Red Sox Nation is stunned.
The Red Sox were one strike away from extending the ALDS to Game 4.
It never came.
The Sox had a 5-2 lead against the Angels heading into the 8th inning. With two out and two on, Sox manager Terry Francona opted to remove Billy Wagner in favor of closer Jonathan Papelbon to get the final four outs of the game.
Papelbon promptly gave up a single in the gap to Juan Rivera scoring two inherited runners. The Sox lead was now 5-4. But Papelbon managed to get out of the inning when he picked off pinch runner Reggie Willits at first.
The Sox added an insurance run in the bottom of the inning on a Mike Lowell double down the right field line scoring pinch runner Joey Gathright who had stolen second base moments earlier. Gathright was pinch running for David Ortiz who hit a single up the middle for his lone hit of the ALDS.
Everything appeared to be in order for Game 4. But as Yogi Berra says, "It ain't over 'til it's over."
Papelbon retired Macier Izturis on a pop out to catcher Victor Martinez and then got pinch hitter Gary Matthews, Jr. to fly out to Jacoby Ellsbury.
All that stood between the Red Sox and Game 4 was Erick Aybar. Papelbon quickly had two strikes on Aybar. But the scrappy Aybar would stroke a single up the middle.
Up came Chone Figgins. Prior to this plate appearance, Figgins was 0 for 12 in the ALDS. Papelbon quickly got two strikes on him. But Figgins managed to hang in there for a walk.
At this point, I have a very bad feeling because here comes Bobby Abreu. The ex-Yankee has the uncanny ability to take pitches, draw walks and get clutch hits. Papelbon got two strikes on him as well. But Abreu is at his best with two strikes on him. This time was no different as Abreu hit a wall ball double scoring Aybar. The Sox lead was now down to 6-5.
With first base open, Papelbon intentionally walked Torii Hunter to load the bases. Vladimir Guerrero is the anti-Abreu. Guerrero will swing at just about anything even if its at his head. True to form, Guerrero hit the first pitch up the middle for a two run single to give the Angels a 7-6 lead. Francona then removed Papelbon from the game.
Angels closer Brian Fuentes had a one-two-three inning in the bottom of the 9th.
The Angels won the 2009 ALDS sweeping the Red Sox.
Let's face it. The Angels were the better team. They were hungrier. The memory of Nick Adenhart looms large. The inspired performances by Angels starters John Lackey and Jered Weaver in Games 1 & 2 were a tribute to Adenhart's unfulfilled potential.
Today, the Angels scored three runs after being down to their last strike in three separate plate appearances. If that isn't a measure of perserverance I don't know what is.
The Red Sox have to the Angels what the Yankees have been to the Red Sox. The Angels lost the ALDS to the Red Sox in 2004, 2007 and 2008. Let's also not forget the 1986 ALCS in which the Red Sox came back from three games to one. The Angels were one strike away from going to their first World Series when Dave Henderson hit an 0-2 forkball over the left field wall off Donnie Moore.
Ironically, Dave Henderson was on hand today to throw out the first pitch before the game. Life wasn't so kind to Donnie Moore. Less than three years after the 1986 ALCS, Moore committed suicide. Somewhere beyond the sky, Nick Adenhart paid Donnie Moore a visit to give him some small measure of comfort.
It could be said the Angels are on a mission from G-d.
The Angels could find out who they will face off against in the ALCS in a few short hours. The New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins will face off in Game 3 of their ALDS. The Yankees need one more win to clinch the ALDS. Although one wonders if the hometown fans will inspire the Twins to live another day. Otherwise, it could be the last baseball game played in the Metrodome.
Game 1 of the ALCS begins on Friday.