It was still a save situation - and Jonathan Papelbon has not been quite so infallible this year. They were only down three runs. It's only game 1. I don't understand it either. And I wonder if at least some of the Sox fans' incredulity was genuine.
In some ways this dynamic was reflected on the field - the Red Sox seemed almost defiant, at times pulling defensive plays literally out of nowhere. By the time the Sox had gone ahead, even Angels players looked vaguely sick. By the time Big Papi's single made it 4-1, they were shaking their heads in consternation in the dugout. While Jonathan Papelbon did give up a hit in the 9th, it was clear the life had gone out of Anaheim for the night.
Even Vladi Guerrerro looked peevish, especially after he tried to advance two bases instead of one in the bottom of the eighth and was thrown out. By the ninth inning, the Angels were visibly cooked.
Meanwhile, as has been said around here for the last few days, the Sox are "playing with house money." The pressure's on Anaheim to overcome its years of history against the Red Sox. If the Red Sox are beaten, Anaheim has clearly been the better team all along. Mentally, at least, the Red Sox have almost nothing to lose - and they were playing like it.
A great example of this was Lowrie's error that kept the third inning going and let the Angels take a 1-0 lead. After it happened, neither Lowrie or his teammates skipped a beat. I can recall previous years where this kind of thing has not been so simple. I can recall previous years where the weight of the uniform suddenly became leaden after such an event - where that sick look would appear on the faces of Sox players and fans. That look that says, here we go again. Being on the other side of that equation now is by turns strange and liberating.
Guerrerro's putout at third was another good example of an instance where I thought the Red Sox had that mental advantage. Guerrerro was, in part, thrown out because it was a bad idea to try to take third and because he seems to be hobbled and not running well. But it was also because Kevin Youkilis, having dropped Torii Hunter's popup in shallow right and fallen all over himself in the attempt, hesitated for nary a second before picking up the ball and rifling it over to third base, where it beat Guerrerro by 15 feet.
The Angels have been formidable this year, and things are so far from over, it's not even funny. By no means do I think the Sox will sweep them again. The Angels do have the tools to beat the Sox - they proved it over and over again this season. But the Red Sox have come in with the strongest attitude possible, one that says, you can beat us, but you're going to have to beat our best. You're going to have to beat us with our players showing the same clawing, dogged mentality they've learned in their last two pennant series. You're going to have to match and exceed that willingness to grind.
And then there was Jon Lester.
Specifically, there was Jon Lester's sixth inning.
Bay's two-run homer had given him a lead in the top of that frame, and this seemed to push Lester up another notch in ferocity as he took the hill (a phenomenon I've observed with Josh as well). The Angels hitters fouled off one devastating cutter after another - to a man, they looked unbalanced against that pitch, and frozen by Lester's curveball.
Some of the at-bats ran long because of those foul balls, but Lester faced the minimum in the inning, and all went down by way of the K--two swinging, and the last, Gary Matthews Jr., looking at an 89-mph cutter, on the outside corner, at the knees.
"Right on the black," was the announcer's call. "Right at the knees. No chance."
The only thing more breathtaking than the pitch was Lester's demeanor as he strode off the field following this effort. He bounded a few quick steps off the mound, then slowed to a swagger as he crossed the baseline. Every muscle seemed to stand out, in his shoulders, in his forearms, in his jaw. Just before the warning track, he pounded his pitching hand into his glove once. His eyes were alight.
It was a look I recognized - a smoldering, predatory gleam. This is how I described it once before:
Seven and two-thirds innings deep in the game, with four hits, two runs, seven strikeouts, one walk, having hit 96 and 97 on the gun consistently the whole night, Beckett walked off the mound to an ovation that rivaled, if it didn't equal, the ones that Pedro had received. When he doffed his cap, the roar swelled even louder. Pedro can have all the charisma he wants, but it's that id we follow--that swing-and-a-miss magic.
Like any of the cycles of baseball, this one is inexorable and seemingly eternal. We were reminded in the pre-game show of another landmark matchup in which a torch was passed in Boston, the famous first Pedro-Roger faceoff in Game 3 of the 1999 ALCS. We were reminded that that game, too, had not been the duel everyone had hoped for (though it was to be the only win for the Sox in that series). It's happened before. It will happen again. Someday Josh Beckett will watch as a younger man walks off the field with his glory. And that, too, will be bittersweet.
It's a little different this time - less like the passing of a torch and more like the sharing of it, since I don't believe for a second Josh has finished unleashing his asskickery on the world. But it was a similar feeling--that same transcendental id I saw, shining out of Lester's eyes last night.