ANAHEIM, Calif. -- With Red Sox pitchers unwitting participants in a frightening version of dodge ball since their arrival here, it almost seemed unfair that Matt Clement would draw the starting assignment last night, the memory of Carl Crawford's line drive off the side of his head still fresh.
But while Clement gave no hint of being the least bit traumatized, the night after knuckleballer Tim Wakefield took a line drive above his right ankle, and just hours after closer Keith Foulke took one off his right arm during an early round of batting practice, the Sox survived a hit of a different kind from the Anaheim Angels, prevailing, 4-3, in 10 grueling innings.
After Clement held the Angels to a run through seven innings, Bengie Molina delivered a two-run, two-out, tying single in the eighth off reliever Mike Timlin, after the Sox gambled and lost by issuing Vladimir Guerrero an intentional walk, putting the tying run on base. Timlin gave himself no margin for error by allowing former Sox shortstop Orlando Cabrera and Guerrero to execute a double steal before Molina's hit.
The Sox, trying to avoid their fourth loss in the last five games, went into the ninth inning with the knowledge that they would have to win without designated hitter David Ortiz, who was ejected after being called out on strikes to end the eighth. Even with Ortiz, the Sox had spent the night stranding base runners, ultimately leaving 16 men on base.
But it was a 10-pitch at-bat by Ortiz's stand-in, Roberto Petagine, that keyed the Sox' winning rally in the 10th against Scot Shields, the fourth Angels pitcher. After an infield hit by Gabe Kapler and a single by Johnny Damon, the fourth hit of the night by the Sox' leadoff man, Shields struck out Edgar Renteria. But Petagine, fouling off a succession of pitches, finally worked a full-count walk from Shields, loading the bases. Manny Ramirez, who had doubled and singled earlier, hit a chopper to third. Chone Figgins's only play was to first base, as Kapler scored the eventual winning run.
The win was preserved by Curt Schilling, who retired all six batters he faced, striking out the last two hitters in the ninth and the first two in the 10th, before Darin Erstad popped out to shortstop Renteria to end the game.
Clement provided easily his strongest performance since he was hit, striking out four straight Angels while the Sox staked him to an early 3-0 lead. Clement, who could easily draw a Game 1 assignment against the Angels if these teams meet in October, offered impressive proof that he would be equal to the task against the Angels, who are neck and neck with the Sox in determining which team would have home-field advantage against the other in the postseason.
The Angels began the night with one more win than the Sox (70 to 69) while playing two more games than their visitors, having blitzed the Sox, 13-4, Thursday night after Wakefield was forced to leave the game in the fifth inning after being struck by a liner from Angels rookie Casey Kotchman.
The Sox, losers of three of the first four games on their longest trip of the season, a 10-game trek through three cities and three time zones (Detroit, Anaheim, and Kansas City), left seven men on base in the first three innings. But the folks back home must have thought they'd fallen asleep on their remotes, the channel switching inadvertently from Channel 38 to the SciFi Channel when the Sox laid down three bunts, all smartly executed, in the first three innings.
No, the Sox, baseball's most prolific offensive machine, did not suddenly alter their strategy simply because manager Terry Francona last night sat down Kevin Millar, a move that had the feel of some permanence, especially after replacement John Olerud doubled home two runs in the fifth.
Two of the bunts came from the bottom two hitters in the Sox order, Cora and Kapler, after Mueller grounded a single to open the second. Cora dropped a bunt in front of Figgins for a single, and Kapler followed with a sacrifice fielded by pitcher John Lackey, who must have wondered where all the Sox bashers had gone.
Damon followed with a ground ball to first to score Mueller with the game's first run, but Renteria left Cora stranded at third when he rolled out to third.
That would become a recurring theme, as the Sox left at least one runner on base in each of the first six innings: three in the first, one in the second, two in the third, one in the fourth, two in the fifth, and two in the sixth.
Lackey's escape act frayed, however, in the fifth, after Ramirez hit a one-out double to right-center. Lackey uncorked his 16th wild pitch, tying him for the big league lead, to the screen, allowing Ramirez to advance to third, and after a walk to Jason Varitek, who had bunted his way on in the third, Olerud followed with his two-run double. Varitek just beat a strong relay from Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy, on a play that would have had the We Hate Dale Sveum Club in full cry if Varitek's slide had been a tick later.
The Angels broke through against Clement in the fifth. Kotchman, who had homered the night before off Wakefield, doubled and took third on Juan Rivera's ground out. The slumping Steve Finley followed with a one-hopper to Olerud, who was playing at normal depth but elected to throw home. His throw was low, Kotchman scoring on a play in which the official scorer did not charge Olerud with an error, and Finley reached on the fielder's choice. Kennedy flied out for the second out, but Figgins hit a single through the right side, sending Finley to third.
But Clement escaped further harm by inducing Cabrera to pop out to second. Before the game, the Sox had all but cut ties with Cabrera's former infield mate, Mark Bellhorn, designating him for assignment.