Angels send Sox home in 2-0 hole
ANAHEIM, Calif. - Josh Beckett had looked so good, had been so good. Then, in the span of six batters, it all went away.
The Sox’ fortunes appeared promising, with Beckett matching Jered Weaver through the first six innings. He had been the postseason savior of old, the same author of domination as he had been with the Marlins, as he had been in 2007 with the Red Sox. But by the end of the seventh, that was all gone, the Angels taking a 4-1 lead on a Sox team that could only dream of the Mendoza Line in this series.
And while the spectacular comebacks of the 2004 American League Championship Series and the 2003 Division Series are well known in New England, coming back from the brink of elimination is daunting.
So, after last night’s 4-1 loss in Game 2 of the ALDS, the Sox were set to fly home to Boston, crawl into beds that were likely to offer scant comfort, all with Scott Kazmir looking to close out the series tomorrow.
That leaves the fates of the Sox in the hands of Clay Buchholz, a pitcher who has crumbled mentally in the past, a pitcher who finished the regular season allowing six home runs over his final eight innings. Of course, he is also a pitcher that threw brilliantly down the stretch for the Sox, demonstrating a vastly improved maturity, helping keep together a team desperate for quality starts.
“It’s not the end of the world, like somebody said,’’ Dustin Pedroia said, referring to Manny Ramirez’s comments midway through the Sox’ comeback in the 2007 ALCS against Cleveland. “We’re going to come out and play as hard as we can. Everybody in this room, we all fight. We’ve fought through a lot of things this year. We’re definitely not giving up. We’ve got a lot of baseball ahead of us.
“There’s a lot of character here. That’s what we’re built on. A lot of guys, a lot of us are underdogs. Now we definitely are as a team. We’ve got to play better.’’
As David Ortiz said, “We never change our mentality. We always try to keep on winning, win games and try to bounce back. We’re going to go home and try to play a better game [tomorrow].’’
It had seemed as though Beckett would get the Sox on track, would return the team to the series, would get them back to Fenway with a split at Angel Stadium.
But that didn’t quite happen.
Suddenly Beckett faltered, after his two best innings of the evening, a leadoff walk to Vladimir Guerrero in the seventh inning yielding to a 3-and-0 count on Kendry Morales. He had lost the strike zone, after showing stellar command through the first six innings. But, Beckett worked the count full and got Morales to fly out to left on the eighth pitch of the at-bat.
And then the Angels used their speed. They had utilized it earlier on a hit-and-run with Bobby Abreu and Guerrero. Now Howie Kendrick, running for Guerrero, stole second with one out. Juan Rivera grounded to third base, leaving it up to Maicer Izturis.
He did just that, with the stadium erupting and the Rally Monkey jumping, and the ball getting past a reaching Beckett and a diving Pedroia. The Angels were ahead, 2-1, and the Sox offense hadn’t done much in two games.
It got worse.
Izturis stole second and Beckett hit Mike Napoli with a pitch, then Beckett watched as Aybar blasted a pitch over the head of Jacoby Ellsbury for a triple. Two more runs were in, Beckett was out, and the 4-1 deficit seemed insurmountable.
“I felt good through six innings, made a couple mistakes in situations where I can’t make mistakes,’’ Beckett said. “I felt good. The leadoff walk, that’s uncharacteristic. Just not making pitches when I needed to.’’
Through the first part of the game, though, that had been exactly what he had been doing. But he was matched by Weaver, who had allowed just one earned run in 13 2/3 innings over two starts to the Sox this season.
Weaver, like John Lackey the night before, had shut down the Sox offense. It was far too familiar, like the lackluster, overmatched performance coming out of the All-Star break, like the way they had looked in Yankee Stadium in the midst of a six-game losing streak in early August.
“He wasn’t letting us drive the ball,’’ Ortiz said. “He was trying to stay off the plate, using all his pitches, throwing them at any time.’’
And the Sox weren’t hitting them, getting just four hits for the second straight night.
At least last night the Sox added a pair for extra bases, starting with an Ellsbury triple to start the fourth inning. With that hit, the ball landing in deep center, beyond the reach of Torii Hunter, Ellsbury snapped a personal postseason 0-for-24 streak.
After Pedroia couldn’t convert, Victor Martinez stepped to the plate and singled up the middle. Ellsbury came home with the first run the Sox had scored since the first inning of Game 7 of the 2008 ALCS, a span of 20 innings.
In the bottom of the inning, the Angels began with a leadoff single from Abreu. Then came an outstanding catch by Mike Lowell, across his body, on a Hunter line drive as he continues to play outstanding, presurgery style defense in this series. But the Angels put on the hit-and-run and, with Abreu off, Pedroia went toward second base, opening a hole for Guerrero. And Guerrero took it, the single getting Abreu to third base. Morales followed with a sacrifice fly to right, tying the game at 1.
The tie lasted until the seventh, until Beckett lost the strike zone and the Sox lost the game.
That leaves the Sox one mistake from the offseason.
One more loss, and the Sox will trudge to Fenway Park to clean out their lockers, heading home for a winter that would be longer than planned. This wasn’t exactly how the team expected to leave Southern California, deeply in trouble, hoping they can put together a three-game winning streak, as they did in 2003 and 2004 and 2007.
“I don’t think we’ve played well enough to win either game,’’ said Lowell. “I don’t think it’s the way we scripted it before we got here. We’ve definitely dug a pretty good hole for ourselves.
“You’re only eliminated when they win that third game. It’s a good feeling going back to Boston. We just have to be very focused on just the one game [tomorrow].’’