Oh, what a ninth! Sox-Halos a classic
Flubbed squeeze, series-ending walk-off will long be remembered
BOSTON -- If you're big into baseball, you've no doubt got a mental catalog of October ninth innings through which you instantly scroll when something like this magical Monday night at Fenway Park unfolds.
It doesn't matter how old you are. Maybe Maz's walk-off shot to stun the Yankees in 1960 is what first comes to mind.
Chambliss shoving his way to the plate in '76?
Gibson vs. Eck in '88?
Carter's jolt of joy for Toronto in '93?
Podsednik's launch off Lidge in 2005?
All are among the more memorable ninth-inning walk-off shots in playoff history, and while Jed Lowrie didn't go deep to win the American League Division Series for the Red Sox, add him to the list.
Lowrie's two-out single past the desperate dive of Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick capped what might be -- as a whole -- the most unforgettable ninth inning of all.
The Red Sox are headed -- again -- to the AL Championship Series, and how they got there will be forever burned into the brains of baseball fans fortunate enough to see it.
"Wow, man," said Angels outfielder Torii Hunter. "People are going to be talking about that inning for a long time."
It was Hunter's own two-out single, in the top of the eighth inning, that made the ninth drip with such drama. It erased Boston's 2-0 lead and momentarily quieted the typically raucous Red Sox Nation.
The sellout gathering fell even further silent when pinch-hitter Kendry Morales spanked a double off the Green Monster to open the Angels' ninth. When pinch-runner Reggie Willits eased into third on Kendrick's sacrifice bunt, a sense of impending doom hung in the chilly autumn air.
This doesn't happen to our guys, seemed the sentiment. This is what we do to them.
Walk-offs to end Division Series
|2008||Red Sox||Jed Lowrie||1B||ALDS, G4|
|2005||Astros||Chris Burke||HR||NLDS, G4|
|2004||Red Sox||David Ortiz||HR||ALDS, G3|
|2001||D-backs||Tony Womack||1B||NLDS, G4|
|2000||Mariners||Carlos Guillen||1B||ALDS, G4|
|1999||Mets||Todd Pratt||HR||NLDS, G4|
|1995||Mariners||Edgar Martinez||2B||ALDS, G4|
Walk-offs to end League Championships
|2006||Tigers||Magglio Ordonez||HR||ALCS, G4|
|2003||Yankees||Aaron Boone||HR||ALCS, G7|
|2002||Giants||Kenny Lofton||1B||NLCS, G5|
|1992||Braves||Francisco Cabrera||1B||NLCS, G7|
|1985||Cardinals||Ozzie Smith||HR||NLCS, G5|
|1978||Dodgers||Bill Russell||1B||NLCS, G4|
|1976||Yankees||Chris Chambliss||HR||ALCS, G5|
|1976||Reds||Ken Griffey||1B||NLCS, G3|
Walk-offs to end World Series
|2001||D-backs||Luis Gonzalez||1B||Game 7|
|1997||Marlins||Edgar Renteria||1B||Game 7|
|1993||Blue Jays||Joe Carter||HR||Game 6|
|1991||Twins||Gene Larkin||1B||Game 7|
|1960||Pirates||Bill Mazeroski||HR||Game 7|
|1953||Yankees||Billy Martin||1B||Game 6|
|1935||Tigers||Goose Goslin||1B||Game 6|
|1929||Athletics||Bing Miller||2B||Game 5|
|1924||Senators||Earl McNeely||2B||Game 7|
With a 2-0 count on his No. 9 hitter and best bunter, Erick Aybar, Angels manager Mike Scioscia correctly guessed that Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen would be firing a fastball and called for a suicide squeeze.
"It was a great count for it," Scioscia said. "I think it was a buntable ball."
Not for Aybar. Not in that moment, anyway. He missed, leaving Willits trapped as he bore down on the plate. He was quick enough to reverse momentum in time to engage Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek in a footrace back to third, but not quick enough to avoid Varitek's diving tag.
The ball popped out of Varitek's mitt when he crashed to the ground, and for a moment, Fenway again fell silent.
Just for a moment, though. Third-base umpire and crew chief Tim Welke assuaged their fears with an emphatic "out" call, bringing forth yet another explosion from the stands. And when Aybar -- after a futile on-field protest by Scioscia -- bounced out to first baseman Mark Kotsay to end the inning, the decibel level went way off the charts.
"That was such a huge turn of events," Kotsay said of the botched bunt. "You couldn't hear yourself think running off the field."
Not even rubber-armed Angels righty Scot Shields' strikeout of J.D. Drew to open the home half of the ninth could calm things down.
The gods of October, Red Sox Nation seemed to realize, don't let you blow a golden opportunity like the Angels had just blown and still go on to beat Boston in Beantown.
That faith was rewarded in the form of relative newcomer Jason Bay, who bounced a ball just beyond the glove of right fielder Willits, whose dive near Pesky's Pole came up short as the ball hopped into the stands for a ground-rule double.
One more clutch hit and it would be over, and Kotsay seemed to stroke it when he laced a line drive that looked headed for the right-field corner. Another explosion.
Angels first baseman Mark Teixeira, who was Kotsay's teammate in Atlanta as recently as July, dove to his left and stole glory from Kotsay's grasp with perhaps the best defensive play of the series.
"I couldn't believe it," Kotsay said. "I couldn't have hit that ball any harder. I just had to laugh."
Who could blame him? The inning had a sublime ridiculousness to it, like a mind-blowing 4 a.m. set by Coltrane in a smoky hole-in-the-wall jazz club. If you see it, if you feel it, you have to laugh. It's so good, it's funny.
In a way, though, it set up a fitting scenario. Time and again in the series, the Red Sox did their damage with two out, and here was another such situation.
The night before, Lowrie had been embarrassed by Shields on three consecutive curveballs.
"So in the back of my mind," Lowrie said, "I was thinking curveball."
Good thinking. Shields, indeed, brought the breaking ball.
Lowrie, perhaps channeling another Jed and thinking California was the place the Angels ought to be, brought the house down and made the Manny still standing in Boston a winner.
By bringing home Bay, whose dive into the plate just beat Willits' throw from right and was followed by a jubilant jump into Varitek's arms, Lowrie immediately entered into October lore.
And put the Red Sox -- again, dramatically and unforgettably -- into the ALCS.
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.