CLEVELAND -- It began as a murmur, and by the time Eric Gagne came through the bullpen gate for the 11th inning Saturday night, it was a full-on rumble, that distinctive sound produced by a collective sense of dread among 37,051 in Fenway Park.
The right-hander comes in, and it’s Game Over, all right -- for the Boston Red Sox, the team the former Dodgers closer pitches for now.
The Fenway faithful have no faith in Gagne -- to them, he’s a bearded, bespectacled blunder -- and their fear of impending doom was realized when Gagne gave up a single to Grady Sizemore and walked Asdrubal Cabrera to set the table for a seven-run outburst that gave Cleveland a 13-6 victory and enabled the Indians to even the American League Championship Series, 1-1.
It marked the first time Boston had lost a postseason extra-inning game in nine tries and may have punctured that air of invincibility, that playoff magic, the Red Sox feel in October at home, where they had four extra-inning, walk-off wins during the 2003 and 2004 postseasons.
It also changed the complexion of a series that resumes tonight at Jacobs Field, where Cleveland right-hander Jake Westbrook will oppose right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 3.
Instead of being down, 0-2, in the best-of-seven series and scrambling to stay alive, the Indians are even, returning home for three games with momentum at their backs.
“You know it’s not the end of the world if you go down 0-2; you just say, hey, we need to come home and take care of business,” said Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko, the former Anaheim Servite High standout. “But you also know you have to be pretty much perfect when you’re down 0-2.
“I think we’re all able to exhale, take a deep breath and get ready for these games and just go about our normal work, rather than every pitch being a do-or-die spot.”
Instead of being up, 2-0, the Red Sox now must cope with the frustration and emptiness of having played five-plus hours of baseball with nothing to show for it but a potentially devastating loss.
“Well, there had better not be any carry-over -- that would be a horrible mistake on our part,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said Sunday when asked about the residual effects of such a loss.
“I think we already did bounce back. I think the bounce-back will feel a little better when we have a little sleep. But as far as us dragging in the clubhouse, that won’t happen.”
Listening to Red Sox fans, you’d think the only drag on the team is Gagne, who, for various reasons -- adjustment to a new team, transition from closer to setup man, mechanical problems, shoulder issues -- has been a complete bust since the Red Sox acquired him from Texas on July 31.
Gagne was 2-0 with a 2.16 earned-run average in 34 games and converted 16 of 17 save opportunities for the Rangers. In 20 games for the Red Sox he was 2-2 with a 6.75 ERA and blew all three of his save opportunities. Sox fans turned on him quicker than David Ortiz turns on a hanging curve.
“When he first came over here, he had the gall to give up some runs in Boston,” Francona said. “You can’t do that.”
Especially in the playoffs. Gagne, who struck out Casey Blake to open the 11th and gave up a first-pitch single to Sizemore, was pulled Saturday night after walking Cabrera. It was Javier Lopez who gave up the tiebreaking single to Trot Nixon, a run-scoring single to Garko and threw a wild pitch that allowed a run to score.
And it was Jon Lester who gave up Jhonny Peralta’s run-scoring double and Franklin Gutierrez’s three-run homer, turning the game into a blowout.
But it was Gagne who was most vilified, who was being mentioned in the same sentence as Mike Torrez, the former Sox pitcher who gave up the two-out, three-run home run to Bucky Dent that gave the New York Yankees a 5-4 win in the one-game playoff to determine the 1978 AL East championship.
It’s a stark contrast from his days of Dodgers dominance, when Gagne was 13-7 with a 1.79 ERA and 152 saves from 2002-2004 and was beloved by fans.
“Yeah, the fans have obviously been hard on him, but we’re going to need him,” Boston catcher Jason Varitek said of Gagne, who left without speaking to reporters Saturday night and did not attend the team’s optional workout Sunday.
“He’s going to have to get some outs for us, and he’s fully capable of doing it. He has to come up in a situation where he gets some big outs, and the tide is going to totally change for him.”