BOSTON -- Manager Mike Scioscia broke out his little-ball attack at the worst possible time Monday night, and the Angels, almost predictably, came up little.
A botched suicide squeeze attempt cost the Angels a potential run in the top of the ninth inning, and Jed Lowrie’s walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth gave the Boston Red Sox a 3-2, American League division series-clinching victory in Fenway Park, leaving the Angels stunned, disoriented . . . and angry. Very angry.
“We lost to a team that’s not better than us,” growled pitcher John Lackey, who gave up two runs and seven hits in seven innings. “We are a better team than they are. The last two days, we shouldn’t have given up anything.”
It wasn’t so much Scioscia’s squeeze call and Erick Aybar’s missed bunt attempt that irked Lackey after the 100-win Angels, who had the best record in baseball and seemed built for a long October run, lost the series, three games to one.
“That’s our style of baseball,” Lackey said. “That got us here.”
It was being eliminated by Boston for the third time in five years and watching the Red Sox pour out of their dugout to celebrate another walk-off win -- they had one in each of their division series victories over the Angels in 2004, 2007 and 2008.
It was seeing Boston score two runs in the fifth, which included Jacoby Ellsbury’s run-scoring groundout and a fly-ball RBI double off the Green Monster in left field by Dustin Pedroia, who broke an 0-for-15 series slump.
"[Sunday] night they scored three runs on a pop fly that was called a hit, which was a joke,” Lackey said, referring to Ellsbury’s pop that fell between center fielder Torii Hunter and second baseman Howie Kendrick in Game 3.
"[Monday] night they scored on a broken-bat ground ball and a fly ball that anywhere else in America is an out, and he’s fist-pumping on second base like he did something great.”
Asked to describe his feelings, Lackey said, “Like I want to throw somebody through a wall.”
There were much better vibes for the Angels in the eighth, when Hunter followed two-out walks to Mark Teixeira and Vladimir Guerrero and catcher Jason Varitek’s passed ball with a two-run single to right off reliever Dustin Masterson to tie the score, 2-2.
Scot Shields retired the side in order in the bottom of the eighth, and Angels pinch-hitter Kendry Morales led off the ninth with a double to left-center.
Kendrick bunted pinch-runner Reggie Willits to third, and reliever Manny Delcarmen’s first two pitches to Aybar, who won Game 3 with a 12th-inning single, were up and in.
It was almost as if the Red Sox, well aware of Scioscia’s penchant to squeeze, were looking for it.
Willits broke for home on the 2-0 pitch, a knee-high fastball that was slightly inside. Aybar, who led the team with nine sacrifice bunts, missed this time, and Boston catcher Jason Varitek chased Willits back to third, tagging him just before the bag. Aybar grounded out to end the inning.
“With a 2-0 count, I felt he had to get a ball around the plate,” Scioscia said. “Erick is one of the best bunters we have, and it didn’t work out.”
Weren’t the first two pitches possible tipoffs that the Red Sox were anticipating the squeeze?
“I think they were trying to pound him inside and hard with fastballs, and they just missed on the first two,” Scioscia said. “The third one was knee-high. It was a buntable ball. Erick just didn’t get it done.”
If the Angels disagreed with Scioscia’s decision, which could have Angels fans grumbling for months, those opinions were not voiced publicly.
“I’m not going to second-guess my manager,” Hunter said. “He made the decision, I’m going to stick by it. If he gets the bunt down and we score the run, everyone would love him. It’s hard to swallow. I’m disappointed it didn’t work out.”
Jason Bay hit a one-out bloop double to right, just out of the reach of a diving Willits, in the bottom of the ninth, and after Teixeira made a spectacular diving stop of Mark Kotsay’s liner for the second out, Lowrie hit Shields’ first pitch into right field for a single, Bay diving head-first into home with the game-winner.
“I’m [ticked], I’m upset, this one’s going to be with me for a while,” Hunter said. “It doesn’t feel good, because we’re a better team than they are. But they’re moving on.”
The Angels are going home, their next few weeks sure to be filled by bitterness and emptiness.
“I didn’t make any plans until Halloween,” Teixeira said. “I fully expected us to be there at the end of October.”