Gaffe pushes Red Sox to brink
Costly fifth-inning error opens door to a Chicago victory
CHICAGO -- Here the Red Sox go again, pressed to the brink, knowing that the next loss means the end of October, and the end of their first World Series championship defense in 86 years. Go back to the postseasons of 2003 and 2004, and the Red Sox seemed to be perpetually in this position, only to fight their way out of it.
They'll have to do it again after a crushing 5-4 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday night pinned them in a 2-0 hole in this best-of-five Division Series.
How did it come to this after the Red Sox took a 4-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth inning, with David Wells appearing as if he was on the way to the type of gem that has made him one of the most noted big-game pitchers of the last decade?
Because that fifth inning turned into one of utter disaster. Tony Graffanino committed an error on what might have been a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning and Tadahito Iguchi erased Boston's 4-2 advantage on one swing, raking a three-run homer to left.
"I didn't get a good read on it and then I tried to rush it so we could get two," said Graffanino. "I just missed it."
And then Wells misfired, hanging a curveball that Iguchi, swiftly turning into a hero in this series, was able to crush.
"You hang a curveball and before you know it, you're down one run," Wells said. "It's just a tough situation. You don't go out there and try to make errors, you just go out and try to make plays. I had my opportunity. I blame myself more so because I hung the curveball. When you hang a pitch, you're gonna expect it to get hit."
The Red Sox were stunned, and never were able to bounce back, though they put the tying run at second base with one out in the ninth. This was because Graffanino belted a double to left-center to bring the top of the order to the plate.
"Obviously, I'd like to do something to redeem myself," said Graffanino. "I was able to get on base. It just didn't work out tonight."
However, White Sox rookie closer Bobby Jenks, who went two innings for the save, got Johnny Damon on a pop to the catcher and Edgar Renteria hit a routine grounder to second to send the series back to Fenway Park.
Wells deserved a better fate, going 6 2/3 innings and allowing just two earned runs. But he handled the rough turn of events with class.
"I gave up the home run, end of story," said Wells.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox hope that another magical story will develop.
The last two Octobers, the Red Sox are a remarkable 8-1 in potential elimination games. Never do they need history to repeat itself more than now.
"It's not a pattern you want to fall into, but over and over and over, we play our best baseball with our backs truly against the wall and they truly are right now," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.
Badly needing to get off to a good start after the horrific events of Game 1, the Red Sox did just that. Damon led off the game with a single to left, and advanced to third when Renteria followed with a double down the line in left. David Ortiz struck out, but Manny Ramirez raked a single off the left-field wall that brought home the game's first two runs.
Wells came out sharp and effective, just like the Red Sox hoped he would. Helped in large part by his own glove work -- Wells slowed down three infield groundouts by deflecting the ball -- Boomer took a two-hit shutout into the fifth.
The Red Sox added two more runs to their cause in the third. Again, it was Damon starting things off with a single to left. Ortiz lofted an opposite-field double to put runners at second and third with one out, prompting White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to issue an intentional walk to Ramirez. Jason Varitek (RBI single) and Trot Nixon (fielder's choice RBI) did their jobs to make it 4-0.
"We hit the balls hard throughout the rest of that game, we just couldn't get the ball to fall," said Varitek.
And then they suffered a fall of their own.
Back from the Brink
|Since Division Series play begin in 1995, four teams have rebounded from an 0-2 hole to advance to the League Championship Series:|
|1995||Mariners vs. Yankees||Mariners|
|1999||Red Sox vs. Indians||Red Sox|
|2001||Yankees vs. Oakland||Yankees|
|2003||Red Sox vs. A's||Red Sox|
|No team in an 0-2 Division Series hole has gone on to win the World Series.|
It was on to that harrowing bottom of the fifth. Carl Everett led off with a single to right and scored on an RBI double by Aaron Rowand. Joe Crede then ripped an RBI single to make it 4-2.
Wells seemingly made a huge pitch to Juan Uribe, who slapped that possible double-play ball Graffanino's way. However, the play turned disastrous quickly with the ball going through Graffanino's legs and into right, putting runners at the corners with one out.
Graffanino went to the mound and delivered a plea to Wells.
"I told him, 'My bad' right there and asked him to pick me up," said Graffanino. "I thought we were going to get out of the inning. Give credit to them. They capitalized and that's huge. Obviously, that's a huge play there. It cost us the ballgame."
Immediately after the error, Wells buckled down and got a big out, inducing Scott Podsednik into a pop to third. But then came a stunning three-run homer by Iguchi, suddenly giving the White Sox a 5-4 lead. Wells threw 29 pitches in the inning.
"I've known Tony for a long time," said Wells. "Those things are gonna happen in the game. I'm sure he feels bad. I feel bad because I didn't pick him up, you don't point the finger at anybody. If you point anything, point it at me because I'm the one who gave up the home run."
Now, the Red Sox head home amid a familiar script, one they've somehow lived to tell about in the past.
"When you know you're against the ropes, you can do nothing but bring your best game out there," said Ortiz. "We've been against the ropes a lot. Keep fighting, come hungry on Friday and try to do your best."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.