Red Sox 8, Angels 6
Considering the agony-inducing track record of the Boston Red Sox, it was all unfolding too easily.
Making his first playoff start with his team leading the American League Division Series over Anaheim 2-0, Bronson Arroyo had mastered the Angels' lineup through six innings. His lone mistake led to a tape-measure solo blast in the fourth inning by the Angels' Troy Glaus.
Cruising into the seventh with a 6-1 lead, Arroyo walked Jeff DaVanon to start the inning. Boston Manager Terry Francona pulled the right-hander, and six batters later Vladimir Guerrero belted an 0-1 pitch for a grand slam that tied the game and silenced a Fenway Park crowd already in celebration mode. It would stay 6-6 into extra innings, with nerves wreaking havoc on the Fenway Faithful.
But rather than add to their litany of playoff meltdowns, the Red Sox swept aside the Angels and roared into the AL Championship Series for the second straight year on the strength of David Ortiz's two-run home run on the first pitch he saw from Jarrod Washburn in the 10th, lifting Boston to an 8-6 victory.
"In that situation, let me tell you, I wasn't really thinking about hitting a home run. I want to have a good at-bat. I want to at least get on base," said Ortiz, who batted .545 in the series.
He circled the bases with his thick right arm raised and bounded into a mosh pit of teammates at home plate, touching off a celebration that spilled out of the clubhouse and back into the stadium with players embracing fans behind the dugout.
October heroics were expected of the strapping designated hitter, an MVP hopeful who finished second in the American League in home runs (41) and RBI (139).
But as crucial to the Red Sox' fortunes moving forward was the performance of Arroyo, who while taking a no-decision, actually improved on the performances of Boston's vaunted twin aces, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, who won Games 1 and 2, respectively.
"I'll take a no decision over a 'W,' if we get the win every night," said the 27-year-old right-hander.
Just who would start Game 3 was a matter of much public speculation in Boston as the regular season ended, with struggling veteran starters Derek Lowe and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield each earning consideration.
But Arroyo, who early in the season was considered the number five starter, leapfrogged the two veterans with a strong September. He breezed through the early innings Friday, sending the Angels down 1-2-3 in the first, and striking out the side after a leadoff single to center by center fielder Garret Anderson in the second.
Angels starter Kelvim Escobar, meantime, struggled with his command, walking the leadoff batter in the first three innings.
The first two times Escobar worked out of jams, but in the top of the third, the Red Sox opened the scoring when second baseman Mark Bellhorn walked, Ortiz (4 for 6) smashed a double off the top of the left field wall and Trot Nixon lined to right, scoring Bellhorn. The next batter, Kevin Millar, squibbed a 97-mph heater past the mound that scored Ortiz, and Boston had a 2-0 lead.
The Angels got one back in the fourth, when Glaus launched his second home run of the series, as Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez slowly turned to watch it soar over his head and into the street.
An inning later, the Red Sox chased Escobar, loading the bases with nobody out for Ramirez, who delivered a sacrifice fly. Ortiz greeted Shields with another double to drive in a run. The normally sure-handed David Eckstein then booted Millar's grounder, and the Red Sox had a 5-1 lead.
But the Angels were far from finished. In a move that seemed sure to be second-guessed before the extra-inning heroics, Arroyo, who had allowed only two runners to reach second base, was pulled after just 91 pitches.
"I thought he was tremendous. I also thought, after that first hitter [of the seventh inning], he looked like he was about out of bullets," Francona said, an assessment the young pitcher disputed.
After Guererro's momentum-changing home run, when the Angels loaded the bases on a single and a pair of walks, Anaheim had plenty of chances to push the winning run across, but came up dry.
In the 10th, with the embattled Lowe -- stripped of his starting role after stumbling badly in the stretch run -- on in relief for Boston, the Angels threatened again when Jose Molina walked and moved to second on Dallas McPherson's sacrifice bunt. Eckstein beat out an infield hit, but Lowe induced Chone Figgins to ground to short as the crowd chanted the pitcher's name.
"D-Lowe is the kind of guy that when you really need it, he steps up," Ortiz said. "I'm very happy and proud of him."
Angels Manager Mike Scioscia was faced with a series-altering decision in the bottom of the 10th, when he removed standout reliever Francisco Rodriguez, who had pitched 22/3 scoreless innings, with two outs and Ortiz at the plate.
He opted for the lefty Washburn, and Ortiz made him pay with a blast over into the seats over the Green Monster that sent 35,547 fans screaming for the Yankees, who took a 2-1 lead over Minnesota with an 8-4 win over the Twins Friday night.
The Red Sox, a team whose personalities are as varied as their many goofy hairstyles, drenched each other in the clubhouse with champagne and buckets of water.
Ringleaders Ramirez and Millar bolted from the dugout and sprayed fans who stuck around long after the game was over. The scoreboard flashed "How Sweep it Is."