ANAHEIM, Calif. - Like the grand slam that finally ingratiated him to the Red Sox fan base in the 2007 postseason, J.D. Drew's answer to doubters, to questioners, to doctors' reports and rustiness, came off his bat and off Francisco Rodriguez at a moment when it seemed the Angels were close to stanching their failing season. Los Angeles had tied the game, their vaunted closer on the mound, as Drew's home run wafted out and out and out.
It hit near the green-tarped area in center field, a two-run shot in the ninth inning and a perfect bookend to Jason Bay's first-inning home run. It was the appropriate answer to Chone Figgins's eighth-inning triple and subsequent tying run.
And there too, seemingly, came the end for the Angels. Oh, they have the possibility of three more games, but they also face the knowledge of having lost their last 11 postseason games to the Sox. Surviving Daisuke Matsuzaka's typical roller-coaster start, the Sox had done it again, this time with a 7-5 win last night in front of 45,354 red-clad fans at Angel Stadium.
"There's probably no greater feeling as a baseball player," Drew said. "You battle all year to get to this point, and you get to experience that. I hadn't played in six weeks, so I'm thankful to be out there and just run around and play with our team. To contribute in a key situation is huge."
Drew's home run, his first since July 26 against the Yankees, came after David Ortiz had led off the inning with a double to the wall in right field. He had pulled into second, where he was replaced by pinch runner Coco Crisp, who had a near-pickoff experience with Drew at the plate. Ultimately, Crisp's speed wasn't required, a slow trot home with the ball out of the park all that was needed.
The Sox are now on the brink of another sweep of the Angels, which would be their second in as many years, with the teams heading to Boston for a possible finale tomorrow. There, the Angels will find Josh Beckett, one of the best postseason pitchers in history, awaiting them in Game 3.
"We have a challenge," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "This game ain't over until somebody wins three games, it's that type of series. We go into Boston, win a game, and the pressure is back on them. We need to play baseball.
"There is a challenge in front of us, and the only way to meet it is going to be pitch by pitch, inning by inning on Sunday."
It had seemed from the beginning that the Sox would win this one, would go up, 2-0, like each of the other Division Series this year. With four first-inning runs off Ervin Santana, it was easy to believe the Sox were firmly implanted in the heads of the Angels. But that all changed in the eighth inning.
That was when Figgins slammed his fist against the cool California night air, having just pulled into third base with a triple. It was not only the first extra-base hit for the Angels after 19 straight singles, but it left the Sox in an unforgiving position. Their bullpen was decimated, with Matsuzaka having offered just five innings, and Jonathan Papelbon was the best option.
"They'd been chipping away for a while," Bay said. "I think it was a little bit of a letdown, but David comes out and automatically, one pitch, turns the momentum back in our favor. That's what we needed. It's easy to fall into a lull after something like that, but he comes out and kind of switches it back."
So, with the Angels on the verge of tying it, Papelbon took his place in the middle of the diamond. He got what he wanted on the first pitch, a foul pop to third base. But on the third, he was not so lucky. Mark Teixeira flied to mid center field, with the fleet Figgins reaching home plate easily ahead of the throw. The game was tied.
"I came back in the dugout, everybody was all about going out there and getting a run for me," Papelbon said. "I think that was our whole approach. David started off, which was a huge at-bat for us, and J.D. knocks the home run."
It wasn't that easy, though. The Sox still had the bottom of the ninth inning left, the third time this season Papelbon had been asked to get six outs. Which he did, with help from two stellar fielding plays from Kevin Youkilis. The third baseman (for the night) barehanded a bunt from Torii Hunter for the first out, then headed into the stands to grab a foul pop from Gary Matthews Jr., the ball a sno-cone in the top of his glove.
Earlier, Justin Masterson faced the biggest situation of his young major league career: a two-run lead with two men on and no outs in the seventh. And he almost got out of it, faltering just enough for a bases-loaded walk to bring the Angels within 5-4.
The Sox had gotten to Santana almost immediately, or at least after he snuffed out the first two batters. Then the Sox smacked five straight hits, starting with Ortiz's line single, before Bay's three-run homer that landed on the rock formation in center. The left fielder - trying to live up to Manny Ramírez's postseason legacy in just one series - gave the Sox a four-run gap.
It would grow no larger. But it didn't matter. Despite Matsuzaka's foibles, as he gave up too many hits and too many walks, and pitched too few innings, and despite a brief faltering from the bullpen, the Sox came back. Came back and won.
"Everyone contributed today in some way, offensively, defensively, and we battled," Youkilis said. "That's the greatest thing about this team. We never give up. They came back and played a great game, and we just prepared to go out there in the end and get a W."
Now back to Boston, two games up, with Beckett. What could be better?
"This is a huge win for us," Drew said. "We go home with a two-game advantage, realizing we need to win one out of two at home. It's part of the whole thing of getting back to the World Series, so that's what we're going to do."