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Angels 7, Red Sox 6

Closed for season

Papelbon can’t shut door, Angels sweep Red Sox

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / October 12, 2009

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The bottle of Bud Light rested next to him as Jonathan Papelbon folded his shirts, filled his bags, and cleared out his locker. The rest of his teammates had melted away, either out the door to lives that might not include the Red Sox next season or back into the players’ lounge, where there was solace in a beer or two. But Papelbon sat on a chair in his corner of the clubhouse, long after he had thrown his final pitch of the day and the season, silently packing.

He had been so close to ending the afternoon, extending this American League Division Series. And yet he hadn’t, his fastball-fastball-fastball repertoire not fooling the Angels, leaving himself and his team open for an improbable comeback. Papelbon had been one strike away three times with two outs in the ninth inning. Erick Aybar singled, then Chone Figgins walked, then Bobby Abreu doubled.

On each batter, Papelbon had gotten to two strikes. He couldn’t get any of them.

And so, on an afternoon that looked ripe for an extension of the ALDS, the Sox watched as their All-Star closer, the one who started the day having never allowed an earned run in his 26-inning postseason career, gave up two inherited runs in the eighth, and three of his own in the ninth, leading to a 7-6 loss. He blew the save, and as he walked off the mound after he was pulled by manager Terry Francona, some of the 38,704 booed.

As Clay Buchholz said after it was all over, “It can turn on you just as quick as you can win the game. Hard to even think about the way that went down just now.’’

“The season doesn’t wind down,’’ Francona said. “It just comes to a crashing halt.’’

So that was it for the Sox, their 2009 season coming to a close in most crushing fashion. For a team that had been 9-2 in elimination games in the Francona era, the Sox blew a chance to add a tally in the winning column, coming as close as they could to earning a Game 4.

It was demoralizing, mostly because the offense was supposed to be the issue. Instead, as the Sox finally got a few hits against the Angels, their lights-out bullpen left the lights on.

“I think we got outplayed in this series,’’ Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. “We didn’t play our best baseball. We didn’t play all that well, all things told, over these last three games. And they certainly did. They deserve it. They outplayed us fair and square and deserve to move on. You have to be a really good [team] and play really well to win in the playoffs. We didn’t play well in this series.’’

And especially not at the end. It was a two-run, ninth-inning lead for their closer, and it dissolved, all with two outs. It was about as bad as it gets. It was an ignominious end for a team with World Series aspirations at the beginning of the year. It was beaten, and beaten solidly.

“I think we thought we had a better team than this,’’ Jason Bay said. “Ultimately it’s the wins and losses that count. I guess you could say in those three games we didn’t really do a lot to warrant winning. They were obviously the better team.

“Ultimately to lose three straight and that last one ripped away from you, it’s disappointing and it hurts.’’

After a solid start from Buchholz and an impressive escape by Daniel Bard in the sixth, Billy Wagner had taken the ball in the eighth with a 5-2 lead. But Wagner gave up a leadoff double to Abreu and, one out later, a walk to Vladimir Guerrero. After Kendry Morales grounded out, it took just one pitch for the runs to come in on the first pitch thrown by Papelbon, a fastball that Juan Rivera sent to right-center for a single. Boston’s lead was cut to 5-4, although Papelbon still had a 0.00 ERA in the postseason.

He wouldn’t for much longer, even though, as Bard said, “Two outs, nobody on? I’d take that situation a million times.’’

Papelbon allowed a single by Aybar, a walk to Figgins, a double by Abreu, an intentional walk to Torii Hunter, and a decisive two-run single by Guerrero to finish him and his team.

“I don’t see why he should get all the blame,’’ Wagner said. “If I could have gone out there and gave him a 1-2-3 inning, I would have saved him from having to go out there for that third. You don’t want to have to put your closer in that situation. He’s been great. He’ll continue to be great. To me, he’s done what he was supposed to do. Sometimes, it just doesn’t pay off.’’

Papelbon’s response? “That’s the kind of teammates I have. But I definitely feel like a lot of this is on me.’’

That, and the fact that the Sox barely hit at all. Their offense awoke in Game 3 yesterday. The Sox scored three runs in the third on a two-run double by Dustin Pedroia and a Victor Martinez RBI single. After Morales’s homer in the fourth cut the margin to 3-1, the home team added two more on J.D. Drew’s homer to center.

But even with the hits, a very good performance from Buchholz and a lead for the bullpen, they simply weren’t good enough to force a fourth game. They weren’t good enough to win the series.

“We didn’t play well in this series,’’ Epstein said. “That’s a disappointment. We have to live with that.’’

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