- Gordon Edes, Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- He was so excited, according to Dustin Pedroia, he was "like, twitching."
"I was like, 'Man, this guy's gone,'" Pedroia said. "It was awesome."
This was not "cheerful" Cody Ross -- as CEO Larry Lucchino described him in last week's letter to season-ticket holders -- that Pedroia was describing as Ross made his way toward home plate after Thursday night's three-run walk-off home run into the Monster seats.
No, this was the man who circled the bases just ahead of Ross, then turned to greet him in the mass of Red Sox humanity already gathered at home plate to celebrate Boston's 3-1 win over the Chicago White Sox. This was Nick Punto, the man they call "The Shredder."
"I felt like a bunch of piranhas jumped on me and started attacking me," said Ross, who arrived in the interview room afterward wearing a T-shirt advertising "El Pelon," the name of the tacqueria a loud foul ball away from Yawkey Way, instead of the No. 7 Sox jersey in which he'd begun his night.
"I've never had that happen to me. I looked up and Punto was staring right at me with this evil look on his face. He grabs my jersey and just started yanking on it.
"I got to meet The Shredder tonight."
And what if Ross had developed an emotional attachment to said jersey, given that he'd been wearing the same one the night before when he launched two three-run home runs against the White Sox?
"I was thinking about that," Ross said. "Good thing I'm not really superstitious because I kind of wanted to use that jersey tomorrow. But I'd be glad to get it shredded every night, I don't care. I'll just think in the back of my mind that our clubhouse guys are good enough to stitch it back up and put it back in my locker."
According to Google Maps, the driving distance from Boston to Albuquerque, N.M., is 2,263.7 miles, a journey of one day and 13 hours, if you drive straight through and observe the speed limit. In the 111 years of their existence, the Red Sox have had five players born in New Mexico: Cody Ross, Kyle Weiland, Steve Ontiveros, Fred Haney and Vern Stephens.
It can't be possible, then, that the Sox now have a radio affiliate in Albuquerque?
"Yes," said Ross, who was born in Portales, "I was made aware of it yesterday. I was doing radio after the game and somehow, New Mexico, Albuquerque, picked up a station. I said hello to them last night. True story.
"It's such a great state, such a small state, not too many professional athletes come out of there. [Brian] Urlacher [the Chicago Bears football player], Matt Moore [the Tampa Bay pitcher who actually was born in Florida but was raised out west]. Every time I go back to New Mexico, it doesn't matter what city, people tell me how proud they are of me and stuff."
Ross has been playing in Boston for just four months, a late-January signing by the Red Sox after the 31-year-old outfielder was unable to land the three-year deal he was hoping to procure from the Giants, his last team, or another club in free agency. Sox GM Ben Cherington gave him a one-year deal, and Ross is now playing the position, right field, occupied by the previous wearer of No. 7, J.D. Drew, who signed for five years and tens of millions more than Ross did. Put it to a vote in New England on Thursday night, and Ross would be here for the long haul, too.
"I remember the excitement in Ben's voice when he said, 'We've got a player who's really going to help us,'" manager Bobby Valentine said. "As an announcer, I did some of Cody's postseason and some of his San Francisco stuff.
"I love his smile. I love his swing. I love his energy. What's there not to love? Especially tonight. And he's not getting traded, in case anyone is thinking. We don't want to start another rumor. That was great."
This was something the Sox had not seen in almost two months. They'd had just one other walk-off win all season, when Jarrod Saltalamacchia came off the bench and hit a pinch two-run home run to beat the Rays on May 26, 3-2, at Fenway. You have to go back to 1995, and Troy O'Leary, to find the last time the Sox came into the ninth inning without a run and scored all of their runs on a home run.
But Ross came here with a reputation for big hits, one fashioned in 2010 when he hit five home runs in the postseason to help carry the Giants to their first-ever World Series title in San Francisco.
"I want to be the guy up every time in that situation," he said of coming to the plate to face Addison Reed, Chicago's rookie closer, after singles by Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez off lefty reliever Matt Thornton had given the Sox a chance for some late-night melodrama.
"I always have my whole life, ever since I was my son's age," Ross added, nodding toward his 5-year-old, Hudson, who had accompanied his dad to the interview room. "I just like that pressure. I like, you know, being there in the moment. I can't really compare it to anything. It's a great feeling, especially when you come through and you're a hero."
Ross turned on an inside fastball -- "it was really in" -- and lofted it toward the Monster. On a night that the wind had knocked down his earlier bid for a homer, in the fifth inning, he wasn't sure it would have the distance.
"Then I see it land," he said, "and [first-base coach Alex] Ochoa's right there to give me a high-five."
The ball landed, and the Sox dugout emptied -- Punto with malice aforethought, winning pitcher Alfredo Aceves armed with a bucket of Gatorade, which splashed everywhere.
"It's wild, it's wild," said Punto, who had entered the game as a pinch-runner for Gonzalez. "Exciting. Fun. You feel like a 12-year-old boy. To see grown men out there jumping around like kids, it's always fun."
Ross now has 16 home runs, 11 of them hit in Fenway. It had become immediately apparent in spring training, when he regularly took aim at the faux Monster in JetBlue Park, that his swing and the Fens would be ideally matched. This is the fastest (63 games) in which he has reached 16 in his career; he hit a career-best 24 home runs for the Marlins, the team for which he hit his last walk-off home run three years ago.
"It's just an incredible feeling," he said of Thursday's walk-off, "something you really can't describe with words. The emotions going through your body, you just try to take it all in. You try not to rush it and remember that, because you don't have very many opportunities to do that."
The Sox have now won consecutive series, taking two of three from the Rays and three of four from the White Sox. Chicago played Thursday without Kevin Youkilis (tight hamstring), for whom Thursday's celebration must have evoked bittersweet memories.
"That's as much fun as the guys have had in a long time," Valentine said, "and it's a good feeling."
Only Punto was left with a question. Turning to Pedroia, he said: "Did you really have to describe it as twitching?"
ESPNBoston.com intern Bill Humphrey contributed to this story.
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