Angels force Game 4 by ending losing streak to Sox

Posted Oct. 05, 2008, at 11:20 p.m.

BOSTON (AP) — Torii Hunter was ready to relax.

The Angels had just broken an 11-game postseason losing streak to the Red Sox dating back to 1986 and he needed to calm down off after his two mistakes had nudged his team closer to elimination.

“I need to get a massage and rubdown,” Hunter said after 5 hours, 19 minutes of what came close to being the final countdown to the end of his season.

“I was tense. I can feel it in my body. Guys were making pitches and I was jumping around in the outfield like I was in high school.”

Los Angeles won a major-league high 100 games this season, Hunter’s first with the team. Boston nearly ended it in three before the Angels won 5-4 in 12 innings Sunday night.

He and his teammates were smiling after the win cut Boston’s lead in the series to 2-1 — an unusual sight in the locker room of a club that had been 4-14 in playoff games since winning the 2002 World Series.

Hunter did make two costly gaffes.

He said he should have called off second baseman Howie Kendrick on Jacoby Ellsbury’s bloop to short center field in the second that went for the first three-running single in postseason history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. And he was easily thrown out at second base by left fielder Jason Bay as he tried to stretch his leadoff single in the ninth.

If they didn’t look as dominant as they were in the regular season, the Angels at least showed they could win under pressure in the stadium of a team that had the second best home record in baseball. And the Red Sox started postseason ace Josh Beckett to try to close out the series.

But from his very first pitch, a double by Chone Figgins, Beckett didn’t have it.

He allowed four runs in five innings, his shortest stint in 10 postseason starts, and gave up two homers to Mike Napoli — a two-run shot that tied the game at 3 in the third and a solo drive that made it 4-3 in the fifth. Kevin Youkilis’ RBI double tied it in the fifth.

Napoli began the winning rally with a leadoff single in the 12th off Javier Lopez. Napoli took second on Kendrick’s sacrifice and scored on Erick Aybar’s single.

“I got a good pitch to hit and I was ready to go,” Figgins said of his first at bat. “I wasn’t going to wait around. We had to try something different.”

Beckett said he felt fine physically after his start was pushed back four days from last Wednesday’s opener because of a strain in his side.

“They really made him work,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “Right from the very first pitch of the game he was (pitching) out of the stretch.”

Beckett wasn’t the only star who struggled on the mound.

Francisco Rodriguez, who set a major-league record with 62 saves, started the 10th and had the bases loaded with two outs before retiring Jed Lowrie on a routine fly to rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero.

Jered Weaver, who took over in the 11th, completed the first relief outing of his career by holding the Red Sox hitless in the 12th.

The loss wasn’t frustrating to Boston’s Alex Cora.

“The only frustration is that it’s 20 of 1” Monday morning, he said.

The teams return Monday for a rematch of the first-game pairing in which Jon Lester outpitched John Lackey in a 4-1 win in Anaheim.

Lester was 11-1 with a no-hitter at Fenway Park and 16-6 overall.

The secret of his success at home?

“I guess just feeling more comfortable at home and in your surroundings,” he said. “You drive yourself to the ballpark and don’t have to worry about anything else,”

The Angels have plenty to worry about. One more loss and their season is over.

“The confidence level has got to be high right now,” Lackey said. “Any time you go into a game like that, extra inning games, a lot of times that carries over.”

Beckett needed 30 pitches to get through the first half-inning, which took 22 minutes. Meanwhile, the Angels left the bases loaded in the first and fourth — stranding eight in the first four innings.

Still, “we got some big hits tonight,” Napoli said.

Joe Saunders, who was making his first postseason start, struggled.

He gave up four runs on five hits and four walks, striking out two in 4 2-3 innings. But instead of the line-drive homers that cost Beckett, Saunders was hurt most by the fluke popup that made it 3-1.

But that didn’t matter after Napoli scored the winning run. Neither does the 11-game losing streak that the Angels snapped with the help of 7 1-3 scoreless innings by five relievers.

“We definitely like our chances,” said Scot Shields, who worked 2 1-3 hitless innings.

The Red Sox like theirs, despite losing for the first time in 10 postseason games — three against Cleveland in last year’s AL championship series, four in a World Series sweep of Colorado and the first two in Anaheim.

“You want to get it over with,” Cora said, “but you can’t hang your head.”

The Angels couldn’t afford to do that Sunday, not in a tension-packed game that they had to win.

“That game was swinging on a heartbeat most of the night,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said. “Fortunately, we got it done at the end.”

Notes: Napoli’s two homers made it the 32nd time in a division series that a player had a multihomer game. It also ended the Angels streak of 68 straight playoff innings without a homer. … The paid attendance of 39,067 was the largest at Fenway Park since World War II. … Dustin Pedroia, a contender for AL MVP honors, is 0-for-13 in the series after going 0-for-3.

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