We should be used to it now; high pitch counts, too many base runners, and a seeming high wire act.
Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched his customary five innings, giving up three runs on eight hits and three walks. If you're keeping score, that's 11 base runners and 108 pitches in just five innings. As noted previously, it's always ugly with this guy, and it's always an adventure. Yet, he always seems to win despite these tendencies. Apparently, 18-3 wasn't an accident.
Jason Bay remained hot, hitting his second home run in as many games in the first, and now has five RBI in the ALDS. In the process, he became the first Red Sox player to homer in each of his first two post-season games with the club. At this point you can't help but ask, Manny who?
The unpredictable Hideki Okajima pitched a 1-2-3 6th, with the assistance of a great leaping catch at the wall by JD Drew to end the inning.
Oki returned to start the seventh, but couldn't record an out, allowing two consecutive singles. Justin Masterson came in to try to thwart the Angels' rally. The big reliever recorded one out before walking the next batter and loading the bases. The kid then buckled down and proceeded to fan Howie Kendrick on three pitches. But then things got really interesting when he walked in a run. Suddenly, the Red Sox lead was shrunk to 5-4. Disney Land doesn't have that much adventure. After walking a long tightrope, Masterson finally struck out Erick Aybar, ending the inning.
Masterson started the eighth, and promptly gave up the first extra-base hit the Angels had all night, a triple to Chone (I can't spell my name) Figgins. That put an end to Masterson's uneven outing.
Unwilling to take any more chances, Terry Francona went to Jonathan Papelbon to secure the eighth. It was pressure time for Paps, a situation he seems to thrive in. After a Garrett Anderson popup, Mark Texiera quickly tied the game, driving in Figgins with a deep sacrifice. Suddenly, the prospect of having Papelbon trying to record six outs seemed daunting. But Paps induced yet another infield popup, this time to Vlad Guerrero. End of inning. Sigh of relief.
David Ortiz, having already hit safely in 12 straight ALDS games, hit the first pitch of the 9th off the right field wall for a double. Coco Crisp was quickly brought in to run for Papi. It didn't matter. The next batter, JD Drew, blasted a deep shot that cleared the center field wall for a two-run homer. Blown save -- K-Rod. More Drew playoff magic, a-la-2007. The long blast was the difference maker and the eventual game-winner.
Papelbon came on again in the bottom of the 9th, running on pure playoff adrenaline. Kevin Youkilis made a spectacular catch, reaching into the camera pit in foul territory, and taking an at-bat away from Gary Matthews Jr. Papelbon retired the side, earning the win, and the Sox find themselves sitting pretty.
Both Bay and Drew finished the night going 3-5, with a home run and three RBI apiece. Those types of contributions are exactly what the Sox needed from them to win.
Suddenly, an Angels team that won a club-record 100 games -- the best in baseball this year -- is down 0-2, and heading back to Boston. The Angles have now lost 11 consecutive playoff games to the Red Sox, going back to 1986 -- a new MLB record. Think there's some psychology at play here?
This win was a dagger in the heart of the Angels, and it may prove to be fatal. The Sox merely need to win one of the next three games to advance to their fourth ALCS this decade. The Angles need to win all three, including he next two at Fenway, where the Sox are 56-25 this year.
Don't start the celebration yet. But keep the champaign (or beer) chilled in preparation.
It's not over until someone wins three, and Red Sox fans have seen the improbable happen before. But this is an experienced, veteran team and it knows how to win. And for this generation of Red Sox, October has become winning time.