12-inning loss spoils the party
A shocker. The Red Sox did not uncork more bubbly last night. They did not smoke cigars and spray suds over one another. Jonathan Papelbon did not dance on the Fenway lawn for the 11 o'clock news.
The Los Angeles Angels postponed Boston's clinch party with an excruciating, 12-inning 5-4 victory in Game 3 of the Division Series. The game was played in front of the largest Fenway crowd (39,067) since World War II, lasted 5 hours 19 minutes, and ended at 12:48 this morning when Jered Weaver - making the first relief appearance of his career - got Alex Cora to ground to third base.
The Sox get another chance to clinch tonight at 8:37 when Jon Lester takes the mound against John Lackey.
Frustrated all night, the Angels won it with a manufactured run in the top of the 12th off lefty reliever Javier Lopez, Boston's sixth pitcher. Halo hero Mike Napoli (two homers) singled to left and was sacrificed to second by Howie Kendrick. No. 9 hitter Erick Aybar sent Napoli home with a soft single to center on an 0-and-2 pitch. It was the first run since the fifth inning.
The victory snapped the Angels' 11-game postseason losing streak against Boston. The Red Sox had won nine consecutive playoff games. The midnight marathon fea tured high pitch counts, multiple trips to the mound, blown scoring opportunities, and blunders (physical and mental) by both teams. The Angels seemed intent on avoiding home plate, but their bullpen did a tremendous job holding the Sox down after the fifth inning.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia called his shot before the game.
"We're not getting eliminated tonight," the Los Angeles skipper said twice during his pregame media session.
It sounded noble but hollow. A manager is supposed to have faith in his guys, but the Angels did little to inspire any confidence while losing their first two games at home.
They continued their frustrating ways for 11 innings last night. Los Angeles stranded 14 runners over the first 11 frames, leaving the bases loaded twice and Torii Hunter was caught trying to take the extra base in the ninth. Los Angeles routed Boston's Mr. October, Josh Beckett (four runs, nine hits, four walks in five innings), but scored only five runs on 16 hits, five walks and a hit batsmen. In three games, the Angels have stranded a whopping 36 baserunners. And they live to fight another day.
The Angels fell behind, 3-1, in Game 3 because of a mind-boggling defensive blunder on an easy Jacoby Ellsbury pop in the second.
With the bases loaded and two outs, Ellsbury swung at a 3-and-2 pitch and hit a towering pop that was destined to drop in shallow center field. Gold Glove center fielder Hunter ran toward second while second baseman Howie Kendrick drifted back and appeared to be calling for the ball.
While all this was going on, Jed Lowrie, Jason Varitek, and Coco Crisp were running around the bases. Like everyone else in the park, they were assuming the ball was going to be caught. Easily.
No. These are the Angels. So naturally, just as Hunter pulled up, Kendrick pulled back and they looked at one another as the ball plopped onto the Fenway grass for a ridiculous three-run single. Angels starter Joe Saunders put both hands on his head and gasped in astonishment. We all did. This was a hideous moment, even by Angels standards. It was the first three-run single in postseason history.
Los Angeles fought back to tie it on the first of Napoli's two home runs. The Angels catcher's second homer gave the visitors a 4-3 lead, but Kevin Youkilis's RBI double in the fifth tied it, 4-4. It stayed that way well after midnight.
"We had a miscue that cost us three runs, but we played a lot better," said Scioscia. "I feel good we played better. I think this gives us momentum and makes [tonight's] game interesting."
The champagne goes back on ice as the Red Sox try to advance to the American League Championship Series for the fourth time in the last six years. If the Angels win tonight, the series returns to Anaheim Wednesday for a fifth and deciding game.
The Sox don't want a fifth game. They've got new worries. Starting with Beckett. The ace strained an oblique muscle last week and is clearly off his game. It's hard to know what to expect. Meanwhile, the bullpen is strapped (ditto for the Angels), gutty Mike Lowell (hip) looks like he needs a wheelchair, and MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia is 0 for 13 in the series. It would be a mistake to give the Angels momentum to take home for a deciding game. Despite his lofty record, Daisuke Matsuzaka doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.
So it behooves the Red Sox to get this over with tonight.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.