For a hockey guy, a guy from Canada, there was no way a bloodied finger was going to stop Jason Bay. Nor were the holes on his left forearm, perhaps cleat marks, stinging from champagne and serving as a memory of his sweep past Mike Napoli at home plate. He stood in the infield last night, his daughter with him, and knew just how far he had come from Pittsburgh.
And just how close the Red Sox had come to heading back to Anaheim, Calif., last night. With the score tied in the ninth inning, Bay had hit a ground-rule double, then slid home as rookie Jed Lowrie singled into right field.
"I about fell down rounding third because I was going faster than my legs would move," said Bay. "I would give myself a 10 [on the slide]. When he hit that ball, I was going to score. There was no question. I was gone."
So were the Angels, their Game 3 win only prolonging the American League Division Series. Instead of taking their already-packed bags and equipment with them on a plane for Game 5, the Sox crowded the Fenway field last night, celebrating their 3-2 win that clinched this series and their fourth trip in six years to the American League Championship Series. That series starts Friday, pitting AL East foes Tampa Bay and Boston.
It would be amazing if it hadn't become almost assumed.
"You start to breed that mentality of winning," Sean Casey said. "You expect to win."
That was why, despite having packed his stuff, Dustin Pedroia left his bag in the car. He didn't want to jinx the team. He didn't want to admit that there was a chance the Red Sox wouldn't win last night.
Because behind Jon Lester last night, that was exactly what the Sox knew they would do. And they nearly did it without the accustomed drama, as Lester's seven scoreless innings brought the Sox six outs from claiming victory. But Los Angeles tied it in the eighth against the Boston bullpen and nearly took the lead on a squeeze bunt in the ninth. But the game was still tied in the ninth.
So it came down to that, to the double by Bay that bounced into the stands in right field. Had it not, Bay was likely at third base - at least. But it curved, it found the crowd, and Bay was on second. But only until Lowrie singled to right off Scot Shields, bringing Bay home with a hand tag, bringing on the champagne and bringing on the ALCS and the Rays.
"In the back of my mind, I had a curveball," Lowrie said. "He threw me one that was up just enough, and I was able to find a hole."
But the heroics at the end by Bay and Lowrie - players not on the 25-man roster out of spring training - hardly erased Lester's brilliance.
Lester continued an incredible postseason streak. With seven scoreless, he has not given up an earned run in his last 22 2/3 postseason innings, and he has never given one up as a starter.
The 24-year-old ace - and now he truly is that - lowered his postseason ERA to 0.77. He had come up the biggest in the biggest spot, finishing off his outing with a 96-mile-per-hour fastball to get Erick Aybar to fly out to center field on his 109th pitch. He had allowed just four hits, just two walks, and had shut down his final eight batters. He was just what the Sox needed, just what would remedy any disappointments from the night before.
"This kid is one of the best pitchers in the league right now," manager Terry Francona said. "If we're going to get where we want to go, he'll be a huge part of that, as he already has been."
But then, it was all gone in an instant. The jubilant feeling in the stands, and in the dugout, as Torii Hunter sent a single out to right field in the eighth inning. Mark Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero, both on base on walks - advancing on a passed ball by Jason Varitek - came home to tie the score at 2-2. So while Lester might not have been scored upon, the Red Sox bullpen wasn't quite so lucky - or so good.
"My first thought is we've got to find a way to score," Pedroia said. "It's not going to be easy with their bullpen. You never take a step back and think you're going to lose."
They almost did, a squeeze attempt in the ninth with Reggie Willits on third snuffed out when Varitek ran down one of the fastest players in the league. Aybar had whiffed on the bunt try, and Willits was caught off third.
And the Sox, at that point, knew they weren't going to lose.
It would almost seem that this should be rote by now, as the Red Sox have been back to the playoffs, and won in the playoffs, over the last six seasons. But it has not, as evidenced by the bounding, bouncing, joyous celebration that wound itself from the dugout to home plate to first base where Lowrie was engulfed.
Before Game 3, Francona called winning "addicting." And he fed that addiction last night, in front of 38,785 at Fenway Park, who didn't seem to want to leave the park and end the party.
"It's a hard place to get four times in six years," general manager Theo Epstein said of the ALCS. "It's pretty sweet."