|Game 144: September 16, 2009|
|Angels||8||H: Kevin Jepsen (15)|
BS: Darren Oliver (1)
BS, L: Brian Fuentes (7, 1-5)
|86-59, 3 game losing streak|
|Red Sox||9||BS: Ramon Ramirez (4)|
W: Daniel Bard (2-1)
|86-58, 7 game winning streak|
| Highlights: Rick Reed may shoulder some of the blame for the Angels’ loss, but Fuentes carries the dubious distinction, along with Mike Gonzalez and Mark Lowe, of being third in the majors for blown saves. Only Brad Lidge (10) and J.P. Howell (8) have failed to close out more games.|
Fortunately for Paul Byrd this see-saw of a game started with a stiff wind blowing in. The gales kept Bobby Abreu and Vladimir from going deep in the first inning. The Angels scored the first run of the game in the third using their signature smallball way. Juan Rivera led off with a single and advanced to the keystone bag on Mike Napoli’s ground out to third.
Casey Kotchman displayed his mad ups, elevating to nearly 18 inches in his attempt to field Erick Aybar’s liner. While Kotchman’s Brian Scalabrine-like vertical leap knocked the ball from its intended trajectory to right field, Rivera trotted home for the first run of the game. Perhaps this sprint home tuckered him out and compromised is defense in the late innings.
The wind dwindled as the evening wore on. In the fifth Abreu arced a hit similar to his first-inning flyball but this one sailed into the triangle and plated the incendiary Aybar, who singled to right with two out. Torii Hunter homered in the sixth with a towering shot that ricocheted off a sign above the Monster.
Mike Scioscia inexplicably stuck with Joe Saunders for most of the bottom of the sixth. Surely he must have considered going to the pen when Jacoby Ellsbury singled, Dustin Pedroia doubled, and Jason Bay plated them both with a curved over Saunders’s head, dropped near second, and scurried into center.
Mike Lowell nubbed what should have been a tailor-made double ball to Aybar, who juggled the ball before relaying to Howie Kendrick. Lowell safely lumbered into first. David Ortiz knocked a ground ball to Kendrick for another potential twin killing but the Angels second baseman couldn’t fish the ball out of his glove.
Surely with the bottom of the lineup at the dish Saunders would prevail over his infielders’ follies. But then Rocco Baldelli sneaked a single between Chone Figgins and Aybar to tie the game. Saunders walked Jason Varitek to load the bases, which should have been a clear signal to Scioscia to bring in reinforcements.
Alex Gonzalez, whose bat of late has been as impressive as his glove, looped the ball to shallow opposite field. By the time Abreu gathered the ball the Red Sox took the lead by two runs. Scioscia at last succumbed and called on Jason Bulger, who notched the final out with a punchout of Ellsbury.
In the seventh the Angels took advantage of a monumental gaffe by Varitek. The captain allowed the final out of the inning to reach first by missing with his glove the same ball that Kendry Morales missed with his bat. This is why Varitek doesn’t catch Tim Wakefield, as tempting as it would be to unite for the most geriatric battery in the bigs.
Ramon Ramirez was flustered by the flub. The next four batters sprayed hits all about the field and combined for four runs. Terry Francona, like Scioscia, belatedly swapped out pitchers and Hideki Okajima, like Bulger, provided instant dividends with a rally-killing strikeout.
No September comeback is complete with a contribution from Ortiz. The designated hitter led off the eighth by muscling a single into center field. A pair of pinch hitters kept the line moving: J.D. Drew followed up with a base on balls and Josh Reddick’s fielder’s choice pushed Ortiz to third. Kotchman grounded out to short and his team pulled within a run.
The crowd, which had been deflated with the ill-starred seventh, grew louder as runners progressed along the basepaths. While Ellsbury’s seeing-eye single wasn’t a humdinger of a hit, it got Reddick across the dish for the tying run. Not only did Gonzalez walk to get on base to continue the inning for Ellsbury but he also nimbly leapt over the ball so that he wouldn’t be final out of the inning.
Daniel Bard took the bump in the ninth because of Jonathan Papelbon’s bumps of bruises and took a few lumps of his own. The fireballer wasn’t quite able to blow pitches past batters and a trio of two-out singles gave the visitors a one-run lead.
Step by step the audience’s enthusiasm ebbed: the tie broken in the top of the ninth, Bay’s pop out to lead off the bottom of the final inning, and Lowell’s fly out out to center that was tantalizingly high but far from deep enough. Only until Ortiz worked a walk did the gathered fans come back to life.
Drew got jammed but got enough wood on the ball to knock a single over Aybar. Jed Lowrie pinch hit for Dusty Brown and could have won the game on his sharp grounder down the third base line were it not for Figgins’s flash of leather.
Perhaps it wasn’t so much Nick Green’s patience but Rick Reed’s incompetence that allowed another tying run to score. But it was fully within Brian Fuentes’s and Juan Rivera’s power to stop Gonzalez from looping the game winning single to left.
That is the difference between contenders and pretenders, champs and chumps, winners and whiners.
The only thing more adorable than Baldelli missing Gonzalez’s face with a shaving cream pie is three-year old Phillies fan Emily Monforto.