Salty could get used to this hero stuff

BOSTON -- As part of the season-long celebration for the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park, the Boston Red Sox invited former catcher and Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk to throw out the ceremonial first pitch Saturday night.

Prior to the Sox's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Fisk and current Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia stood in the dugout, side by side. As Fisk, who was wearing his No. 27 Red Sox home jersey, was being introduced, his famous 12th-inning walk-off home run from Game 6 of the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds was being shown on the center field video board.

The past and present catchers then walked onto the field for the ceremonial first pitch. Fisk threw a strike and Saltalamacchia caught it.

Almost exactly three hours later, Saltalamacchia provided a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Red Sox to a 3-2 victory over the Rays.

After the win, Saltalamacchia discussed his moment with Fisk earlier in the night.

"It was awesome. He's awesome," Saltalamacchia said with a huge smile. "I started thinking about it because when they showed [Fisk's] home run, I was messing with him, saying 'Stay fair.' I said: 'Do you still get goose bumps with that one?' And he said, 'Man, I wake up sometimes and still feel that ball going off the bat. I feel the whole thing and I can't forget that swing.' So, tonight when I hit that ball, I felt the same way. It's one of those feelings that I'm not going to forget."

Saltalamacchia was not in the starting lineup (backup catcher Kelly Shoppach served as Josh Beckett's batterymate on Saturday). In the bottom of the ninth, with the Sox trailing 2-1 with one out and a runner on second, Boston manager Bobby Valentine decided to insert Saltalamacchia as a pinch hitter for Marlon Byrd.

Saltalamacchia was quickly down 0-1 to Rays closer Fernando Rodney, but the right-hander left his next offering over the middle of the plate and Saltalamacchia crushed it, depositing it into the Red Sox bullpen for the win.

"When you make a mistake, you pay for it," Rodney said.

After his first career walk-off homer, Saltalamacchia was mobbed by his teammates when he crossed the plate in the tradition known as the "shredder."

"Tonight was awesome," he said. "I got the shredder for the first time and it was just great. We've been working so hard and this team is so close that it was just an awesome feeling to come into home plate with those guys pumped up, and to do it at home, like that, was awesome."

Strangely enough, the night before Saltalamacchia was in the midst of trying to control a bench-clearing scrum between Boston and Tampa Bay. Both Saltalamacchia and Valentine said they preferred Saturday's situation instead.

"It really looked great. It really was a happy scene," Valentine said. "[Friday] night might have brought [the team] together and we'll have that reunion at home plate a few times this year," Valentine said.

Saltalamacchia agreed.

"Without a doubt," he said. "We're so close and it's a good group of guys. We really do care and want each other to do well. We had a good road trip and lost a tough one [Friday] night, so tonight we kept fighting and got the win. That's all that matters."

Red Sox starter Josh Beckett pitched well but had to settle for a no-decision. The right-hander worked seven solid innings and allowed only two runs on four hits with five strikeouts.

"It was awesome. That's a better way to win, anyway," Beckett said. "If I get a no-decision the rest of my starts this year it's no big deal if we win them all like that."

Because he was not in the starting lineup, Saltalamacchia stayed ready by hitting in the cage. What was even more impressive than his home run is the fact he needed IV treatments for dehydration after Friday's loss.

When the bottom of the ninth began, Valentine looked at his bench coach Tim Bogar and said: "You know, we haven't had a walk-off all year," Valentine explained. "He said, 'It's a great day for it. Let's do it.' And Salty did it."

The walk-off win brings the Red Sox back to .500 (23-23). Boston has now won 11 of its last 15 games.

"It was a big situation, obviously, and JB pitched great so to be able to pull that one out in the end against this team, when it was a tough game all night, it felt good," Saltalamacchia said. "There's no better feeling. That was my first walk-off homer, so it was awesome, and against a good closer, it was an all-around good night."

Fisk would probably agree.