ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The life as a bench player isn't an easy one.
For nine innings, Mike Carp sat in the Red Six dugout, watching his team take a 3-1 lead, only to lose the lead in the bottom of the eighth.
Then, in the top of the 10th inning, with the score tied at 3, Carp's time came, but without much warning. Jonny Gomes was due against righthander Roberto Hernandez, but Carp was told to ready himself for a pinch-hitting opportunity.
"It's tough," acknowledged Carp. "Anytime you pinch-hit in the big leagues, it's a very tough thing to do."
So, why, then did Carp make it look so easy. With one fluid swing of the bat, on the first pitch he saw, Carp drove a slider over the wall in straightaway center field, snapping the tie and sending the Sox to their 22nd final at-bat victory, 7-3 over the Tampa Bay Rays.
"I was looking for something out over the plate,'' explained Carp, "that I could put a good swing on and he hung a slider and I ended up doing a lot more than I expected to do with it. I'm not letting a good pitch go by. He gave me something to hit and it got up in the air and just kept going. The ball carried over the fence. Grand slam. Unbelievable.''
Well, yes and no.
Carp's big hit was the seventh pinch-hit homer of the season, establishing a new team record. It was the first pinch-hit grand slam since 2003, when Kevin Millar hit one in Milwaukee.
"To get those opportunities all year long,'' said Carp, "we've been wanting them, kind of foaming at the mouth. I'm just excited to be part of
It looked it, too. Carp fairly sprinted around the bases, joking that he was torn between taking him time to savor the moment and racing at top speed to get back to the dugout and join his teammates in celebration.
"What a big, clutch at-bat by Carp," said starter Ryan Dempster, who labored through five innings, but allowed just one run. "That's not an easy thing to do, to be a pinch-hitter and sit around all game and not play and then to come out there and put a swing like that on the ball and give us four runs on one swing. That's pretty impressive."
Manager John Farrell had debated whether to stay with Gomes, who had two of the first six pinch-hit homers the team had this season.
"But given that Hernandez has had better success against right-handers," said Farrell, "and I think Gomes was 0-for-8 or 0-for-9 against him, and Mike has been so productive in that role."
The Sox would have been happy with a deep flyout to score Dustin Pedroia from third [Pedroia chided himself for going back to the bag to tag up after Carp connected]. But Carp did so much more.
"A pinch-hit home run is one thing," said Farrell. "A pinch-hit grand slam in that situation was huge for us tonight."
Carp's playing time has been spotty all season. He's had opportunities at first when Mike Napoli struggled, and in the outfield when Gomes has slumped.
But mostly, he's waited his turn and made the most of it, especially against right-handed pitching, against whom he's compiled a slash line of .325/.384/.585 with eight homers.
"To see him flourish in that role that he's in currently,'' said Farrell, "is a testament to not only him accepting the role, but the way he stays prepared and ready to go when called upon."