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NEW YORK -- Ejections can make for strange bedfellows. And, yes, they can occasionally energize an entire team, especially when victories follow, like Sunday night's 3-2, 10-inning win for the Boston Red Sox over the New York Yankees, who have some experience in being the unwitting springboard to a Red Sox reversal of fortune.
Precedent? The Holy Grail is July 24, 2004: Jason Varitek's facial massage of Alex Rodriguez, which helped jolt a floundering team into making an electrifying finishing kick, the rumble with the Yankees complemented a week later by Theo Epstein's bold trade of Nomar Garciaparra.
No one is yet predicting whether this win could have the same galvanizing effect, and general manager Ben Cherington has just two days to the trading deadline to make a deal of any consequence, never mind a blockbuster to rival the Nomar trade (Josh Beckett?).
Adrian Gonzalez, for one, wasn't inclined to make any predictions at all.
"I'm not Nostrodamus," Gonzalez said when asked how many games he expected the .500 Red Sox (51-51) to win of their remaining 60. "What do I know?"
Dustin Pedroia, in the next cubicle, overheard Gonzalez's reference to the famous forecaster. Having already hung a picture in his locker of a shirtless Tim Tebow with his head pasted on Tebow's chiseled body, the second baseman now was prompted to claim another identity.
"I am Nostrodamus," he said, prompting WBZ's Jonny Miller to ask the same question of the Sox second baseman: How many wins?
"[Expletive], I don't know," said Pedroia, reprising some of the language that ESPN's mikes picked up during Sunday night's national telecast.
|Bobby Valentine shares his opinion on a 10th-inning call with plate umpire Brian O'Nora.|
What is clear, however, is that the Red Sox do not see their predicament as a laughing matter, regardless of what it may have looked like when reliever Andrew Miller was shown sharing a light moment with teammates Aaron Cook and Kelly Shoppach in the Sox dugout right after giving up a double to Andruw Jones. That drew a bit of a rebuke from ESPN broadcaster (and former big leaguer) Orel Hershiser, especially when Russell Martin hit Alfredo Aceves' next pitch for a game-tying single.
More on that later. But the Sox know, Gonzalez said, what happens when a team plays break-even baseball for the season's first four months. For the next two months, it's essentially a daily dose of playoff baseball.
"Everything we do on the field matters," he said. "We put ourselves in that position. Basically, that's what we got."
If that is indeed the case, the Red Sox and Yankees gave a reasonable facsimile of October baseball the past two days, after the Yankees had lorded it over Boston with a 10-3 win in Friday night's series opener. In each of the last two days, the Red Sox took a lead into the eighth inning, the Yankees rallied to tie, and the Sox won in their last at-bat, Sunday night on a flared single over a drawn-in infield by Pedro Ciriaco, now a registered Yankee killer.
"We'll take the bloop," Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of the hit by Ciriaco, who is batting .500 (11-for-22) against the Bombers. "We need them."
The series finale came with an added twist: Valentine and pitcher Josh Beckett, who have not exactly been in lockstep this season, were both ejected in the 10th inning, when plate umpire Brian O'Nora ruled that a pitch from Yankees reliever David Robertson found wood, not flesh, when Will Middlebrooks squared to bunt after Jarrod Salatamacchia's leadoff walk.
O'Nora's judgment may have been impaired by the fact that he tumbled to the ground as well after the ball struck him too. Middlebrooks was aghast that he wasn't given the base, showing the mark on his wrist as evidence, but the umpiring crew did not budge. They turned a deaf ear as Valentine grew progessively agitated, O'Nora finally running him, Valentine's third ejection of the season.
The welt left a mark the size of a "bee sting," Valentine said. And no, he said O'Nora did not say that he saw the pitch hit Middlebrooks' bat.
"He heard it," Valentine said. "That's what I took exception with.
"No one saw anything. He just heard it. What are you going to do? We won. I'm not going to say anything that's going to get me fined anymore."
Moments later, third-base umpire Tom Hallion ejected Beckett, one of a number of Sox players loudly protesting the call from the dugout.
But Middlebrooks, denied a free base, earned his way on by slapping the next pitch through the left side, sending Saltalamacchia to second base. "I really, really wanted a hit there," Middlebrooks said. "It felt good."
Ryan Sweeney, who had doubled home Boston's first two runs, grounded into a force play, but Ciriaco flared a ball off his fists to bring home Saltalamacchia from third with the go-ahead run.
When Alfredo Aceves, after blowing the save in the eighth, struck out pinch hitter Raul Ibanez after a nine-pitch duel with the tying run aboard in the 10th, the Sox dugout emptied with everyone looking as happy as Miller, who had rescued starter Felix Doubront from a first-and-third jam in the seventh, then recorded two more big outs in the eighth.
Doubront was superb, striking out eight and holding the Yankees to four hits and averting damage from the five walks he issued in the first four innings.
"Felix was great," Valentine said. "For a guy some people thought shouldn't be pitching in this big series, he pitched his heart out. I don't know how he can pitch any better."
Valentine was referring to those who thought the Red Sox should have skipped Doubront and used Clay Buchholz, who would have been pitching on regular rest. Instead, Doubront rewarded Valentine's confidence, and Buchholz will open a series at home Monday against the Detroit Tigers.
"I'm getting used to it," Valentine said when someone noted how impressive it was for the rookie left-hander to pitch as well as he did here. "I've seen him since April. I think he's made of the right stuff."
And there was nothing wrong, Miller said, with the scene that took place upon his departure, when he was seen exchanging laughs with Cook and Shoppach.
"That's what good teammates do," he said. "I'm not going to get all upset and drown my sorrows. That's what good teammates do, try to keep things light and loose. It's, to me, kind of odd that's something he'd point out. I appreciate the guys being there for me.
"I don't know if he'd rather I kick over the water cooler. I've never been that kind of guy. I mean, I think if you look at my initial reaction when I gave up that hit, I wasn't happy. I wasn't smiling.
"We're a group that likes each other. Watch the end of the game, we're having a good time. We have a group that gets along; we have the pieces to have a good team."
Let the good times roll? Those have been few and far between this season. The Red Sox have made false starts before. They'd love to see this one stick.