Chicago Tadahito Iguchi put the Chicago White Sox within a win of the AL championship series and pushed the Boston Red Sox into a familiar position: playing with no margin for error.
Iguchi hit a go-ahead, three-run homer after a deflating error by Red Sox second baseman Tony Graffanino, and the White Sox rallied for a 5-4 victory Wednesday night to take a 2-0 lead against the defending World Series champions in their AL playoff series.
"I can't really put a rank on it, but the fact I was able to hit the homer in my first year, I'm very happy," Iguchi said through a translator.
Iguchi, a 30-year-old major-league rookie who played eight seasons in Japan and helped the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks win a pair of Japan Series championships, connected off David Wells to cap Chicago's second five-run inning in as many games.
"One of the biggest reasons we are here is because of Iguchi," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "He moves the guy over, he runs for me, he makes the plays, he hits home runs, he runs the bases right. This kid does everything for the team and that's why I keep on saying he's my MVP."
Games 3 and possibly 4 are Friday and Saturday at Fenway Park in Boston. A fifth game, if necessary, would be Sunday at Chicago.
"The perspective is we're down 0-2. ... I'd rather have it the other way," Boston manager Terry Francona said. "The comfort I have is our ability to play."
After a 19-8 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the AL championship series a year ago, the Red Sox won eight straight games to capture their first World Series title since 1918. Boston has won eight of its last nine games when facing postseason elimination.
"Last year was last year; this has nothing to do with last year," Boston's David Ortiz said. "We made a comeback, but it was last year."
The Red Sox, 14-2 losers in Tuesday's opener, took a 4-0 lead in the third, then were shut out on three hits for the final six innings by Mark Buehrle and rookie Bobby Jenks.
Graffanino hit a one-out double in the ninth, but Jenks recorded the save by retiring Johnny Damon on a foulout to the catcher and Edgar Renteria on a groundout.
Wells, who dropped to 10-4 in postseason play, allowed just two hits through the first four innings.
After the White Sox scored twice in the fifth and closed to 4-2, Graffanino let Juan Uribe's potential inning-ending, double-play grounder go through his legs - bringing up memories of first baseman Bill Buckner's error on Mookie Wilson's grounder in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the New York Mets.
"I didn't get a good read on it. I just took my eye off it. I just flat out missed it," Graffanino said.
One out later, Iguchi hit a three-run homer to left.
"I just think we gave them an extra opportunity, and they made us pay for it," Francona said of Graffanino's misplay. "I think he understood the importance of who's running and being quick, and he tried to be a little too quick."
Carl Everett started the fifth with a single and scored from first when Aaron Rowand doubled into the left-field corner. Rowand moved up on a grounder before Joe Crede sent an RBI single through the box to make it 4-2.
After Uribe's grounder went through Graffanino, who played for Chicago's previous playoff team in 2000, the White Sox had runners at first and third.
After Graffanino went to the mound, Wells retired Scott Podsednik on a foul pop for the second out before Iguchi connected.
"I've had situations where I've erred," Iguchi said. "I understand Graffanino's feelings there, but I'm happy that his error gave me a chance to do something."
Buehrle, who started and won the All-Star game for the AL with Francona as his manager and Jason Varitek as his catcher, was hit hard by the Red Sox in two regular-season starts, giving up 22 hits and nine earned runs in 13 innings.
He went seven innings in his first playoff start, giving up four runs and eight hits. Wells allowed five runs - two earned - and seven hits in 62â3 innings.