BOSTON - After 11 consecutive losses and two straight playoff sweeps, the Los Angeles Angels had grown tired of being a bump in Boston's road to the World Series.
Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett waits for a new ball as Los Angeles Angels' Mike Napoli, left, rounds the bases after he hit a two-run home run in the third inning of Game 3 of baseball's American League division series in Boston, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2008.
(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
"I don't ever want to hear about that streak again. Ever. It's over," center fielder Torii Hunter said Sunday night after the Angels beat the Red Sox 5-4 in 12 innings to force their first-round AL playoff series to a fourth game. "We were trying to get that first win out of the way and then you could see the smiles on people's faces when we got in here."
Mike Napoli hit two early homers off Josh Beckett, then singled and scored the go-ahead run in the 12th to help Los Angeles stave off elimination and snap an 11-game postseason losing streak against Boston. The Red Sox came back from a 3-1 ALCS deficit to reach the 1986 World Series, then swept the Angels 3-0 in 2004 and last year en route to their two World Series titles this decade.
"Last year is last year. They obviously had an incredible year," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They won their world championship in '04. It was a terrific run. But it's different times now. ... They're not taking the field thinking they have a world championship behind them last year that's going to change anything. They're taking to the field trying to beat us and that's what we have to do to them."
Napoli took care of that, hitting a mammoth shot off the Green Monster light stanchion to tie the game 3-all in the third, then giving Los Angeles a lead with his second homer. The Red Sox tied it 4-all in the fifth, and it stayed that way until Napoli took part in a little small ball to score the decisive run in the 12th.
After hitting a leadoff single, Napoli went to second on Howie Kendrick's sacrifice and scored when Erick Aybar looped a single to left-center.
"Hopefully, about a month from now we'll talk about that 3-2 breaking pitch that Nap hit off one of the toughest pitchers ever in a playoff environment," Scioscia said. "That was big. It got us back in the game."
Jon Lester will face Angels right-hander John Lackey in Game 4 on Monday night, and if the Angels can win that one they would return home for the decisive fifth game on Wednesday.
"We've got to come back out here tomorrow and get after it again," Napoli said. "We're not done yet."
Beckett, who had been one of the most dependable pitchers in postseason history, gave up a double to Chone Figgins on the first pitch of the game and struggled through five innings. The Angels got six scoreless innings from five relievers to keep them in the game until Jered Weaver finished it 5 hours, 19 minutes after the first pitch.
Weaver, making his first career relief appearance, pitched two scoreless innings for the win. Javier Lopez, the sixth Boston pitcher, took the loss.
Francisco Rodriguez, who had a record 62 saves in the regular season, allowed J.D. Drew's ninth-inning homer to lose Game 2 and almost took another loss Sunday. The Red Sox loaded the bases against the Angels' closer in the 10th, but he got Jed Lowrie on a routine fly to right to end the threat.
Winners of a major league-best 100 games in the regular season, Los Angeles was in danger of the shortest possible stay in the playoffs against the wild-card Red Sox. After losing the first two at home, the AL West champions came to Boston needing to beat Beckett, who has been virtually unbeatable in October.
The air was crisp, the baseball was not.
The Angels misplayed a popup into three runs — the first three-run single in postseason history. Beckett failed to cover the bag on a grounder to first. Third baseman Mike Lowell, playing with a sore hip, two-hopped a throw to first that Kevin Youkilis dug out to avoid an error. Hunter was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double leading off the ninth.
Beckett needed 30 pitches to get through the first half-inning, which took 22 minutes. Meanwhile, the Angels left the bases loaded in the first and fourth — stranding eight in the first four innings.
Beckett had been the presumptive Game 1 starter before a side strain in the last week of the regular season left him in need of a few more days' rest. When the Red Sox opened a 2-0 lead in the series behind Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the prospect of sending their ace out for the clincher seemed to guarantee their third straight playoff sweep of the Angels.
Beckett gave up Figgins' leadoff double and then, after a pair of strikeouts, handed out two walks and a single. Napoli grounded out to end the inning but came back in the third with a mammoth, two-run shot off the light stanchion to tie it 3-all and then again with a solo shot in the fifth that made it 4-3.
Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis doubled in the bottom half to tie it and spare Beckett the loss.
In all, Beckett was charged with four runs on nine hits and four walks, striking out six in five innings. The fiery right-hander, who shut out the Angels in Game 1 of last year's first-round sweep, saw his postseason ERA balloon to 2.09 from 1.73, which had been the third-best in baseball history (minimum 40 innings).
Joe Saunders, who was making his first postseason start, received a rough initiation.
He gave up four runs on five hits and four walks, striking out two in 4 2-3 innings. But instead of the line-drive homers that cost Beckett, Saunders was hurt most by a fluke popup that dropped to the grass for the three-run single.
After the Red Sox loaded the bases on two walks and Jason Varitek's single, Ellsbury worked the count full and lofted a blooper to short center. Hunter came in, Kendrick and Aybar went out, and at the last minute Hunter and Kendrick gave up on it and let it fall.
Crisp, running all the way with two outs, scored easily from first, while Ellsbury held up with a single. It was the first three-run single in postseason history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, and it gave Boston a 3-1 lead.
Notes:@ The Angels went 68 straight playoff innings without a homer before Napoli's shot in the third. ... The paid attendance of 39,067 was the largest at Fenway Park since World War II. ... Twelve of Boston's first 15 runs in the series were scored with two outs. ... Drew was not in the starting lineup as he rested his ailing back. He struck out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. ... Dustin Pedroia, a candidate for AL MVP honors, is 0-for-13 in the series.