Sox Season Stopped by Sweep

Filed in Headline, Sports by on October 12, 2009 0 Comments

Well, there you have it. With a stunning come from behind victory, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have ended the Red Sox season.

Leading two games to none in the best of five series, the Angels entered Game 3 of the ALDS needing just one win in three games to advance. While the Sox have played incredible baseball in recent years when faced with elimination—including the legendary four-game streak to defeat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS en route to a World Series championship—the prospect of another wildly fortuitous outcome was snuffed out with a heartbreaking Angels sweep.

In the top of the ninth inning, the Sox held a 6-4 lead. Yet the slim margin seemed insurmountable with closer Jonathan Papelbon—who had never given up a run in his postseason career—on the mound. With two outs and the bases empty, Papelbon got ahead of Willie Aybar 0-2 before the Angels’ shortstop plunked a single to center field. After that, Papelbon never recovered, and, though his fastballs kept registering in the upper nineties, his pitch control was terrible.

Fenway Park

Chone Figgins followed Aybar with a full count walk on a pitch way out of the strike zone. After a double by Bobby Abreu drove in one run, the Red Sox opted to intentionally walk Torii Hunter and pitch to the free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero who, they hoped, would strike out on pitches thrown eight feet above his head.

The decision backfired as Guerrero dumped a single into center field to drive in the tying and go ahead runs. Papelbon’s stats on the night, again, keeping in mind that he had never given up a postseason run before Sunday: 1+ inning, four hits, three runs. All of that—aside from one hit given up after he relieved Wagner to end the eighth—came with two outs. What’s more, after recording out number two in the ninth, Papelbon worked the next three batters down to their last strike before allowing them to reach base; in three straight at bats, the Angels were down to their final strike, yet they still prevailed.

And so, quite unceremoniously, the Red Sox season came to an end.

Things had looked promising early on; the Red Sox held a 5-1 lead at one point thanks to clutch hitting from Dustin Pedroia and a home run by J.D. Drew. But Clay Buchholz, making his first postseason appearance, faltered, as did the relief corps, and the lead—and the series—slipped away.

The Angels go on to face the Yankees, who swept their series against the comically outmatched Twins. It will be a bittersweet ALCS for Sox fans, forced to root for a team that just swept theirs if only for the residual pleasure of seeing the Yankees lose.

This year’s team was certainly not the best Boston has put together in recent years—and not just because they failed to win a championship. Ortiz is not the feared hitter he was even two years ago; injuries and age continue to plague key position players; Jason Varitek’s numbers have continued to slide. To beat teams like Anaheim and New York, the Sox need to click at every position, on both sides of the ball. If they don’t do that, they’ll keep faltering in the playoffs to well-rounded teams (Angels) and financially bloated teams (Yankees.)

So while it’s surprising to see Boston swept out in the first round, it’s not surprising to see them out of contention because, despite the championships of 2004 and 2007, deep down, Sox fans still expect heartbreak. We still expect to see our stellar closer to blow a save and the series by giving up three runs in the ninth. We expect our sluggers to miss second while rounding the bases for a home run. We expect our pitchers to lose their arms mid-game to random, vicious bear attacks. We expect that, while reaching into the metaphorical cookie jar of championships, someone will slap our collective metaphorical hand away.

It’s a pessimism as characteristic of New England as unpredictable weather and the lazy “R.”

Sox fans have all winter now to be curmudgeonly. Come next spring, we’ll have to don our team hats and our high expectations and trot back out to Fenway for another hopeful season because, as much as we hate to see the Sox lose, its still more fun to cheer them on.

Photo credit: christopherdale

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