Red Sox let lead slip away against Angels

Red Sox let lead slip away against Angels

BOSTON -- Josh Beckett was a pitch away from getting through the seventh inning with the lead still intact on Thursday, so he tried to, in his words, "bury" strike three on Chone Figgins. The breaking ball bounced just in front of the plate, exactly as Beckett planned, and Figgins swung through it for strike three. Inning over. Or not.

Though Beckett's master plan was almost entirely complete, there was a hitch at the end of it, as the normally sure-handed Jason Varitek couldn't block the ball. Instead it skipped through his legs, and Howard Kendrick raced home from third to score on the strikeout/wild pitch.

That was how the Angels tied the score in a game they went on to win, 4-3, salvaging the final game of an entertaining three-game series against the Red Sox.

"It was one of those deals where, I don't know if it hit a soft piece of dirt and just stayed down," said Beckett. "Over the last four years, I can't remember one time where 'Tek doesn't block that ball. He's so good at it. I just think it took kind of a wild hop and stayed down on him."

Varitek will seek some video evidence before he gives a true breakdown of the play.

"I have to see the replay and look at it for myself," Varitek said. "I thought I was in a position to block it. Obviously, I didn't keep it in front of me. It's something that I usually do well, blocking the ball. I have to look and see what adjustments that I need to make."

With a chance to sweep their likely American League Division Series opponent, the Red Sox instead had it slip away from them in the late innings. All in all, however, they couldn't be too disappointed, finishing with a 7-1 homestand.

In the top of the ninth, the Angels pushed across the winning run on Kendrick's bloop single just over the head of second baseman Dustin Pedroia and into short right field, giving Billy Wagner his first loss since joining the Red Sox.

"They get a leadoff walk in the ninth, and because of their speed, you have to respect that speed at second, and the ball finds the outfield grass a little bit like us last night," said manager Terry Francona.

Yes, one night earlier, it was the Red Sox winning the game in the bottom of the ninth, on an Alex Gonzalez bloop that fell just in front of Angels left fielder Juan Rivera.

"In a couple of aspects, maybe it was just things evening out," said left fielder Jason Bay. "When we play those guys, it's never a 10-0 game. It's one run coming up to the last inning every time. They were just on the better end of it this time. It was just really one of those games where you don't think much [about it] -- they beat us."

Wagner was dismayed he let it get to that point.

"It was terrible," Wagner said. "I couldn't get the ball up, and then they got some bunts down. They give me an out to work with, and then the bloop. It was all started by the walk. If the guy gets a single and gets on, so be it, but to walk him in that situation, that always comes back to hurt you."

With both teams holding commanding leads in their respective races, the Red Sox (six games up in the Wild Card standings) and Angels (6 1/2-game lead in the West) parted ways for now with the knowledge they are likely to face off again in early October.

Though the Red Sox have knocked the Angels out of the Division Series in their three meetings since 2004, there is no outward swagger from the Boston clubhouse.

"They're a good team, and they know how to win games," said Beckett. "The second run they scored, that's them. They end up scoring a run, and you're not even quite sure how it happened. That's what good teams do. They find ways to play for one run in an inning. That's a good team."

The Angels, trying desperately to salvage the final game against the Red Sox, struck first, getting a solo homer to right from Kendrick to lead off the top of the third.

"[Beckett] misses with a fastball over the plate, and Kendrick is a real strong kid, and he hits it the other way like a left-handed hitter," said Francona.

But when the Red Sox responded against Ervin Santana in the fourth, they did so with some thump. Jacoby Ellsbury led off by clubbing a solo homer to right, his seventh of the season and first since July 31. Victor Martinez delivered a one-out single, setting up Bay for a towering two-run homer to left. It was No. 33 on the season for Bay, who is two from his career high, set in 2006.

From there Boston's offense was shut down for the rest of the night.

"Until that inning -- Ells hit the home run, I hit the home run -- we didn't really do that much the first three innings," said Bay. "Santana pitched a pretty good game. I don't think it was really disappointing. We weren't squandering a lot of opportunities. Other than a couple of mistakes, he pitched well."

Beckett had a two-run lead, but the Angels slowly clawed their way back.

"This game tonight," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "is more in sync with what we've done all year than the last handful of games. Some guys just relaxed. We had some crazy things happen [on Wednesday] night. We didn't kill the ball, do anything spectacular. But we were steady."

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