The Red Sox season came to a stunning end this afternoon in front of 38,704 fans at Fenway Park. Closer Jonathan Papelbon, who had never before allowed a run in post-season play, permitted two inherited runners to score in the eighth inning and then—after retiring the first two batters in the ninth inning—surrendered three runs as the Los Angeles Angels rallied to defeat the Red Sox, 7-6, and advance to the ALCS.
It was a surreal ending to the game and the ‘09 campaign for the Red Sox, who came into the ALDS on a four-game winning streak and favored to move on to face the New York Yankees for the AL pennant.
Papelbon was one strike away from sending the series to Game Four tomorrow night…but with two out and two strikes on Erick Aybar, he threw a ball over the middle of the plate that the diminutive shortstop lined into center field.
Little did anyone know that it would be the beginning of the end.
Papelbon then went to a full count on 3B Chone Figgins before walking him to put the tying runs on base. Once again he got within a strike of ending the game, but he left a pitch up in the strike zone and out over the plate that RF Bobby Abreu slapped over the head of Jason Bay and off the Green Monster. Aybar scored.
Red Sox 6, Angels 5.
The decision was made to intentionally walk CF Torii Hunter (who was 3-for-5 against Papelbon) and pitch to DH Vladimir Guerrero (who was 1-for-10 in his career against the Sox closer). The strategy backfired as Guerrero ripped the first pitch into center field to score both Figgins and Abreu with the tying and go-ahead runs.
The Angels had come within one strike of losing the game on three occasions, yet each and every time they managed to keep the game alive against one of the game’s best closers.
It was as if destiny were at work.
Papelbon was pulled…he left the game to a chorus of boos (see accompanying picture). Hideki Okajima relieved him and retired Kendry Morales for the final out of the half-inning, but the damage had already been done.
Angels closer Brian Fuentes did what Pappy couldn’t do—he retired the Sox 1-2-3 in the ninth inning to end the contest.
It was the first post-season sweep in Angels franchise history…and it came against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs the last four times they met.
Angels starter John Lackey said: “It’s nice to be going home and playing again, instead of going home and it’s over. This is the most fun for me, and I’ve got a ring—that says a lot.”
Los Angeles owner Arte Moreno, who bought the team in 2003—one year after they won their only world championship—said: “We’re finally here. I think that the fourth time’s a charm. It’s great for us, because we’ve been knocking on the door for a while.”
Red Sox manager Terry Francona observed: “The season doesn’t wind down, it just comes to a crashing halt. You go into the top of the inning excited because you think you’re going to keep playing and half an inning later, you’re going home.”
Boston took a 3-0 lead off southpaw Scott Kazmir in the third inning on a two-run double by Dustin Pedroia and a RBI-single by Victor Martinez. LA got one of those runs back against Clay Buchholz in the top of the fourth inning on a Kendry Morales home run…but the Sox did them on better in the bottom of the inning when JD Drew hit a two-run home run to extend the lead to 5-1.
At that point it appeared the season would last at least one more day…but then fate intervened.
Buchholz was pulled from the game after loading the bases with no one out in the top of the sixth inning. Fireballer Daniel Bard came in and shattered LF Juan Rivera’s bat on a double play ball that closed the gap to three runs. Bard then retired Izturis—leaving a runner at third base—and worked a perfect seventh inning, striking out two batters.
Wagner put two runners on with one out in the eighth and then induced a ground ball to second base that Pedroia struggled with for a fleeting second—just long enough to prevent him from turning the inning-ending double play. Pedroia got the out at first base, but the inning continued. Papelbon was brought in to face Rivera, who hit a two-run single to cut the lead to one run (5-4).
Mike Lowell lined a two-out RBI-double down the right field line in the bottom of the inning to extend the lead back to two runs.
And then game the disastrous ninth inning.
The Red Sox offense mustered just 15 hits in the series, the fourth-fewest hits by a team in ALDS history.