Boston’s Bullpen Implodes, Angels Sweep Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox had not one, not two, but three opportunities with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a two run lead to close out the game and couldn’t get the job done.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim stunned Red Sox Nation by scoring three runs with two outs off closer Jonathan Papelbon to win 7-6 and sweep their best-of-five ALDS 3-0.

For 162 games in the regular season, Red Sox manager Terry  “>Francona went to his bullpen and for 162 games, they delivered. In game 165 however, Francona’s reliable bullpen imploded.

The Red Sox went into the eighth inning with a 5-2 lead thanks to some clutch hitting from Dustin Pedroia (two-run double in the third) and JD Drew (two-run HR in the fourth and some solid relief work from Daniel Bard (two innings, no hits, no runs, and two K’s).

It was all set up perfectly for the Red Sox. They would go to Billy Wagner in the eighth and then to Papelbon in the ninth. Wagner and Papelbon would get the final six outs and the Red Sox would live to see another day.

There was no celebrating for Papelbon today

There was no celebrating for Papelbon today

Well, things didn’t work out that way.

Wagner and his 9.28 lifetime postseason ERA entered the game in the eighth. I remember taking my dad to Game One of the 2006 NLDS between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Billy Wagner came into that game to close out the Dodgers in ninth with a two-run lead. What I remember most about when Wagner came into the game was the uneasyness of the Shea Stadium crowd when he came out of the rightfield bullpen.

I felt the same uneasyness when Wagner came into the game today against the Angels. It’s never easy in the postseason with him. It always seems there are runners on base when he pitches.

Which is odd for a guy who used to throw 99 mph and now still throws 95.

Wagner allowed a double to Bobby Abreu and walked Vladimir Guerrero. To be fair to Wagner, the Abreu double was not really a double. Kevin Youkilis tried to make a do or die play along the first base line and the ball hit off his glove and went into the Sox dugout for ground-rule double.

Wagner left the game with two outs in the eighth with runners on second and third. Francona called on Papelbon to try to get four outs.  

Papelbon came in and on his first pitch gave up a two-run single to Juan Rivera to make the score 5-4. Reggie Willits came on to pinch-run for Rivera and got promptly picked off first.

I have no idea why Mike Scioscia has a man crush on Willits. Everytime I see this guy play he never does anything right. I’ll put him in the Brett Gardner and Carlos Gomez category until I see otherwise.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Red Sox even got an insurance run to make it 6-4 on a Mike Lowell single that scored pinch runner Joey Gathright. At that point, you definitely thought there would be a Game Four tomorrow night at Fenway.

In the ninth, Papelbon got the first two outs rather easily. He got Maicer Izturis to foul out to Victor Martinez and then got Gary Matthews Jr. flew out to Jacoby Ellsbury.

Then the nightmare began.

Papelbon had Erick Aybar 0-2 and with Martinez setting up for a high and inside waste pitch, Papelbon decided to throw a fastball right down the middle. Aybar promptly singled up the middle.

Papelbon had a 3-2 count on Chone Figgins and walked Figgins. That was the killer AB in this inning for the Red Sox. I am sorry, but there is no way on this earth you can walk Figgins in that spot.

He was o-for-600 in the series, can’t hit a HR, and he had looked clueless his last two AB’s. Papelbon can’t walk a guy like that.

Up came Abreu and you just knew Abreu was going to get a hit. I just want to say something about Abreu. He has proved me wrong.

I watched him for the last couple of years with the New York Yankees and what I saw was a guy who produced “empty stats.” He would always have great numbers, but I never thought he was a winning ball player.

However, with the Angels, he has become the leader of the team and their MVP. Just like with Izturis and Figgins, Papelbon had two strikes on Abreu. And just like with the two batters before, Papelbon couldn’t put away Abreu.

Abreu doubled off the monster and now the game was 6-5 Red Sox. Francona decided to intentionally walk Torii Hunter to get to Guerrero.

No complaints there. I would have done the same thing. Hunter is 3-for-5 with a HR lifetime off of Papelbon and Guerrero is a shell of his former self.

The move backfired. On the first pitch, Guerrero ripped a single to center and the Angels took a 7-6 lead.

I could have woken up in the morning with my upper lip stapled to my pillow and I would have been less shocked than I was when I watched what unfolded in the ninth.

Even when the Angels had the bases loaded, I still thought the Red Sox would get out of the inning. After all, if you have watched Papelbon all season, this was par for the course.

I can’t tell you how many times he loaded the bases during the regular season, only to see him get out of the jam. Today, it was not meant to be.

Listen, it was bound to happen with Papelbon. He can into this game with 26 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason. He was bound to blow a save sooner or later.

Even Mariano Rivera has blown his fair share of saves in the postseason.

The Red Sox went quietly in the ninth and the Angels finally beat their arch nemesis in the playoffs. Going into this series, everyone talked about how the Red Sox had the advantage in the bullpen.

Unfortunately for the Red Sox, today their bullpen became their weakness.

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