It took them five hours and 19 minutes and 16 more stranded baserunners, but the Orange County American League Baseball Representative Angels finally found a way to beat the Red Sox last night.
They hung around long enough to find a vulnerable member of the Sox bullpen, and it turned out to be Javier Lopez, the sixth Boston pitcher on this long evening and early morning of baseball. The Angels put together a simple combination of a Mike Napoli single, a Howie Kendrick sacrifice, and an Erick Aybar single to produce the winning run in a 5-4, 12-inning triumph that kept them breathing in this AL Division Series.
So ends the inexplicable Red Sox dominance over the Angels, who had lost 11 straight postseason games to the Sox dating from Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS.
One of the evening’s big revelations was that Josh Beckett is not always going to be Superman in the postseason. The Sox starter’s mortality was evident from the first pitch of the game, which Chone Figgins ripped for a ground-rule double down the right-field line.
That was the beginning of a rocky five-inning stint in which Beckett was reached for nine hits and four earned runs while twice being taken deep by Angels catcher Mike Napoli (the first caroming off the light tower nearest the left-field foul pole and landing on Lansdowne Street). In addition, Beckett walked four, which doubled his entire 2007 postseason total.
He was never really comfortable, holding the ball for endless stretches between pitches, as if telling the world he really had little interest in throwing it. Catcher Jason Varitek added to the tedium with several visits to the mound, and thus it was still the fourth inning two hours into the game.
But let the record show that Beckett’s 106th and final pitch was a major bla-zah to fan Figgins in the fifth. He left the game trailing, 4-3, after giving up the second homer to Napoli with one out in the fifth, but the Sox got him a no-decision when Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis each doubled off Angels starter Joe Saunders to produce a run in the Sox’ half of the inning.
Saunders had every reason to feel sorry for himself, for he should have been sitting on a 4-1 lead. He had run into a little trouble with two away and no one on in the second when he issued walks to Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp, sandwiched around a single by Varitek.
Saunders thought he had Ellsbury struck out on a 2-and-2 pitch, but plate umpire Kerwin Danley wouldn’t give him the call. But everything looked fine and dandy for him when Ellsbury hit the 3-and-2 pitch to fairly short center. Second baseman Howie Kendrick went back, center fielder Torii Hunter came in ... and the ball dropped between them. Everyone was running, of course, which meant that all three runners scored on, yup, an honest-to-God single.
You don’t see that too often, folks. Those with good memories might recall that the final three ribbies of Reggie Jackson’s 10-RBI assault here in Fenway back in June of ‘69 came on a single. And this happened to be the first three-run single in playoff history (there’s just nothing like baseball minutiae, you know?).
Anyway, they were three gift runs, bonus runs, freebie runs, call-’em-whatever-you-like runs, and they were the only thing standing between the Red Sox and a quicker extinction last night.
In keeping with the trend of modern baseball, the game turned into a splendid Battle of the Bullpens.
There certainly were, shall we say, situations. Hideki Okajima had to get out of a two-on, two-out jam left for him by Manny Delcarmen in the seventh, and Justin Masterson had to rescue Okajima an inning later by striking out Vladimir Guerrero to end the frame. Jonathan Papelbon created a little bit of a mess by walking Mark Teixeira and giving up a single to Guerrero in the 11th, but he retired Hunter on a shallow fly ball and fanned Gary Matthews Jr., and that was that.
The Red Sox couldn’t do anything with Jose Arredondo, Darren Oliver, and Scot Shields, who combined for four innings of hitless ball. But the Sox did have a hope in the seventh, when Ellsbury led with a walk and appeared to have stolen second.
Well, he did steal second, actually, but he did so with a popup slide, and when he was unable to gain his balance, he toppled off the bag and was tagged out by shortstop Aybar.
Frankie Rodriguez almost handed the Red Sox yet another postseason victory, loading the bases on two walks and a Youkilis single in the 10th. But Jed Lowrie flied to right, ending that threat. Crisp got himself to second in the 11th by hitting a single to center and then stealing second off Jered Weaver to bring Dustin Pedroia, a luckless 0 for 12 in this series, to the plate. Make that a luckless 0 for 13 as he smashed a one-hopper to Figgins at third to end that threat.
If you think about it, this was the only outcome that made any sense. The Angels were simply too good to go down to the Red Sox in three straight games for the third time in five years. Of course, this series won’t go any farther if they don’t find a way to do something about Jon Lester, but going up against someone who is 11-1 in Fenway with a no-hitter here as a centerpiece outing is better than flying home, isn’t it?