For the Angels, in so many ways, it had come down to mistakes. And there had been plenty, from Vladimir Guerrero's flop on the bases in Game 1 to Torii Hunter's flubs in the outfield in Game 2 and again in Game 3, to Howie Kendrick's futility at the plate, to Hunter running into an out at second base on a single to left in the ninth. These were not the moments of a 100-win team.
Still, there were hard words before Game 3 coming from the Angels manager. "We're not getting eliminated tonight," Mike Scioscia said. "We're not getting eliminated tonight."
They tried their best to live up to that brash statement, with four runs off playoff-untouchable Josh Beckett, matching bullpen arm for bullpen arm, as the game headed into extra innings in front of 39,067 at Fenway Park, most of whom lasted as the game headed to its fifth hour. That was when Erick Aybar's single to center scored Mike Napoli with the winning run in the 12th in a 5-4 victory that gave credence to Scioscia's words.
And left the Red Sox, still ahead, 2 games to 1, headed to Fenway tonight for Game 4. Not that the Sox, though frustrated, had any doubts that they control a series in which they have two more chances to win one game.
"We're confident in our team, we've been all year, hopefully we can come out and play better," said Dustin Pedroia, expressing frustration at being 0 for 13 in the series. "We're up two games to one.
"We like our position, obviously. If we started the series and we said we were up two games to one right now, we'd be pretty excited about it. We've just got to find a way to win one more game."
Or, as Jason Varitek said, "We still have to continue to go out and play our game and worry about ourselves. We lost tonight. Good thing we play later today."
When Aybar's single dropped in front of Coco Crisp, it was hardly a moment gilded in postseason glory. It was hardly one for the scrapbooks, at least for the Red Sox.
For the Angels, it was another story, their season on the brink, a lost opportunity to mash Beckett leading to a bullpen matchup as midnight came and went. There was drama, there was a mystic moment, there was a win, and that was all that mattered.
"It's always frustrating to lose a game," Beckett said. "We played a good game, just as good a game as they did, except they scored one more run than we did. They had opportunities, we had opportunities."
The Red Sox and Angels will do it all over tonight, with the Sox getting another chance to clinch a trip to the American League Championship Series, this time with Game 1 winner Jon Lester on the mound.
As for Beckett, it was as if some impostor - related to Daisuke Matsuzaka, perhaps - had invaded his body from the start. He wasn't himself, especially himself in the postseason. There were pauses and lengthy breaks between pitches as Beckett spent the first inning averaging nearly a minute per throw.
"I didn't see any backlash from his oblique, but he did a lot to be able to even take that ball for us," Varitek said. "We all commend him, because he was hurting. We all tip our cap for him even to make that start."
Varitek was on the mound almost as much as Beckett, conferring repeatedly.
This was certainly not the pitcher the Sox have come to rely on in postseason play, with a 0.92 ERA in his last five playoff starts. He managed to get through five painful and painfully long innings, finishing his night on his 106th pitch, a 93 mile-per-hour fastball he blew past Figgins, already the author of three hits, including a game-opening double.
"I thought they really made him work," manager Terry Francona said. "It's been a couple of weeks. I don't think his command was what it can be, what it will be.
"We dodged a lot of bullets and couldn't in the end."
Beckett left the bases loaded twice in four innings, in the first and the fourth, with minimal damage. He walked in a run in the first, and he allowed a mammoth two-run home run to Napoli with two outs in the third.
Napoli hit another homer, this one reaching the first rows of the Monster seats to break a 3-3 tie in the fifth. Not that Jacoby Ellsbury's popup single was any less effective.
The Sox got three runs in the second on an embarrassing play by Gold Glove center field Hunter. He stopped in short center, allowing Howie Kendrick to try for a ball beyond his reach. The bases were cleared for the first three-RBI single in postseason history.
Not quite earth-shattering, but it got the job done. Like Kevin Youkilis's smoked double in the fifth inning, slamming off the center-field wall, which sent Ellsbury home with the fourth run for the Sox. Beckett somehow outlasted Angels starter Joe Saunders, who was pulled in the fifth after walking Jason Bay with two outs. Jose Arredondo replaced him and struck out Mike Lowell looking to strand two, but the Sox tied it at 4-4.
By the time this was over it was well past 1 a.m.
"You've got to win three," Alex Cora said. "You've got five games to win three. The series wasn't over in Anaheim. We had just won two."