BOSTON -- There was no way the Boston Red Sox were going to let one of the most important games of the year come down to Jeff Stone. No way in the world.
Even Stone knew that much.
He stood on deck waiting for the pinch hitter that never came. Then he went to the plate and delivered the most important hit of his career, a ninth-inning single that defeated the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-6, to lift the Red Sox back into sole possession of first place.
Yes, we're talking about that Jeff Stone -- the one who appeared in 26 games and had 61 at-bats for the Baltimore Orioles in 1988. That's 61 more at-bats than he had for the Red Sox in 1990 before last night.
What was he doing up there? Was Morgan too shell-shocked by a pair of dramatic Blue Jays comebacks to send up somebody a little more battle-hardened? Was this a foul-up or just a great hunch play?
Stone doesn't know and he doesn't care. He went up to the plate against Blue Jays stopper Tom Henke and lined a solid single into right-center field to score Wade Boggs from third base. With that, the Red Sox completed a dramatic comeback of their own and took back sole possession of the division lead for the first time since the Orioles knocked them down a notch on Sept. 19.
Embattled Red Sox fans were only moments earlier commiserating over a seemingly decisive two-run homer by Toronto outfielder Junior Felix in the top of the ninth, but Henke walked two of the first three batters in the ninth and gave up three consecutive singles.
"I'm on cloud 10," Stone said. "I've never been in a situation like that before. I looked back to see if Joe was going to call me back, but he didn't. I thought he would go with [Danny] Heep or [Phil] Plantier."
So did everybody else. Morgan said he considered it, but stayed with Stone because of his running ability and because he already was in the game. Who could argue with the results?
"He's left-handed and has speed," Morgan said. "He would probably hit into a double play much less than anybody else. He was loose, and I don't like to send people into the game cold."
This Orioles connection doesn't end there. Former Baltimore pitcher Mike Boddicker started the game for the Red Sox and took a shutout into the seventh inning, his 17th victory seemingly assured when home runs by Boggs and Tom Brunansky in the sixth built a 4-0 lead.
But Boddicker gave up two singles and hit two batters in the seventh, and then left before the Blue Jays would bat around and score four times to tie the score.
The Red Sox just have a way of playing to their most cynical fans, who learned long ago that it doesn't pay to get too comfortable at Fenway Park. The skepticism of the Fenway faithful was illustrated by some sizeable blocks of unoccupied seats in the right field bleachers.
The no-shows were the biggest losers, missing a truly breathtaking game. They didn't get to see Blue Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber make back-to-back throwing errors to account for a tie-breaking run in the eighth. They didn't get to see Red Sox reliever Jeff Gray give up what appeared at the time to be a disastrous home run to Felix in the top of the ninth. They didn't get to see Henke come unglued in the bottom of it.
The Blue Jays almost took the lead in the first but were denied by Brunansky's spectacular catch in right field.
The Red Sox threatened to break the game open in the bottom of the first, but Toronto starter Dave Stieb worked in and out of major trouble to maintain some sense of order. Four straight singles gave the Red Sox a run, but Stieb worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation, getting Dwight Evans on a pop to first and Brunansky on a weak ground ball to second.
Brunansky's diving catch would have a significant impact on Boddicker's pitching line. He had given up a single and a walk before Fred McGriff pulled a sinking line drive into right. If the ball had not been caught, the Blue Jays would have scored at least one run and been in position to get more.
Instead, they did not get another hit until McGriff beat out an infield single in the fourth and did not get on the scoreboard until pinch hitter Rance Mulliniks singled home the first of four Toronto runs in the seventh. That run broke a Blue Jays string of 33 scoreless innings against the Red Sox, who had closed an August series at Skydome with three shutouts.
Stieb recovered from the four-hit first inning, at least temporarily. He gave up a one-out double in the second, but ran off 11 straight outs before Boggs opened the sixth with his sixth home run of the season.
It was Boggs' first home run since June 28 and the first of his career against Stieb, who had given up just nine homers in his previous 31 starts this year. Brunansky hit a towering two-run shot to center broke open the tight game two outs later.