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Damon delivers big win for Boston
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08/27/2002 00:57 am ET 
Damon delivers big win for Boston
Leadoff homer in 10th gives Red Sox a win
By Ian Browne / MLB.com

Carlos Baerga lifts up Nomar Garciaparra as they and Brian Daubach (left) cheer Johnny Damon's homer. (Sevans/AP)
BOSTON -- Fenway Park suddenly had a lot of empty seats as the Red Sox came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning Monday night, down by four runs to the Angels. Many of the faithful fans who have packed this ancient ballpark all season -- Monday's game was the 33rd consecutive sellout -- couldn't bear to watch another agonizing loss in the late innings. It has become a recurring nightmare.

But those who did stay witnessed the most riveting Red Sox finish of the year -- and one that could have a lasting impact.

When it was all said and done, the Red Sox obliterated Anaheim's lead with a four-run ninth. Johnny Damon's leadoff homer in the 10th around the Pesky Pole in right field capped a 10-9 victory that was as improbable as it was crucial.

    Johnny Damon   /   CF
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 190
Bats/Throws: L/L

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"It was very, very big for us," Red Sox manager Grady Little said. "This is probably as high a peak as I have seen this ballclub have all season."

Consider the valley that a loss would have brought. The Red Sox would have fallen a season-high 4 1/2 games behind the Angels in the Wild Card race. They would have lost three of four at home to a team they are directly competing with for a playoff berth.

The Red Sox entered Monday's game with a 9-12 August record, and they were 36-40 since June 1. They needed something to recharge their playoff push.

As third baseman Shea Hillenbrand put it, "We needed a kick-start."

  Shea Hillenbrand   /   3B
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 210
Bats/Throws: R/R

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If ever there was going to be one, this was it. It was the first time Boston overcame a ninth-inning deficit this big since the home opener of 1998, when Mo Vaughn hit a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners.

The Angels, mind you, were 129-1 since the start of the 2001 season when leading after eight innings. This is in large part because they bring a flame-throwing closer named Troy Percival out of the bullpen.

    Manny Ramirez   /   LF
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 205
Bats/Throws: R/R

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This one was so well in hand, or so the Angels thought, that it was Al Levine on the mound when the Red Sox ninth started. Manny Ramirez led off and laced a single down the left-field line, giving him a 5-for-5 night, which included two homers. Cliff Floyd then rapped an opposite-field single to left.

No longer was it time to mess around for the Angels. Percival came on to face Hillenbrand. The third baseman fell behind 0-2, then slapped a single up the middle. Bases loaded, nobody out. This was when the buzz came back in the stands, and it became evident that maybe something special was going to happen.

Tony Clark, who has struggled at the plate all season, worked the count to 3-2 and took a bases-loaded walk that brought more hope. It was 9-6 now, with the tying run on first base. Trot Nixon, who made a costly fielding error on a sacrifice fly to fuel Anaheim's four-run eighth, helped make amends with a sac fly of his own to make it 9-7.

    Rey Sanchez   /   IF
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 175
Bats/Throws: R/R

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Now there were two outs, and it was up to No. 9 hitter Rey Sanchez to keep it alive. Pinch runner Rickey Henderson -- you may have heard of him before -- did something that proved to be vital: stealing second base. Now, runners were on second and third.

Sanchez, after sending some nasty pitches foul, stayed alive and worked the count to 3-2. And then he slammed a Percival inside heater into the gap in left-center. Hillenbrand and Henderson scooted home to tie it up. And Fenway Park -- not to mention the Red Sox dugout -- was in a frenzy.

On a night heroes were abundant, Sanchez's work might have been the most impressive considering the circumstances.

"You have to credit Sanchez with the big hit," said Damon.

It, after all, came when there was the most pressure. At least according to everyone but the man who had the bat in his hand.

"There's no pressure," said Sanchez. "Just go out there and try to do the job and try and get a hit somehow. The guy was throwing so hard. You've got to do what you've got to do in situations like that. He's tough. He doesn't joke too much out there. He throws that ball upper 90s, so you have to be ready for it. Just stay in the zone, and with him, in and out. I just looked for a good pitch and hit it."

And that set up a grand finale for Damon, who turned on an inside fastball from Scot Shields to lead off the 10th.

Though it looked gone off the bat, the Red Sox weren't going to celebrate until it actually landed safely.

"We thought it was going to be foul," said Sanchez, "because things lately haven't gone our way."

But for the first time in awhile, everything went Boston's way when it counted.

"That definitely goes to the head of my list of big hits, said Damon. "I've had walkoffs before, but this was special. We brought the Fenway crowd to their feet. We've showed them a lot of disappointment this year, so it's great to [take] care of the fans who did stay. I know a lot of people left because they figured it was another tough loss for us."

With one glittering comeback, the Red Sox gave their die-hard fans reason to keep the faith.

Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for MLB.com, can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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