The Boston Red Sox brushed aside the 100-win Los Angeles Angels in four games, dismissing their best-in-baseball regular season as last month's news.
When it turns to October, no one dominates like Boston.
Moments after the Angels botched a suicide-squeeze attempt, Jason Bay slid headfirst into home plate to score on rookie Jed Lowrie's two-out single in the ninth inning. The defending World Series champions beat Los Angeles, 3-2, last night in Game4 of their first-round playoff series and advanced to play for the American League pennant for the fourth time in six seasons.
The wild-card Red Sox, who also won it all in 2004, will have a chance at a third title in five years if they can get past the Rays in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series that starts Friday night at Tampa Bay. Boston is 31-16 in October since the turn of the century, and both World Series runs began with a playoff sweep of the Angels.
Tampa Bay beat out Boston by two games in the AL East this season. The teams also beat each other up during a bench-clearing brawl at Fenway Park in June - the Rays and Red Sox have often scrapped over the years.
Los Angeles forced the series to a fourth game with an extra-inning victory Sunday night that ended an 11-game playoff losing streak against Boston.
As it turned out, that gave the Angels less than 24 more hours.
Jon Lester held Los Angeles to four hits in seven shutout innings but lost his chance at a second victory in the series when the Angels scored twice in the eighth to tie it 2. The Angels had a chance to go ahead in the ninth before Erick Aybar, whose 12th-inning single was the winner in Game3, missed on a squeeze-bunt attempt, thwarting the threat.
In the bottom half, Bay lofted a fly ball down the right-field line that Reggie Willits pursued and dove for before it one-hopped into the stands for a ground-rule double. First baseman Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph) made a diving catch of Mark Kotsay's line drive for the second out before Lowrie grounded a single to right.
"Curveball down in the zone," Lowrie said. "I know he's got a good one. I was just able to get the barrel on it."
Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the July31 trade deadline as Manny Ramirez's replacement, Bay raced around third and slid headfirst into home while his teammates poured out of the dugout to celebrate.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," he said.
Manny Delcarmen got two outs in the ninth for the win, squelching the Angels' chances to take the lead by getting Aybar to whiff on a bunt try with one out and a runner on third. Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, whose passed ball helped Los Angeles tie the score in the eighth, pursued pinch runner Willits back toward third and made the diving tag a step before the bag.
"He's our anchor," Bay said of Varitek. "The way he ran Reggie down - he's a fast runner. That speaks volumes."
Varitek lost the ball as he hit the ground, but third base umpire Tim Welke ruled that Varitek had already applied the tag. Angels manager Mike Scioscia argued, but replays showed the out was recorded before the ball came loose.