ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It was apparent before last night's game in the Red Sox clubhouse that the team was gripped with the same anxiety that had seized many of its followers.
Julio Lugo was at the controls of a toy helicopter that hovered gingerly in midair until Wily Mo Pena whipped off a towel and swatted it down. Alex Cora reached into David Ortiz's locker and pulled out Big Papi's latest purchase, a blazer adorned with the spangled face of a bearded man with flaming eyes on the back, the same face that decorated the back pockets of Ortiz's designer jeans. "Who's that?'' Cora wanted to know. Ortiz insisted it was a famous religious figure, but if it was, he had never been portrayed quite like this before.
Jonathan Papelbon slouched on the couch, watching a baseball game on TV -- the Dodgers, not the Yankees. Terry Francona, his voice reduced by a cold to a painful rasp, asked a group of reporters if it was true the Celtics really wanted to sign Reggie Miller.
"They'd better have four balls,'' Francona said, marveling at Reggie's famous demolition of the Knicks at the feet of Spike Lee. Jerry Remy suggested that the Cooz was still available.
The Yankees? "People dropping off bridges are going to miss some good baseball,'' Francona said sarcastically. "They'd better climb back up.''
It probably took extra devotion, coffee, or Red Bull to make it through this one, but those fans who dared to emerge from hiding to watch last night's Sox-Angels game were rewarded with an exhaustive -- and exhausting -- display of the mettle of the teams with the best two records in the American League. In the end, the Sox prevailed, 9-6, behind an electric night by Dustin Pedroia, who wasn't even born the last time the Sox blew a 14 1/2-game lead, and more virtuosity from Hideki Okajima, who had yet to obtain a passport in 1978.
"They played us so tough,'' Francona said of the Angels, who had won the first two games of the series, snapping the Sox string of five straight series wins. "Some wins seem tougher than others. This was a tough one.''
Pedroia had three hits, scored three runs, stole a base, made a terrific diving play, and not least, hit a solo home run that broke a 6-all tie in the seventh. Okajima, getting an unusually early summons, took over from Mike Timlin and struck out Orlando Cabrera with a runner on second to end the sixth, pitched a scoreless seventh, and before handing over a three-run lead to Eric Gagne, gained credit for his third win without a loss.
The Sox, who were playing without David Ortiz (inflammation in his left shoulder), also enjoyed a 4-for-4 night, including three doubles, from Mike Lowell, who drove in two runs and now has 77 RBIs, just three fewer than he knocked in last season, his first with the Sox.
The Sox picked up a game on the Yankees, their lead in the AL East now six, but it took them a long time to do it. The game lasted 4 hours and 2 minutes, ending at 2:10 a.m. Eastern time, and tied an Angels record for longest nine-inning regular-season game.
"I don't doubt that,'' Francona said when informed of the extent of the team's labors. "It felt like it. I'm sure the players felt like it. I think we'll be grateful for the time off tomorrow.''
With the end of the Yankees' five-game winning streak already on vivid display on the Angel Stadium scoreboard, the Sox and Angels volleyed back and forth through four lead changes and a tie.
The Angels had seven hits in the first two innings, and a 3-0 lead against Jon Lester. Meanwhile, the Sox already had Lugo picked off first and J.D. Drew making a throwing error on the first ball he handled in center field, a position he had not played since 2005. With Ortiz out, and the Sox featuring an outfield that had Wily Mo Pena and rookie Brandon Moss on the flanks, the early returns suggested the Sox were on the way to another debacle to rival their 10-4 defeat the night before.
Instead, the Sox kept climbing back up bridges. Drew made an outstanding running catch to keep the Angels from busting it open early. The Sox strung together five straight hits -- including consecutive run-scoring doubles by Manny Ramirez, Drew and Mike Lowell -- to score four runs in the fourth to take a 4-3 lead. The Angels KO'd Lester with two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, executing that Anaheim staple, the double steal, and a two-run double by Chone Figgins, to regain the lead, 5-4.
The Sox pulled off a double steal of their own -- by Lugo and Pedroia -- to regain the advantage in the fifth, Kevin Youkilis knocking home one run with a sacrifice fly and Mike Lowell singling home the go-ahead run, the Sox taking a 6-5 lead.
That lead didn't get past the home fifth, as Vladi Guerrero doubled off reliever Julian Tavarez and eventually came around to score on a ground ball by Gary Matthews Jr., with only an acrobatic pirouette by Pedroia keeping Matthews from reaching.
So it was 6-all when Pedroia came to the plate against Justin Speier, the Angels' third pitcher of the night, and with a mighty swing launched a drive that ticked off the glove of left fielder Anderson and dropped into the bullpen. The home run was the fifth of the year for Pedroia, his first in 81 at-bats, and one of the bigger hits of his nascent career.
"Playing on the road in a tie is very difficult,'' Francona said. "Pedroia hitting the ball out allowed us to line up the good pitchers.''
An inning later, Brandon Moss, in his first big-league start, would collect his first hit, a clean single to center. The hit advanced Coco Crisp, who had struck out but reached first safely on a passed ball by catcher Jeff Mathis. Crisp, who had entered the game as a defensive replacement, goaded pitcher Scott Shields into a wild pickoff throw, both runners moving up a base, and Crisp scored on Lugo's sacrifice fly. When Pedroia rolled to second, Moss moved up to third.
Shields hit Youkilis in the left hand with a pitch, bringing up Ramirez, whose first-pitch double off Angels starter Dustin Moseley had galvanized a team that had stumbled its first two nights here. Shields threw a wild pitch, bouncing a breaking ball in the dirt, allowing Moss to score the team's ninth run of the night.
Gagne gave up a hit and a walk in the eighth, but struck out Figgins and retired Cabrera on a pop to second. Jonathan Papelbon worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his 29th save.