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Red Sox are stunned

AL DIVISION SERIES

With Boston so close to extending the series, Jonathan Papelbon can't close the deal against the Angels.

October 12, 2009|Kevin Baxter

BOSTON — A dazed Victor Martinez, still in uniform, stared into his locker. Across the silent Boston clubhouse, Jonathan Papelbon, a scowl creasing his face, sat cross-legged, looking off into space. Next to him, Josh Beckett dressed quickly and left through a side door without speaking to anyone.

Moments earlier the Red Sox had been a happy, confident bunch. They had a two-run lead on the scoreboard and on the mound they had a closer in Papelbon who hadn't yielded a run in 26 postseason innings.

"It just seemed like the momentum would be on our side," third baseman Mike Lowell whispered in the quiet clubhouse. "Like things could take a different twist."

And then, in the span of five Angels batters, it all unraveled. Three times Papelbon was a strike away from extending Boston's season -- and three times he failed to get it done.

A two-out, two-strike single.

A walk on a full-count pitch.

A two-strike double.

An intentional walk.

A line-drive single to center.

In less than 10 minutes it was over -- and so were the Red Sox, the end coming swiftly but not painlessly.

"It happened pretty quick," Lowell said of the 7-6 loss that completed the Angels' sweep of the American League division series. "It's almost better, really, getting your [butt] kicked, maybe like 15-4. That's almost easier to swallow.

"This one hurts down deep."

His manager agreed.

"The season doesn't wind down. It just comes to a crashing halt," Terry Francona said. "You go into the top of the inning excited because you think you're going to keep playing. Half an inning later, you're going home. So it's disappointing."

After half an hour, Papelbon still couldn't explain it. In the span of eight batters Sunday he gave up more hits than he had in nine previous postseason games.

"Things happened quick," he said. "I wasn't able to really stop the bleeding. Your team fights to put you in that situation, to call upon you, and you let them down.

"It's a feeling that, there's a lot of weight because your team expects you to pull through and preserve that win. And it's definitely not a good feeling."

But it will be motivation for next season. Now that this one is over, that is.

"I may be replaying this on the TV in the weight room this off-season," Papelbon said. "This is something that I'll probably take on my shoulders in this off-season and definitely make me work harder for next year.

"I'm just going to use this for fuel to motivate me."

Then someone asked Papelbon if he'd like a mulligan, a chance to start the ninth inning over again, and he began to laugh, breaking the tension.

"Yeah, of course," he said with a smile. "Of course I want that back. But that's not the name of the game."

For David Ortiz, the last player to leave the Boston clubhouse, perspective was easier to find. He had a solitary single in the three-game series, a disappointing finish to a disappointing season. Yet he could still marvel at how it ended.

"That tells you how great this game is," he said. "You've got one of your best pitchers on the mound. You're one strike away from having another game. I don't remember anything like that before."

And by the morning, he promised, he won't even remember Sunday's game.

"It's already behind me. Believe me," he said. "I don't deal with negative stuff too much. That's what keeps me going."

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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