different opinion,” Farrell said. “We had many opportunities and seemingly couldn’t get that two-out hit.”
Farrell said starter Ryan Dempster was “crisp,” as he went six innings, allowing five runs and seven hits, while striking out seven. Reliever Junichi Tazawa earned the victory after pitching two hitless innings, while striking out two.
Koji Uehara picked up his 11th save by striking out three in the ninth, while allowing one hit.
Ortiz reached base safely in 10 straight plate appearances, from his third plate appearance on Friday through his third on Wednesday night. Over that span, Ortiz went 8-for-8 with eight singles and two walks. He lined out to first in the seventh and finished 4-for-5 with his ninth-inning single.
“Hey, that ain’t bad, huh?” Ortiz said with a wide grin.