BOSTON (AP)—Down by three runs with their playoff push in trouble and the Yankees packing bags for a weekend showdown at Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox suddenly found themselves in need of a late-inning spark—and fast.
Sounds like a job for Big Papi.
David Ortiz saved the Red Sox again, pulling them from desperation to delirium just in time for a crucial series with New York.
The Red Sox MVP contender tied the game in the eighth inning with his AL-leading 47th homer, then singled home the winning run in the ninth to give Boston a critical 5-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night.
“The best thing that ever happened to this team was winning this game tonight,” Ortiz said. “Everybody was on their toes.”
The Red Sox (93-66) enter their season-ending three-game series with the Yankees (94-65) trailing New York by one game. Boston would tie its rival by taking two of three, forcing a one-game playoff Monday in New York, and would win the division with a sweep.
“It’s going to be three Super Bowl games,” Kevin Millar said. “Whoever set the schedule this year is a genius.”
Ortiz’s homer was his 20th of the season that tied a game or put Boston ahead, and it was his 11th in September.
“When you’re out there playing, you don’t think the game’s going to be on your back,” said Ortiz, who leads the majors with 146 RBIs.
Boston trailed 4-1, and a loss would have dropped the Red Sox two games back of New York in the AL East and one game behind Cleveland in the wild-card race, which remained tied.
The Yankees beat Baltimore 8-4 Friday night for their 15th win in 18 games, while the Indians beat Tampa Bay 6-0.
If the Red Sox and Indians both win two of three this weekend, there will be a double playoff, with Boston traveling to New York for the AL East tiebreaker and the loser playing the Indians for the wild card.
Edgar Renteria walked, and Ortiz lined a 3-2 pitch into the shortstop hole as Damon easily scored.
As he rounded first, Ortiz raised both arms to the sky and was mobbed by teammates. The crowd chanted “MVP! MVP!”
“The Yankees won. Cleveland won. So we’ve got to pull this one out,” Ortiz said moments after his winning hit.
After the homer, Ramirez walked and Jason Varitek singled to give the Red Sox runners at the corners with no outs, but John Olerud hit a shallow flyout, Bill Mueller struck out and Trot Nixon hit a liner to right-center that Vernon Wells grabbed with an outstanding sliding catch.
“We were going to make them earn it,” Toronto’s Gregg Zaun said. “You’re not going to hold guys like that down forever. Look at the numbers they’ve put up.”
“It was nice to get a couple of runs early and quiet their crowd, but when Manny hits his home run, it was `here they come again,’ “ Hinske said.
Catalanotto made it 4-1 in the fifth with his eighth homer, and Toronto appeared headed to its 12th win in 18 games against the Red Sox before Ramirez hit his 42nd homer.
Ramirez has 432 homers, passing Cal Ripken for sole possession of 34th place. … Ortiz has the second-highest season home-run total for the Red Sox, three behind Jimmie Foxx (1938) … Boston reached 93 victories for the fourth straight year for the first time in club history.