The way things had gone around the Fens during this longest of homestands, who was betting against rusty, dusty Roberto Petagine thwacking a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth last night? Surely, the Red Sox weren't going to be shut out at home by a bunch of disoriented Left Coasters who call two cities home.
But they were, as starter Paul Byrd (11-9) and relievers Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez combined to baffle and blind their hosts, 3-0, as the Angels ended their six-game road losing streak and sent Boston off to a big weekend in the Bronx on a down note before 35,351 at Fenway Park.
''We had a chance, and a lot of times we come through," said Sox manager Terry Francona, after his club had been blanked at home for the first time since the Indians whacked them, 7-0, June 27.
There was a golden chance in the eighth, when Boston had two on and nobody out and Manny Ramirez up to pinch hit. There was another in the ninth, when Kevin Millar was up with two on and one out. But both came to nothing, as Shields struck out three men looking, then Rodriguez whiffed three more -- John Olerud, Millar, and Petagine -- to end it.
''We had no margin for error," said Francona, whose people still held on to their four-game divisional lead after the Yankees lost yet again, 7-4, to lowly Tampa Bay at home. ''Three runs loomed larger than they usually do against us."
With Matt Clement (13-4), who hadn't lost since the Yankees beat him here July 16, on the hill, Boston figured to have a good chance to sweep the Angels in a three-game set for the first time in the regular season since 2001.
Clement started marvelously, setting down the first nine batters and striking out two, with only two balls leaving the infield. But the Angels nicked him for a run in the fourth inning, when Chone Figgins and old friend Orlando Cabrera led off with back-to-back doubles.
Then they got a couple of more runs in the seventh after Clement plunked leadoff hitter Vladimir Guerrero in the back and allowed a bloop single to right-center by Darin Erstad. Three fielder's choices later, the visitors were up, 3-0. Had the Sox been able to turn a 6-4-3 double play, commenced deftly by Renteria, they would have been out of the inning. But Robb Quinlan beat the relay by a step and Erstad scored. That was all Los Angeles-of-Anaheim needed to beat a club that had won 13 of their previous 16 meetings.
''If I throw that game out there 10 times with our team, we're going to win eight or nine of them," said Clement, who allowed just five hits in 6 2/3 innings. ''I ran into a tough customer tonight. He did a good job."
The last time Boston saw Byrd, Aug. 21 in California, they bashed him for four runs in the eighth en route to a 5-1 triumph. This time, he gave them just four hits in seven-plus innings, using his cut fastball masterfully. Still, Byrd never felt he was cruising.
''I knew I couldn't relax," he said. ''Every guy in the lineup for them is a quality batter. Even [Tony] Graffanino, batting ninth, is hitting over .300."
Once Byrd gave up a double to Millar over Figgins's head in center, and walked Bill Mueller on five pitches to open the eighth, he departed for Shields, who came in to face Ramirez, who had originally been given the night off to cure his slump. In came the righthanded Shields, who had given up David Ortiz's full-count walkoff homer on Tuesday.
This time, he caught Ramirez looking on a 2-and-2 pitch outside. Then, after walking Johnny Damon on five pitches to load the bases, Shields caught both Renteria and Ortiz looking, too, the latter on a full count.
''The guy's been amazing for them," said Damon. ''He's a competitor. He wants the ball. He knows how to get the job done. He's not afraid of anyone. He's their MVP."
Even then, the Angels weren't in the clear. ''A three-run lead in the Grand Canyon isn't safe with that club," said manager Mike Scioscia, who had been ejected for the second straight night in the fourth inning. ''They do a great job of pressuring you and they have power through the lineup."
In came Rodriguez to close, but after he had yielded a one-out single to Trot Nixon, then walked Jason Varitek and Mueller around a Millar strikeout, the bases were loaded with Petagine pinch hitting for Alex Cora. Three pitches, three strikes, and the Sox had been skunked.
Still, the town team heads for the Evil Empire with a healthy cushion after a 10-4 homestand. No matter what happens in Babe Ruth's house, Boston will leave the premises still in first place. ''We needed to do what we did," said Francona. ''We'll put this one behind us tonight and we'll go into New York. It's not very hard to get excited to play there."