Entering the American League Division Series, it was widely perceived one of the Angels' biggest advantages over the Red Sox was their bullpen. That line of thought suggested Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia had the faith to turn the ball over to his relievers, while Sox manager Terry Francona did not.
And while the bullpen ultimately failed Boston last night in its bid to sweep the visiting Angels, a five-man unit anchored by Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon continued a stellar postseason performance that nearly had the Sox popping champagne at Fenway Park.
After Josh Beckett lasted only five innings in his first start since returning from an oblique injury, four relievers - Papelbon, Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, and Hideki Okajima - combined to toss six scoreless innings to push the game into extra frames. The Angels struck for the winning run against lefthander Javy Lopez in the 12th for a 5-4 triumph in Game 3 of the best-of-five series.
Inside the Red Sox locker room there was no panic or concern. The relievers understood this is how baseball goes.
"Beckett unfortunately only went five, but we went in there and did our job," said Delcarmen, who kicked off the reliever relay by retiring the first five batters he faced before a two-out single in the seventh forced him to pass the baton to Okajima.
"It was a good game by both teams, but we gotta come back [in Game 4]," said Delcarmen.
Beckett lasted only five innings, giving up four runs and four hits while fanning six. The bullpen kept Boston in the game but was matched by an even stingier Angels pen.
Lopez gave up a manufactured run behind three hits. Mike Napoli, who hit a pair of home runs off Beckett, singled to left to start the 12th. He was sacrificed to second by Howie Kendrick and brought home on a one-out single by Erick Aybar.
"It was great game," said Masterson, who entered in the eighth and fanned Vladimir Guerrero for the inning's final out with a runner on first. Masterson stuck around for the ninth and - aided by a nice defensive play by Jason Bay to erase Torii Hunter trying to stretch a leadoff single - set the side down in order. Papelbon came on to work the 10th and 11th.
"We played well, they played well," said Masterson. "Someone had to score a run there. It just happens they did. There were a lot of opportunities missed. We'll come back [tonight] and do our thing."
Lopez and Delcarmen were making their first appearances of the series, but the Sox have leaned on Okajima, Masterson, and Papelbon. Despite some slight struggles in Game 2, the three have combined to work 10 1/3 innings, giving up just two runs (both in Game 2) on nine hits with three walks and 10 strikeouts.
After throwing a lot of innings last night, the Sox will lean on starter Jon Lester tonight, hoping their budding ace can eat up innings. But the group believes it will be ready if called upon.
"We're pretty strong," said Delcarmen. "Once we get that call, we gotta be ready . . . [Papelbon] might be down for [tonight], but we just gotta be ready."
"We're going to be fine. I think most guys threw just one [inning]," he said. "Guys will do their thing, no matter how many day's rest they got."
Chris Forsberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org