Much drama saved for end of Sox win
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The pitch was just a tick off, bringing the count full. The runner led off second base, his lead big, as the batter - two home runs and a double into his afternoon - stood at the plate. But Mike Napoli walked. Of course, he also represented the winning run with just one out, a man on second, and Jonathan Papelbon on the mound.
Erick Aybar whiffed, his bat flying around on a pitch that was nearly in the dirt by the time catcher Jason Varitek gathered it in. Chone Figgins walked, too, pushing the bases full of Angels with two outs and a single run between them and the Red Sox.
So there he was, Howie Kendrick. Two sliders, two strikes. Seven straight pitches followed, seven straight fouls back behind the plate. And then, on the 37th pitch of the inning, with the "Howie" chant ringing through Angel Stadium, the liner dropped into the hands of Rocco Baldelli in right. For the win.
"After the fifth or sixth or seventh one, I was kind of giggling out there," said Papelbon, who had surrendered a homer to Torii Hunter leading off the ninth. "Is this really happening? It was kind of one of those moments where you're like, 'Man, how many more foul balls is this guy going to hit?' "
It was seven fouls, ultimately, 39 pitches in the four-out save of the 5-4 win, which likely leaves Papelbon on the bullpen bench for today's game, and possibly tomorrow's as well.
"Was that the proverbial 'had them all the way'?" manager Terry Francona said. "That was some kind of at-bat. Tek kept setting up, looked to me, farther away. It just wasn't going farther away. If you were a baseball fan - which at the moment I wasn't - that was an unbelievable at-bat."
Papelbon had gone with the sliders, two of them, to start. Then three fastballs, starting outside and heading upstairs, as Kendrick lofted them into the net behind the plate. He tried everything, though seemed loath to throw a splitter that might end up in the dirt. And finally, finally, it worked, though that line drive to right looked off the bat as if it might be able to find a bit of the gap.
"We couldn't quite get the ball expanded," Varitek said. "He kept doing a good job of fouling the ball off. We expanded up, away, or down, or off. He put together a pretty good at-bat."
But it was big only because of Jason Bay and Mike Lowell. With the Sox offense having trouble making magic of late, it was left to three swings by two men to prove the winning margin for the Sox. Or, as Bay said, "I think I probably doubled my April stats from every other April."
That might be an exaggeration for the career .276 hitter in April, but one can forgive him, especially after his two home runs powered the Sox yesterday.
After Napoli slammed a pitch out to the rock pile in center field on a 3-and-2 count in the fifth inning (on the ninth pitch of his at-bat), the Sox had lost their 2-2 tie and put Brad Penny in danger of losing his first game as a Red Sox. The solo homer marked the second time in three innings against Penny that the Angels had led off with a home run - the other also coming from Napoli.
Not so fast. First, Bay had to make his second pick-up of the game.
The first? A controversial catch in left field that bounced off his glove, then appeared to bounce off the wall in left, before reinserting itself into the glove for a fly out from Hunter to begin the fourth inning. (Bay was adamant after the game that he made the catch).
The second came after Baldelli beat out an infield single to lead off the seventh, which was followed by that smash out to left for Bay's two-run homer, the one that provided the one-run lead, the first of the series for the Sox.
Perhaps Bay was jealous of Napoli, as the left fielder made sure to duplicate the feat of the catcher, sending his own second homer out in the ninth. This one again left the park to left, settling into the stands, and marking the 13th multihomer game of his career.
"We haven't played with a lead for a few days," Francona said. "We pull even, as soon as we pull even, they come right back, take the lead. Then we get a good swing by Bay and we get the tack on run, or we're probably still playing."
It had been 25 2/3 innings straight of scoreless pitching for Angels starter Joe Saunders when Lowell lifted a fly ball out to left field. It barely made a sound, and dropped just beyond the grasp of left fielder Juan Rivera, over the short fence and into the stands. The molasses-like Lowell, still slowed in his recovery from offseason hip surgery in October, could take as much time as he wanted.
The Sox had been down by two, the two-run homer bringing them back even, as Penny tried to work out the kinks of an entire season of hurting shoulder and subpar results.
He had pitched and pitched in 2008, never feeling quite right, and never pitching quite right. He found a home on the disabled list, feuded a bit with his team, and left the Dodgers to start a new life out east. That life started yesterday, with the win in his first try with the Sox, a victory that evened the series.
Two two-run home runs. One win for the Sox, something that has been a bit hard to come by for Boston thus far, as the team starts its season against some of the cream of the American League.
"It felt like a playoff game," Francona said. "A little early for that. I mean we come out of the chute and we play a team that won 97 games and another team that won 100. It's not easy."