A bit lacking
Sox come up empty in frustrating loss
ANAHEIM, Calif. - By the end of the night - a long, angry night for the Red Sox - the enduring image was one of frustration. They had lost the first game of the American League Division Series against the Angels, lost it on a fastball that sailed beyond the fence in left-center.
That they could live with. Home runs happen, even against Jon Lester, even in Game 1 of the postseason against a team the Sox had handled over and over again.
The calls, though - that was where their ire was raised. Their blood pressure, too, though both had cooled by the time the game ended. But not before the manager and the first baseman let first base umpire CB Bucknor in on their feelings. Loudly.
But after last night’s 5-0 loss was over, the Sox were left with the fact that their ace had been outpitched, their bats had done little, and they had opened the doors to a much-improved Angels club that was called out by its center fielder in recent weeks about its tendency to play tight in close games.
It was that center fielder, one Torii Hunter, who battered Lester with the three-run, game-winning home run in the fifth inning, while Angels starter John Lackey was giving up nothing to the Red Sox, who have struggled this season against top-flight pitching.
“By and large, we’re a pretty good offensive team,’’ Jason Bay said. “Lackey shut us down, with four singles. Four singles and three errors isn’t going to win too many ballgames.’’
So while it was the same two franchises meeting again in the postseason, most everything was different.
Only an hour before game time, Sox owner John Henry was standing to the left of the visitors’ dugout in Angel Stadium. He was making small talk, shaking hands, when Angels owner Arte Moreno approached. They shook hands, and Moreno said, “Well, here we are again.’’
“It’s unbelievable, isn’t it?’’ Henry replied.
So was the game, at points. It shaped up in the beginning as a duel, with Lester and Lackey in lockstep, but it ended with only one of them waving his cap to an adoring crowd of 45,070. That, of course, was Lackey.
As Sox manager Terry Francona said, “Lot of life on his fastball. Looked like he was moving both ways. Threw enough breaking balls, we had to respect that, and he was able to locate his fastball again in two different directions. He was good. He was real good.’’
And Lester wasn’t quite good enough, as the fifth came around and his pitch count mounted. He allowed a double to Erick Aybar to begin the inning, which was followed by a sacrifice bunt by Chone Figgins. After he walked Bobby Abreu for the third time, Lester let go of a pitch to Hunter that was blasted out toward the rocks in left-center, putting the Angels up by three.
“I was trying to execute a two-seamer down and away, and it was more middle-up,’’ Lester said. “He put a good swing on it.’’
Lester also was busy getting aggravated over some questionable calls by home plate umpire Joe West. But it was Bucknor who made the most egregious error in the fourth, missing a clear tag by Kevin Youkilis on Howie Kendrick at first after a stellar pickup by Alex Gonzalez.
Replays confirmed that Bucknor - twice voted the worst umpire in baseball in a Sports Illustrated player survey - got the call wrong as Youkilis got his glove on Kendrick. Lester managed to get out of the inning, but it cost him six additional pitches, and left him at 66 through four.
“That’s what happens in baseball,’’ Lester said. “Calls can sometimes affect the game. But they’re doing the same thing we are. They’re out there busting their butt to do the right thing. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. That’s part of the human element of baseball.’’
It wasn’t the last time the Sox had a beef with Bucknor, who missed another call to open the sixth. Youkilis came down on the bag after snaring a high Mike Lowell throw before Kendrick - yes, him again - reached the base.
Bucknor called safe again, and Youkilis was so upset that he slammed his glove into the dirt. Francona rushed out to yell at Bucknor, his ire in full view. The Sox did get out of the inning without the Angels scoring again, thanks to a diving catch Jacoby Ellsbury made in center.
Lester pitched through tense circumstances, getting Vladimir Guerrero swinging to end a bases-loaded threat in the third, then getting Jeff Mathis swinging for the fourth out of that fourth inning (after the Kendrick play). He finally broke in the fifth
Lester said, “It wasn’t the best I’ve ever thrown the ball.’’
And with Lackey pitching about as well as he can, the Sox went down in a Game 1 for the first time since they were swept out of the 2005 ALDS by the White Sox. They will try again tonight, this time with Josh Beckett on the mound.
No one in the clubhouse was panicking, their anger having simmered down. They were calm, if unhappy with their performance.
“We’ve been here before,’’ Dustin Pedroia said. “We lost the first game. You don’t win one and series over. That’s not how it goes.’’