Extra Bases

Final: Angels 4, Red Sox 3

Nobody had to tell the Red Sox about their Angelic visitors and their devilish smallball ways. Give them an inch and they’ll take the game. A leadoff walk in the ninth. A bunt by a pinch hitter. A blooper to right center to score a pinch runner. Los Angeles 4, Boston 3.

“That was really how simple it was,” shrugged Billy Wagner, after he was hung with the loss that ended his teammates’ unbeaten home stand. “It all started with the walk (to Juan Rivera, who’d been hitless). You’ve got to get that first guy.”

Los Angeles had drawn even on a small mistake in the seventh, when Josh Beckett struck out Chone Figgins but his pitch in the dirt got by Jason Varitek and scored Howie Kendrick from third.

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“I thought I was in a position to block it and I didn’t keep it in front of me,” said the captain, who said he’d have to view a replay to determine why. “Something I do well is block the ball.”

So the Sox lost consecutive season series (1-8 and 4-5) for the first time in eight years to the Halos, whom they’re all but certain to meet in next month’s playoffs. Now, they hit the road for 10 games — three in Baltimore, four in Kansas City and three in the Bronx.
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BOTTOM 9th
Jepsen stayed around long enough to fan Bay and Scioscia went to closer Brian Fuentes, he of `strike 4′ notoriety from Wednesday. Fuentes, who’d mused that umpires were scared to rule for Fenway visitors, was greeted by Ortiz, whom he’d walked intentionally last night with two outs and unintentionally sparked the Sox fatal rally. This time he struck out Papi on a high pitch to get within one out of victory again. But Mike Lowell ripped a single to left and Rocco Baldelli was up to pinch hit for Drew, with Joey Gathright running for Lowell. Baldelli flied out to shallow right and both the Sox seven-game winning streak and their home stand were finished.

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TOP 9th
Beckett is gone with his fourth no-decision in seven games, with only one victory since August 12th. In came Wagner to face the bottom of the LA order and Scioscia went to classic Angelball. After Rivera led off with a walk, Reggie Willits pinch hit for Matthews and bunted Rivera to second. Then Kendrick dumped a blooper into short right to score Terry Efans, who was running for Rivera. That made it 4-3 and it was up to Bay to kindle a last-chance rally.
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BOTTOM 8th
After 111 pitches, Santana departed for righty Kevin Jepsen, who was charged with the two runs that enabled Boston to tie the game in Wednesday’s eighth inning. For a fluttering moment, with Dustin Pedroia on first with two outs, the Sox thought they might have done it again when Martinez launched a long ball to right. But Matthews gloved it on the warning track and the game remained 3-3.
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TOP 8th
After the twin shots by Ellsbury and Bay in the fourth, the Sox have been stifled utterly, reaching base only when Martinez was plunked in the right cheek (lower version) by Santana in the sixth and when Drew walked in the seventh. So Beckett, who’d thrown 104 pitches, came out for the eighth to face the heart of the Angels order (Bobby Abreu, Hunter and Kendry Morales), while lefty Billy Wagner warmed in the pen.
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BOTTOM 7th
The Sox squoze another inning out of Beckett, but not without giving up the lead after two outs with nobody on. After Kendrick singled Maicer Izturis, who batted for Mathis because he was .346 lifetime against Beckett) ripped a ball over J.D. Drew’s head that bounced into the Los Angeles/Anaheim bullpen for a ground-rule double. Then when Figgins struck out on a wild pitch in the dirt and the ball got past Jason Varitek, Kendrick scored from third to make it 3-3.
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TOP 7th
After using five relievers (Saito, Ramirez, Okajima, Delcarmen, Bard) in Wednesday’s 9-8 runfest, Terry Francona would love to squeeze another full inning out of Beckett, who was at 84 pitches after six innings. That would mean he’d only need one inning out of a setup man before going to a fresh Jonathan Papelbon to close. Due up is the lower segment of the order — Juan Rivera, Matthews, Kendrick, who are a combined 1-for-6 tonight. Santana, who hasn’t allowed a hit since Bay’s homer, is at 96.
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TOP 5th
An amusing don’t-try-this-at-home moment on Gary Matthews’ grounder to first. Martinez, worried that Matthews would beat him to the bag, slid in feet-first. Matthews, worried that he’d arrive a step late, dove in head-first. Umpire Tim Timmons, momentarily startled, waited for a second or two before thumbing Matthews out. The Angels did manage to nick Beckett for another run, though, when Mathis stretched an inside-the-bagger to right into a two-out double and Figgins knocked him in.

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BOTTOM 4th
Authoritative equalizer by leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, who turned on an 0-2 pitch from Santana and looped it around the Pesky Pole in right to tie things at 1-1. It was Ellsbury’s seventh homer of the season and his eighth run scored in his last 10 games. Victor Martinez, who’d whiffed in the first, followed with a single to increase his hitting streak to 16 games. Then Bay cranked a Monster shot on a 2-0 count for his 33rd homer of the season, leaving him just two short of his career best, established in Pittsburgh three years ago. So it’s 3-1 for the hosts
heading into the fifth, with Beckett’s pitch count at a comfortable 55.
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Scoreboard-watching, the usual September diversion in the Fens, isn’t much of an option tonight. The Yankees, who lead the Sox by six and a half games, are idle, en route to Seattle for a weekend set with a Burnett-Hernandez pairing in tomorrow’s opener. And the Rangers, who are rapidly receding in Boston’s rear view mirror, are home waiting for the Angels.
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TOP 3RD — Oops. Mr. Downtown returned in a hurry. After giving up no homers in his last two starts, Beckett served one up to Howie Kendrick, the No. 8 man, who deposited the ball in the Boston bullpen. There was an audible groan from the faithful, who didn’t need to be reminded that Beckett had offered up 14 yard jobs in a five-game stretch. Not a habit that needs to be repeated.

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BOTTOM 2ND — Last night’s pitching matchup figured to be the most favorable of the three for the Red Sox, who sent out Josh Beckett (15-6) against righty Ervin Santana (7-8), who was winless in his previous four starts after winning four in a row. After conceding a leadoff single to Chone Figgins (a lifetime .333 against him), Beckett set down the next six batters. The Sox squandered a chance to give their ace a lead in the second, though. After Jason Bay led off with a single, David Ortiz fanned on a full count and catcher Jeff Mathis gunned down Bay going for second in a textbook strike-’em-out, throw-’em-out.
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The Angels were noticeably serene before taking the diamond, even though they’d lost three in a row. “We’ll clean it up,” vowed Torii Hunter, whose mates are the only team in the majors who haven’t lost four in a row this year. The last club that managed that was the 2005 Cardinals. Still, with three games coming up this weekend at Texas, then three with the Yankees, the Halos are feeling the urgency of clinching their division sooner rather than later. Scioscia won’t even talk about the playoffs, even in general terms.

Angels skipper Mike Scioscia was unusually cryptic before the game, arriving in the visitors’ dugout late and departing quickly to observe batting practice. With the commissioner’s office examining statements that both he and reliever Brian Fuentes made about the umpiring in Wednesday’s loss, it’s likely that Scioscia didn’t want to double down on a possible fine.

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