“I read the stats and I saw Jonathan’s ERA was 0.64 and I knew he wasn’t going to walk many guys, so I just told myself to get a good pitch,” Sweeney said. “I was looking for the hard stuff. He throws 97-98 mph. He’s the best closer in baseball right now.”
A five-time All-Star, Sweeney came off the 60-day DL on Tuesday after missing 88 games with a bulging disc in his back.
“I told myself to get a base hit and let’s end this game,” he said. “I felt very excited. I was very overwhelmed at the emotion. The last three months has been extremely tough on me being out, the scrutiny, the battles I’ve gone through with my back. It was very, very rewarding tonight. It is the best feeling I’ve felt in a long time on the baseball field.”
Manny Ramirez homered to extend his career-best hitting streak to 24 games, and Javy Lopez added a two-run double for Boston on a 102-degree night. But Papelbon (3-2) failed to hold a 4-3 lead in the ninth, costing Josh Beckett his 14th win and leaving the Red Sox with a four-game losing streak.
All four losses have come against Tampa Bay and Kansas City, the two worst teams in the American League. Boston also fell three games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East.
Mark Grudzielanek doubled, and Sweeney lined the next pitch to left field. Ramirez didn’t even bother with a throw to the plate.
“Esteban had the big hit. Grud had the big hit,” Sweeney said. “You can’t call me hero. It was a team effort. I’ve been out three months and I’m very blessed, very excited. We haven’t won too many games, and not many by dramatic fashion.”
It was Papelbon’s fifth blown save in 35 opportunities and his second in his past two chances.
“After striking out Gathright to get that one out, I’m thinking I’ve got a little bit of momentum,” Papelbon said. “But I’m already getting ahead of myself there when I should have taken it one pitch at a time. I just didn’t execute my pitches. It’s pretty simple.
“It was a good pitch to German. I had him 3-2 and I simply had to execute a fastball away, which was our plan. I was trying to do too much. It’s a learning curve for me.”
Scott Dohmann (1-1) pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings for the win.
Ramirez hit a two-run shot to center with two outs in the first inning. His hitting streak is the longest in the AL this season. He is batting .398 during the streak with eight home runs, 26 RBIs and 19 runs. He also has 35 career home runs and 108 RBIs against Kansas City.
Beckett, who threw eight shutout innings to beat the Royals 1-0 on July 19 at Boston, retired his first 10 batters. But he gave up three runs—two earned — in the fourth. Mark Teahen stroked a two-run double, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a passed ball charged to Lopez.
“We got where we wanted to be,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “We got to Pap with a clean ninth. The passed ball ends up being huge. We had a chance to spread it out a couple of times and couldn’t do it.”
The Royals turned three double plays, including one against Wily Mo Pena with the bases loaded to end the seventh, and the Red Sox stranded 10 runners. The Royals have turned a major league-leading 138 double plays.
Beckett left after six innings and 103 pitches. He allowed six hits, walked none, struck out five and threw three wild pitches.
Royals left-hander Mark Redman lasted just 4 1-3 innings, giving up four runs on five hits and five walks. Kansas City’s lone representative in the All-Star game, Redman walked the leadoff batter in four of the first five innings.
“It is a definite big threat with Sweeney in the middle of our lineup,” Redman said. “It definitely helps our offense out. It’s nice to have him back. It is almost like having a trade, getting a power bat back in the lineup.”
Lopez has a .410 career average against the Royals, matching Randall Simon for the highest career average against Kansas City with a minimum of 75 at-bats.
The gametime temperature was the hottest for a Royals home game since Aug. 29, 1985, when it was 103.
Red Sox RHP Keith Foulke, who is rehabbing with Triple-A Pawtucket, was the losing pitcher on Wednesday, allowing one run and two hits in one inning. He threw 12 strikes in 16 pitches. Foulke, who allowed one run in five innings in four rehab assignments with Pawtucket, will likely be activated on Friday. He went on the disabled list June 13 with right elbow tendinitis. … German leads major league pinch-hitters with a .467 (7-for-15) batting average. He also has four walks.