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Lowrie sends Red Sox back to ALCS

Lowrie sends Red Sox back to ALCS

BOSTON -- The walk-off glory that gripped Fenway Park on Monday night was set up by the usual dose of adversity. You see, degree of difficulty has been in play all year for the Red Sox, who look at hurdles, scoff at them and then leap over them.

Such was clearly the case for the defending World Series champions in clinching this memorable 3-2 triumph in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Angels. In this one, the Red Sox recovered from a blown lead, snuffed out what would have been a devastating suicide squeeze and then rode rookie Jed Lowrie's game-ending two-out single in the bottom of the ninth right into the AL Championship Series.

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"I keep saying this, but it's somebody different with our ballclub every night," said closer Jonathan Papelbon. "That's just the way we are. When you're playing us, you have to get all 27 outs. I think everybody in this clubhouse feels the same way. This never gets old. It's a beautiful feeling knowing that no matter what the situation is, we have a chance to win a ballgame."

For the defending World Series champion Red Sox, who have become the symbol of October excellence in recent years, it marked their fourth ALCS berth in the past six years. They will play the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 in St. Petersburg on Friday night. It was the third time since 2004 the Sox have knocked out the Angels in the ALDS.

"We'll have time to put that one in perspective later on," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein in the champagne-soaked clubhouse. "Hopefully we'll have other things to talk about, too. Right now, it feels pretty good. It's a hard place to get. Four times in six years is pretty sweet."

Walk-offs to end Division Series
YearTeamPlayerHitGame
2008Red SoxJed Lowrie1BALDS, G4
2005AstrosChris BurkeHRNLDS, G4
2004Red SoxDavid OrtizHRALDS, G4
2001D-backsTony Womack1BNLDS, G4
2000MarinersCarlos Guillen1BALDS, G4
1999MetsTodd PrattHRNLDS, G4
1995MarinersEdgar Martinez2BALDS, G4
Walk-offs to end League Championships
YearTeamPlayerHitGame
2006TigersMagglio OrdonezHRALCS, G4
2003YankeesAaron BooneHRALCS, G7
2002GiantsKenny Lofton1BNLCS, G5
1992BravesFrancisco Cabrera1BNLCS, G7
1978DodgersBill Russell1BNLCS, G4
1976YankeesChris ChamblissHRALCS, G5
1976RedsKen Griffey1BNLCS, G3
Walk-offs to end World Series
YearTeamPlayerHitGame
2001D-backsLuis Gonzalez1B Game 7
1997MarlinsEdgar Renteria1B Game 7
1993Blue JaysJoe CarterHR Game 6
1991TwinsGene Larkin1B Game 7
1960PiratesBill MazeroskiHR Game 7
1953YankeesBilly Martin1B Game 6
1935TigersGoose Goslin1B Game 6
1929AthleticsBing Miller2B Game 5
1924SenatorsEarl McNeely2BGame 7

To get there, the Red Sox, the AL Wild Card entry, first had to get by the 100-win Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The Sox did it without Mike Lowell, the gritty third baseman who went 0-for-8 in the ALDS before being taken off the roster before Game 4 due to the partial tear in the labrum in his right hip.

They did it with a less than 100 percent Josh Beckett, who struggled through five innings in Game 3, a Boston loss.

They did it with AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate Dustin Pedroia producing just one hit in 17 at-bats in the series, though that long-awaited knock was a pivotal RBI double in this tense win.

"This team has had a tremendous amount of adversity, day in and day out," said Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. "You develop character that way."

It was Varitek, the captain of the Red Sox, who made perhaps the play of the game. With the game locked in a 2-2 tie in the top of the ninth, the Angels had pinch-runner Reggie Willits on third base and just one out. Any number of things could have gotten him home with the go-ahead run, be it a sacrifice fly, a base hit or a well-placed ground ball.

But Angels manager Mike Scioscia called for a squeeze bunt, and it backfired. Erick Aybar couldn't make contact with winning pitcher Manny Delcarmen's pitch and Varitek aggressively pinned Willits into no-man's land, chasing him down the line and ultimately tagging Willits just before he could retreat to third base.

After the pursuit, Varitek fell down and the ball kicked away, but third-base umpire Tim Welke ruled that it was only after the tag had been applied.

"[Varitek] looked like a linebacker trying to tackle him," said Pedroia. "He had some closing speed. I've never seen that out of him. I'm just excited that he didn't get the bunt down. That would have been huge momentum for them. It actually shifted our way."

And quickly.

With the Fenway faithful suddenly out of fret mode, Jason Bay got the crowd into a full-fledged roar by fighting off a pitch from Angels reliever Scot Shields into the corner in right for a ground-rule double with one out in the ninth.

"He's got a good curveball," said Bay. "He threw me a good fastball up and in. I got jammed. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. It snuck out for a double."

Mark Kotsay then hit a bullet that was snared at first base by Mark Teixeira, his former teammate in Atlanta. When Lowrie stepped up, the Red Sox were one out away from extra innings for the second consecutive night.

But the switch-hitter drilled a first-pitch curveball from Shields through the hole and into right. Bay roared in for a headfirst slide, setting off euphoria at home plate.

"In the back of my mind, I was thinking curveball," said Lowrie, who is just the fourth rookie in Major League history to end a postseason series with a walk-off hit. "He threw me one that was up just enough, and I found a hole."

For Bay, who was acquired for the great Manny Ramirez on July 31, home plate never tasted so sweet.

"It's been a blast every step of the way," said Bay. "I'm looking forward to moving on. I knew that I just had to bust my butt and if I didn't' fall down, I'd make it."

And by making it, the Red Sox avoided the prospect of having to fly all the way back to Anaheim for a winner-take-all Game 5. Now they can rest up for a couple of days and fly to Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday afternoon.

Early on, it appeared Red Sox starter Jon Lester was going to be the story. The lefty fired seven shutout innings and left with a 2-0 lead after seven. Lester, who won Game 1, fired 14 innings in the ALDS without allowing an earned run.

But the resilient Angels pecked away in the eighth, staging a rally with nobody on and two outs. Teixeira worked a walk against Hideki Okajima. On came Justin Masterson, who walked Vladimir Guerrero. A passed ball by Varitek put runners on second and third.

Torii Hunter then smashed a two-run single to right, suddenly halting the Red Sox's momentum.

However, as they so often do, the Red Sox found a way to get it back.

"It was kind of fitting that Jed drove in Jason Bay with that hit," Epstein said. "All year long, we've had great contributions from the young guys. This was a team victory tonight, as always for us. That's one of the things the Red Sox stand for now. It's typical for this club right now to get contributions from young guys, veterans, core players -- it doesn't matter. Everything we do is as a team."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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