BOSTON -- The calendar claims it's too early for such accoutrements, but in case the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox needed any reminders of what was at stake, the weather obliged Wednesday with a bit of a September nip in the air and, as the evening wore on, a heavy mist. Pennant race conditions.
And the Orioles and Red Sox responded to the setting, a crowd of 31,962 in the Fens treated to a riveting drama. With one bold countermove, Red Sox manager John Farrell trumped the bullpen machinations of Baltimore master strategist Buck Showalter in a 4-3, come-from-behind win for the Soggy Bottom Boys.
Farrell sparked gasps and a few grumbles when he sent Mike Carp to hit for Xander Bogaerts, the Promised Child, with two on and two out in the bottom of the eighth of a tie game. Carp, who had just four at-bats on last week's trip and did not play Tuesday night, had just three pinch hits in 15 at-bats this season.
Tommy Hunter, Baltimore's fifth pitcher of the night, tried to get a pitch in on Carp's hands, but the left-handed hitter was able to inside-out the ball just beyond the infield and just over the head of a lunging Orioles third baseman Manny Machado. The ball found open grass, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia scored easily from second with the winning run.
The prettiest 130-foot hit of Carp's career?
"Oh, definitely," Carp said. "Any time you come up with a game-winner, especially this late in the season, postseason on the line, it means a lot. I'll definitely remember this one.
"It got drowned out by the crowd. I knew it had dropped in once the crowd cheered. It's amazing when that sound hits you."
Koji Uehara then slammed the door on his former team, setting the side down in order to preserve Boston's fourth straight win, keeping them 2½ games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-1 winners over the Los Angeles Angels, in the AL East. The Sox have 28 games left, the Rays 31.
The Orioles, meanwhile, lost despite home runs by Chris Davis (No. 47) and Manny Machado (No. 12) to lose more ground in the wild-card race. They are 4½ games behind both Tampa Bay and Oakland; the O's have 31 games left.
"I thought I had it," Machado said of Carp's flare. "Just a little bit short. Jumped too early.
"I couldn't do anything different. If we would've done it all over again, we'd do the same thing, same pitch. The luck was on their side. With [Dustin] Pedroia's hit when he tied up the game. Perfect placement, he got it right between me and JJ [Hardy]. You can't have done it any better. Just luck on their side."
The Red Sox trailed 3-1, and John Lackey, who had already lost quality starts five times this season, looked headed toward a similar fate Wednesday until the seventh, when Pedroia punched a two-run single through the left side. Orioles reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who had thrown one pitch to induce an inning-ending double play from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the seventh, gave up a double to Stephen Drew to open the seventh, and Jacoby Ellsbury beat out an infield hit.
Showalter, knowing Shane Victorino is limited to batting right-handed these days, brought in submariner Darren O'Day, and Victorino lined out to second. During the at-bat, Ellsbury, despite being hobbled after fouling a ball off his foot, stole his second base of the night and 49th of the season, and Pedroia then delivered his ground-ball single through the left side, two runners scoring.
There were two out and nobody on in the eighth when Saltalamacchia's fly ball hit high off the left-field wall for his 35th double of the season. Drew was walked intentionally before Farrell sent Carp to bat for Bogaerts, who had lined out twice and grounded into a force play in his first Fenway start.
"He gave me a handshake and said, 'Go get 'em," Carp said. "That's the way we work as a team. He wasn't upset about it. I've been in situations a few times this year where you're having a great game, you have a couple of hits, where they still hit for you. That's the way the dynamic of our team works. We have so many guys on our bench we can use in certain situations."
Lackey had thrown only 92 pitches when he was lifted with one out in the eighth, Farrell opting for left-hander Craig Breslow to face the left-handed hitting Davis, who had doubled home a run in the first, then homered into the small section of seats in the center-field triangle, just beyond the Sox's pen.
That move worked splendidly as well, Breslow striking out Davis, then retiring Adam Jones on a liner to short to end the inning.
"The one thing that he's unique with," Farrell said of Breslow, "is the ability to sink the ball in on some left-handed hitters. To keep Davis from getting extended out over the plate where his power is, he ran a couple of sinkers in there, one for the foul ball, one for the final swing and miss.
"He's always composed and he's got two or three pitches that he can go to, depending on the reactions of a previous swing. He's been a very dependable reliever for us."
Uehara is composed, too, until he has completed his executioner's song, and then the celebration begins. The Orioles can't say they regret trading away Uehara to Texas; they got slugger Davis in return, and have a 40-save closer in Jim Johnson. But for Boston, the 38-year-old Uehara is the gift that keeps on giving. A career-high 14 saves. And 21 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, 70 batters faced in that span, only seven reaching.
Still, September lies ahead. There's a saying in Uehara's native Japan, displayed on one website, that the Soggy Bottom Boys would be wise to heed. Especially with the Orioles, the team that knocked the Sox out of the postseason on the last day of 2011, hosting the Sox for the last three games in 2013.
katte kabuto no o o shimeyo.
The translation: After victory, tighten your helmet strap.
The message: Keep your guard up until the very end.