A's stun Red Sox in series opener
Buck ties it in the ninth, Johnson wins it in the 10th
BOSTON -- A's rookie manager Bob Geren earned the first ejection of his career on Tuesday, and that was almost boring compared with everything else that happened in the opener of a two-game set at Fenway Park.
By the time Geren got himself tossed during a futile argument in the wake of Eric Chavez's checked-swing strikeout with runners at second and third to end the top of the fifth inning, the Red Sox had scored three first-inning runs without hitting a single ball hard, Chavez had tried to tag a runner who wasn't there and a Boston ballboy had made an embarrassing mistake that led to him being lifted for a less-intrusive replacement later in the game.
All were merely odd diversions until the game really got interesting. Rookie Travis Buck stunned a sellout crowd with a game-tying two-run homer off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the ninth inning, and consecutive doubles by Mike Piazza and Dan Johnson in the top of the 10th gave the A's a rousing 5-4 victory.
"What a great game for our team," said Geren, who watched the late drama unfold on a muted TV in the visiting manager's office. "To go against [Red Sox starter] Curt Schilling and beat Papelbon late in the game ... a really big boost for us."
Actually, it wasn't Papelbon who was beaten. The loss went to Brendan Donnelly, who gave up the doubles to Piazza and Johnson. And those doubles were oddities, too, in that they featured two of Oakland's least fleet runners taking big chances and winning with less-than-textbook slides.
"Ugly" is how Piazza described his dive, and he later likened it to a snowplow or something one might see in a game of lawn darts.
Asked about Johnson's slide, Piazza concurred with the slider in question, who called it a "mirror image" of Piazza's.
"It might have rivaled my ugliness," Piazza said.
Prior to Buck's late heroics, there was a lot of ugly to go around, and it looked as though Boston's soft rally against A's starter Joe Blanton would be more than enough for a win.
Coco Crisp's one-out infield single in the first was followed by a bloop single by David Ortiz that put runners at the corners, and a medium sacrifice fly to right by Manny Ramirez opened the scoring. Then came a humpback single to right by Kevin Youkilis, moving Ortiz to third, and with Mike Lowell at the plate, Chavez's phantom tag was set up when Youkilis stole second base.
Lowell's ensuing grounder up the middle was knocked down by A's shortstop Bobby Crosby, who saw Youkilis aggressively rounding third, so he fired to Chavez. Thinking Youkilis was diving back, Chavez dropped his glove in front of the bag, only to discover that Youkilis had broken for home on the way to a 3-0 Red Sox lead.
"When you see Bobby fire it to third, your first instinct [as a third baseman] is to go make the tag," Geren explained. "Bobby might have made his decision to throw it a second too early."
"I made some good pitches in that inning," Blanton said, "but you have to give 'em some credit. It's that old cliché: 'Hit 'em where they ain't.' That's what they did."
A leadoff walk to Crisp in the third led to a sacrifice fly by Youkilis and a 4-0 lead, but the A's got that run back when Johnson took Schilling deep in the top of the fourth for his first homer of the year. Johnson said he was imitating Piazza to an extent there, too.
"I was watching his at-bat, and he was hacking [at the first pitch]," Johnson said. "So I thought, 'Hey, that's a good idea.' So that's what I did."
An inning later came the aforementioned ballboy's 15 minutes of infamy, followed almost immediately by Geren getting the boot.
With Jason Kendall at first base with two out, Mark Ellis hit a hooking screamer just inside the third-base line that looked certain to bounce off the angled wall in foul ground that often creates havoc for infielders and outfielders alike. Apparently overcome by a need to prove he can pick it, the ballboy leaped from his chair and scooped up the ball, flipping it into the stands before the crowd's reaction let him know he'd done a very bad thing.
After trips onto the field from Geren and Red Sox manager Terry Francona, both looking for clarification, Ellis was awarded a ground-rule double and Kendall was ordered to remain at third base.
Minutes later, home-plate umpire Charlie Reliford ruled that Chavez had taken a full swing at Schilling's two-strike pitch, eliciting an animated reaction from Chavez before Geren took over the argument and, obviously, lost it.
"I just accidentally said the wrong word," Geren said, noting that arguing strike calls warrants an automatic ejection. "What I said, it just came out wrong."
Buck doubled off Schilling and scored on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Todd Walker in the seventh, but after Boston's Hideki Okajima breezed through the eighth, the A's looked cooked.
Papelbon entered the game 8-for-8 in save chances and had allowed two hits and zero homers in nine appearances this season, but Crosby greeted him with a single and Buck followed with his third hit of the game and third home run of the year, barely getting it into the right-field seats.
"That's all I've got," Buck said with a smile. "Fortunately, it was enough."
And thanks to a stellar night from Oakland's under-fire-of-late bullpen, it didn't go wasted.
Lefty Alan Embree, righty Justin Duchscherer and closer Huston Street each pitched a shutout inning behind Blanton, who gave up six hits and two walks while striking out four in seven innings. Street picked up his seventh save in eight chances by retiring Ortiz, Ramirez and Youkilis in the bottom of the 10th.
Youkilis put a scare into Geren with a high drive to left that Shannon Stewart pulled down at the base of the fabled Green Monster.
"That was unbelievable," Geren said. "As soon as he hit it, the cameraman was panning up into the seats. I thought it was a homer. And then Shannon catches it, no problem.
"It was much more painful watching it on TV. It was really weird."
The game itself was weird.
"Yeah, it was," Blanton said. "But a good weird. ... Good for us, anyway."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.