Twins closer Joe Nathan battled out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to preserve a 5-4 win in front of a sellout crowd of 36,743. The Sox' magic number for winning the AL East remains at two thanks to their loss and the Yankees' 3-1 win over the Devil Rays.
Nathan was the fifth pitcher used by the Twins and recorded four outs for the save for only the third time this season. "A very exciting win for our baseball team," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "It doesn't get much better than here at Fenway Park. Everybody gets into it and the way our games have been going, this is a good atmosphere for us."
With the Yankees visiting the moribund Orioles (10-26 over their last 36 games) over the final weekend, the Sox may need to win two of three from the Twins to lock up the division. "We've got three more games and we've got to stay focused on that," said Jason Varitek, who hit a solo homer in the eighth to pull the Sox within one but struck out with the bases loaded for the second out of the ninth.
The Sox seemed to have the clear advantage among the starting pitchers Thursday, but 20-game winner Josh Beckett labored through six innings while the Twins' Boof Bonser recovered from a 39-pitch first inning to last five frames and earn the win.
Beckett's Cy Young candidacy took a hit as he gave up five runs for only the fifth time in 30 starts. His ERA rose to 3.27. His main competition for the award, the Indians' C.C. Sabathia, has one scheduled start left and will end up with more innings and strikeouts than Beckett as well as a better strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"I had a good year, but there are some other guys who have had good years too," Beckett said. "Obviously, that's going to come down to something that I can't control."
Beckett, who is in line to start Game One of the AL Division Series Wednesday or Thursday, finished with 200 2/3 innings—an impressive feat given he missed two starts due to an "avulsion" on his right middle finger. Beckett has reached 200 innings the last two seasons after never exceeding 180 innings in his first four full seasons with the Marlins.
"That is something that I strive for," Beckett said. "Obviously, last year was a big deal to me and this year was the same thing. It's nice, and just like I said after I won my 20th game, a lot of guys are working behind the scenes that don't get any of the credit making sure that I am healthy every fifth day or sixth day [to] go out there to throw enough innings to accumulate that many."
David Ortiz continued his recent torrid hitting by going 4-for-4 with two RBI and his 34th homer, a monster shot into the right field bleachers in the fifth. Ortiz is hitting .419 with 22 RBI in his last 20 games.
Manny Ramirez went 1-for-4 before he was lifted for Brandon Moss in the seventh. Moss doubled to start the ninth inning and Ortiz followed with a walk before Mike Lowell grounded out. J.D. Drew was intentionally walked and Nathan escaped by whiffing Varitek and pinch-hitter Kevin Youkilis.
Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752. To subscribe to Diehard or diehardmagazine.com, please CLICK HERE.
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