August 26th: Damon Delivers
Red Sox 10 – Angels 9
The Red Sox August 26 game against the Anaheim Angels was their biggest game of the season to that point. The division was pretty much out of reach, as the Yankees had built a seven-game lead in the AL East. The Red Sox’s only chance at the postseason was the wild card, and the Angels had entered the four-game set in Boston up two and a half games for the last wild card spot.
With Anaheim taking two of the first three contests. The Red Sox needed a win in the finale to keep pace in the race.
The game proved to be an instant classic. The Angels scored two early runs off Red Sox starter John Burkett, but two Manny Ramirez solo shots had the score tied at two through four innings. The Red Sox had a chance to break the game open in the fifth after three straight singles gave them a 3-2 lead, but Johnny Damon was thrown out at home attempting to score on Ramirez’s base hit to left, and the Red Sox would not score in the inning.
The Angels would make them pay the very next inning, as RBI singles from Adam Kennedy and Darin Erstad put Anaheim in front 4-3.
The Angels would tack on another run in the top of the seventh and entered the bottom half of that inning with a 5-3 lead. A Nomar Garciaparra double put two on with only one out and brought the scorching hot Ramirez to the plate. The Red Sox slugger came through again, lining a two-run single to right field to tie the score at 5.
With the game tied at five and the season on the line, manager Grady Little decided to bring in journeyman reliever Bob Howry for the eighth inning. Acquired from the White Sox at the trade deadline, Howry would post a 6.45 ERA in 22 innings over two seasons in Boston.
The Angels predictably lit him up, breaking the game open on back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Brad Fullmer and Troy Glaus and taking a 9-5 lead into the bottom of the ninth.
In a move they would regret later, the Angels chose not to bring in All-Star closer Troy Percival to start the ninth, as they instead turned to Al Levine, a 34-year old career middle reliever.
Levine would face just two batters in the inning, allowing singles to Ramirez and Cliff Floyd before Percival finally came in to clean up the mess.
Percival, however, wouldn’t fare much better. Shea Hillenbrand greeted him with a third straight single to load the bases, and veteran first baseman Tony Clark walked to force in a run. Percival retired the next two batters on a strikeout and a sacrifice fly, sending Rey Sanchez to the plate with two runners on and the Red Sox down to their final out.
Sanchez, who owned a career 69 OPS+, was not exactly the hitter Boston would want up with the game on the line, but he came through nonetheless. The second baseman lined a single to centerfield, scoring Hillenbrand and pinch-runner Ricky Henderson to tie the score at nine.
The momentum was squarely in Boston’s favor, and it stayed that way into the top of the tenth when closer Ugueth Urbina escaped a two-on, one-out jam. Leading off the bottom tenth was Jonny Damon, who was 2-5 on the day.
Damon was already well on his way to a solid first season in Boston, batting .286 with a .358 OBP, but he was about to provide his first signature moment in a Red Sox uniform. Damon ripped the 2-2 pitch from reliever Scot Shields into the right-field seats, sending Fenway into a frenzy and completing the most improbable comeback of the 2002 season.