By JAY LeBLANC
October 4, 2008
Red Sox 7, Angels 5
Red Sox lead series 2-0
J.D. Drew’s two-run bomb to dead-center in the top of the ninth inning off new all-time single-season saves leader Francisco Rodriguez broke a 5-5 tie and proved to be the winning margin as the Red Sox beat the Angels 7-5 to take a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series. The win was Boston’s 11th straight over the Angels in postseason play dating back to 1986.
It certainly didn’t look like last night’s game would come down to the wire when Boston jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the top of the first off Angels starter Ervin Santana. The Angels righty retired the first two batters before allowing singles to David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis, followed by a Drew double that scored Ortiz and sent Youkilis to third. The red-hot Jason Bay then homered to center, putting the Angels in a 4-0 hole before they took their first cuts.
Santana settled down after his forgettable first, however, and the Angels battled back. They got a run back in the bottom half of the first when Torii Hunter singled off Boston starter Daisuke Matsuzaka to score Mark Teixeira. After Jacoby Ellsbury’s RBI double put the Red Sox up 5-1 entering the bottom of the fourth, the Angels pushed another run across on an RBI single by Chone Figgins. Another Hunter single off Matsuzaka plated Teixeira in the fifth inning to make it 5-3 Boston.
It would stay that way until the bottom of the seventh. Teixeira and Guerrero opened the frame with singles, prompting Red Sox manager Terry Francona to replace lefty Hideki Okajima with right-hander Justin Masterson. Masterson got Hunter to fly out but then walked Juan Rivera to load the bases for Howie Kendrick, who struck out on three pitches. But just when it looked like the Red Sox rookie might escape unscathed, he momentarily lost the strike zone and walked Mike Napoli to force Teixeira home with the fourth Angels run. The Angels tied the game in the eighth when Figgins smacked a leadoff triple to right and scored two batters later on a sac fly by Teixeira.
It didn’t stay tied for long. David Ortiz led off the ninth with a double to deep right off Rodriguez, and was lifted for pinch-runner Coco Crisp. After Youkilis grounded out to third, K-Rod tried to sneak an 88-mile per hour change up by Drew, and the Red Sox right fielder clobbered it to give Boston the lead for good. Closer Jonathan Papelbon - who had relieved Masterson after Figgins’ leadoff triple in the eighth - retired the Angels in order in the bottom of the ninth, fanning Kendrick to end it.
The Angels backs are planted firmly against the wall as the series shifts to Fenway Park, where the Red Sox went 56-25 this season. To make matters worse for Mike Scioscia’s club, right-hander Josh Beckett - who is 6-0 with a 1.73 ERA in his postseason career - is expected to return from his oblique injury and take the hill for Boston tomorrow. Lefty Joe Saunders, who went 17-7 with a 3.41 ERA this season, will try to do his part to extend the Angels season.
Rays 6, White Sox 2
Rays lead series 2-0
Akinori Iwamura’s two-run fifth-inning shot erased a 2-1 deficit and put the Rays ahead for good as they bested the White Sox 6-2 to take a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series. Iwamura’s homer and another strong effort by the Tampa Bay bullpen made a winner out of Scott Kazmir, who overcame a bumpy start to toss 5 1/3 innings of two-run ball.
For a while it looked like Kazmir might not make it out of the top of the first inning. The 24-year-old lefty plunked White Sox leadoff man Orlando Cabrera and walked Nick Swisher on five pitches. Jermaine Dye then singled to load the bases. Paul Konerko popped out to second, but Jim Thome followed with an RBI single that scored Cabrera and left the bases loaded. A sac fly by Alexei Ramirez scored Swisher to make it 2-0, and A.J. Pierzynski followed with an infield single that loaded the bases once again. However, Kazmir fanned Juan Uribe to end the threat, and the White Sox wouldn’t score again.
Tampa Bay got on the board in the second when Dioner Navarro singled off White Sox starter Mark Buehrle to score Willy Aybar, and took the lead on Iwamura’s two-run jack in the fifth. The Rays scored their other three runs in the eighth inning. B.J. Upton tripled to open the frame and came around to score on a Carl Crawford single. Two batters later, Rocco Baldelli plated Crawford with an RBI single of his own, and Navarro followed with a double that scored Baldelli with the sixth Tampa run.
The Rays’ bullpen came up big once again. In the sixth, Grant Balfour relieved Kazmir with one out and a runner on second and got Cabrera to ground out and Swisher to fly out. Balfour got into some trouble of his own in the seventh, allowing singles to Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko to open the frame. Lefty J.P. Howell came on to protect what was then a 3-2 Tampa Bay lead and retired Thome, Ramirez and Pierzynski to squash the threat.
Tampa Bay will look for the sweep in its first-ever playoff appearance when the series shifts to Chicago for Sunday’s game. The Rays will send 11-game winner Matt Garza to the hill, while the White Sox will counter with 12-game winner John Danks, who came up huge for them in the one-game playoff against the Twins that decided the A.L. Central. If there’s a silver lining on the dark cloud currently hovering over the White Sox’ championship dreams, it’s the fact that they went 53-28 at U.S. Cellular Field this season, while the Rays were just 40-41 on the road.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and mayor of the National Pastime web community. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.