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Missed chances haunt Red Sox

Missed chances haunt Red Sox

ANAHEIM -- This was just the moment Mike Lowell was waiting for to truly punctuate his return from right hip surgery. The bases were loaded with one out in the top of the eighth inning and the Red Sox were down by a run. Scot Shields had lost the strike zone, as evidenced by the three walks that put Lowell in the opportunity he was in.

The count was 2-0. Lowell has been around long enough to know that Shields had no choice but to come in with a meaty fastball. So Lowell looked for it and got it just where he wanted -- belt high and over the middle of the plate. And he ... popped it up. Third baseman Chone Figgins waited for the ball and gathered it and Lowell made the frustrating walk back to the dugout.

It was a signature moment for the Red Sox in a 5-4 loss to the Angels in the rubber match of a three-game series on Sunday afternoon. In each of the last three innings, the Red Sox had tantalizing chances just like the one that passed Lowell by, and each one ended in futility.

"Right pitch, right spot, got it and I still can't believe I missed it," Lowell said. "I checked the film. It was right where I wanted it. It doesn't take away the frustration."

When manager Terry Francona saw where the pitch was headed, he immediately got ready for a game-turning hit.

"If they throw that pitch to Mikey Lowell [again], he might rattle it off the bullpen," Francona said. "We give ourselves enough chances."

Fittingly, even after Vladimir Guerrero had opened the Angels' lead back to two runs with a titanic solo shot against Hideki Okajima in the eighth, the Red Sox gave themselves one last golden chance.

With closer Brian Fuentes on for the Angels, Kevin Youkilis roped an RBI single to left, making it a one-run game. David Ortiz was now on second, representing the tying run. Youkilis, the go-ahead run, was on first.

The dangerous J.D. Drew, who had already gone deep earlier in the game, was at the plate.

But Drew watched the first two pitches for strikes. And after taking a ball, he watched a third and final strike go by. Ballgame.

"Fastball in, slider, fastball away," said Drew. "I thought the last two were off the plate. He obviously thought the last one was a strike. Probably a little too close to take, but it's a hard pitch to handle when you have to reach out there like that."

The other big chance for the Sox came in the seventh, when Dustin Pedroia, the American League's reigning Most Valuable Player, was at the plate with two on and one out. But Pedroia hit into a double play, as Jose Arredondo successfully snuffed out that threat.

"We gave ourselves some opportunities," Francona said. "We didn't cash in. We had them on the ropes a couple of times and couldn't come up with a big hit. Because of that, we're down by one. Kind of like we did yesterday, they got the tack-on run and made it hold up."

Ace Josh Beckett took the loss for the Red Sox, giving up eight hits and four runs over six innings.

"I thought he was pretty good," Francona said of Beckett. "A couple of ground balls found holes in the three-run inning. Again, it's one of the better teams in the American League. I thought his stuff was good, I thought he competed."

The early game storyline was flaring tempers in the bottom of the first. With Bobby Abreu at the plate and in the midst of a 1-2 count, the left-handed hitter asked for time and was granted it by home-plate umpire Paul Schreiber.

But Beckett fired anyway and his pitch sailed in high and tight on Abreu, leaving the Angels miffed. Both benches emptied, but no altercation took place. Angels outfield Torii Hunter and manager Mike Scioscia were both ejected, as well as reliever Justin Speier and coach Mickey Hatcher.

"I've yet to hit somebody on the head and it's not on my list of stuff to accomplish," Beckett said. "It was one of those deals where they have a fast runner on second and I was trying to change my looks up and I was looking back there for the third time and I started going to the plate, and when I finally go to where I'm looking at the plate, I'm already halfway through my delivery. I'm not going to stop there and possibly hurt myself. It could have gone anywhere."

After the situation settled itself, the Red Sox took action with their bats, getting getting back-to-back homers by Youkilis and Drew to start the second inning.

Back came the Angels in the third, getting an RBI single by Howard Kendrick and a two-run single to right by Abreu to take a 3-2 lead. In the fifth, Beckett gave up a leadoff single to Maicer Izturis and was then charged with a balk, which proved costly on an RBI single to left by Kendrick.

What was the balk for? Beckett tried to find out, but he was informed by the umpiring crew that balk calls are not allowed to be questioned.

"I felt like I had really good stuff from the bullpen on," Beckett said. "They got some timely hits."

The Red Sox just wish they could say the same thing.

With the offense long-ball-reliant the last couple of days, Francona tried to manufacture something when he called for a double steal with Pedroia (the lead runner) and Youkilis in the sixth. The strategy couldn't have worked out any better, as catcher Mike Napoli tried to nail Youkilis at second, only to have his throw sail into center field. Pedroia came roaring home to cut the deficit to 4-3.

"We hit some balls hard in key situations," Drew said. "Made a strong run there at the end. Unfortunately I wasn't able to square anything up and get a swing on the ball."

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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