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Angels 4, Red Sox 3

Visitors’ hour

Angels salvage a win in Fenway series finale

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 18, 2009

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The catcher whipped his body around and took a roundabout route to the baseball. The ball had squirted out, a low curveball that stayed low on the bounce. And as Jason Varitek scampered after the ball, Chone Figgins ran to first base.

For the second straight night, there was a batter who had struck out running to first and making it safely. With two outs in the seventh inning last night, Josh Beckett whipped his arm back and threw, with runners on second and third. Beckett intended the 1-and-2 pitch to be down and out of the strike zone. But it shot between Varitek’s legs and behind home plate.

Varitek tore wildly after it, but he couldn’t get to it before Figgins made it to first, and before Howie Kendrick had come home, tying the game at three runs apiece. Beckett got Erick Aybar looking to end the inning, but the damage had been done.

And, unlike the previous two games against the Angels, the Red Sox couldn’t make this one count. Though that wild pitch only tied the score, the Angels scored the go-ahead run off Billy Wagner in ninth as the Sox lost, 4-3, last night.

“It was one of those deals where I don’t know if it hit a soft piece of dirt and just stayed down,’’ said Beckett, who called it a “freak deal.’’

“Over the last four years, I can’t remember one time where Tek doesn’t block that ball. He’s so good at it. I just think it took kind of a wild hop and stayed down on him.’’

It wasn’t over on that pitch. There was still time for the Sox to come back. But they didn’t, ceding the final game of the series to the Angels, ending both their seven-game winning streak and their 10-game home winning streak.

With the 38,157 at Fenway expecting a sweep, perhaps it came as a surprise that the ball off the bat of Kendrick sailed just over the glove of Dustin Pedroia in the ninth. The second baseman’s arm was outstretched, his legs churning, but the single dropped behind him in short right field, bringing pinch runner Terry Evans around to score the deciding run.

It was, as it turned out, the winning run. Yes, the Angels can beat the Sox occasionally when it comes down to it.

“It all started with the walk,’’ said Wagner, who allowed a free pass to Juan Rivera to start the inning. “If he gets a hit, so be it, but a walk always comes back to haunt you. That was how simple it was, it all started with the walk. It all started with the first guy.’’

Not that anyone in the Sox clubhouse appeared overly concerned. It was just a loss, nothing more, and it was difficult to muster any doom or gloom at the end of a 7-1 homestand with the Sox still holding a six-game lead in the wild-card race.

“I think in a couple of aspects maybe it was just things evening out,’’ Jason Bay said. “It was just not really one of those games you look back and think much [about]. They beat us.’’

But the wild pitch helped the Angels get to that point. Again. There also were two outs in the seventh Wednesday when Varitek couldn’t contain a third strike, leading to four unearned runs. In fact, it was the third time in a month that the Sox had allowed a base runner on a strikeout. (On Aug. 25, with Varitek catching, Jon Lester’s wild pitch allowed the White Sox’ Alexei Ramirez to reach - also, strangely, in the seventh inning.)

“I have to see the replay,’’ Varitek said. “I thought I was in a position to block. I didn’t keep it in front of me. Something I do well is block the ball.’’

That was the third run off Beckett, who went eight innings. Although he didn’t get a win, Beckett continued to look better, especially compared with the debacle that was August. While reaching the 200-inning mark in his outing, Beckett showed an improvement that will be necessary for the Sox going forward.

“I think, as far as results, the results are getting better,’’ Beckett said. “Everything’s coming back to where I need it to be.’’

And where the Red Sox need it to be. As always, there was Beckett taking all the blame for a loss that wasn’t entirely his fault. While he had also given up single runs in the third (homer by Kendrick) and fifth (back-to-back two-out doubles), the Sox had scored just three runs off Ervin Santana, starting with Jacoby Ellsbury’s fourth-inning homer - his first in 176 at-bats - and ending with Bay’s two-run shot three batters later.

“I think the starter most nights deserves the decision,’’ Beckett said. “That’s always been my take on it. You stay out there until you get either the win or the loss. That’s why you’re one of the starters.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, and somebody ends up being the guy that ends up with the ‘L’ next to his name. But as far as the starter, yeah, absolutely, you take every game that you lose as a loss for you.’’

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