For about 24 hours, visions of the 2004 ALCS plagued me. Only the 2008 Red Sox were playing the Yankees' role.
First, there was Mike Bleeping Napoli, the Angels' number 8 hitter, spoiling the Sox' bid for a sweep last night. On top of the two home runs, he came dashing home with the winning run in the 12th inning like a reasonable facisimile of...Dave Roberts.
Then tonight, Justin Masterson fails to hold on to the 2-0 lead John Lester left behind after a brilliant seven innings, a failure reminiscent of...Mariano Rivera.
And in the top of the ninth, with Reggie Willits standing on third and Erick Aybar at the plate, I thought of how the Yankees felt in Game 5 of the '04 ALCS, the World Series so tantalizing close. I also drifted back to the '86 ALCS, which didn't seem destined to return to Boston as Donnie Moore took the mound to get the final out of Game 5.
In other words, there were some ugly reminders of the past, when the Sox were the team blowing games that seemed nearly won, and of the thin margin of error that separated the '04 Yankees and '86 Angels from world championships.
Thankfully, this different bunch asserted itself, and the old ghosts came back to haunt the Angels.
It seemed unlikely that a team as skilled as smallball as the Angels, one that built the majors' best record by taking the extra base whether it was readily available or not, could bungle the squeeze bunt that would give them the lead. But that's what happened after Manny Delcarmen busted Aybar inside twice and came frightening close to hitting him with the bloodsucking gnat called Chone Figgins on deck.
In the bottom, two guys with no experience of Boston's checkered past delivered the series. Trade deadline acquisition Jason Bay banged the ground-rule double and raced home with two out after rookie Jed Lowrie poked a ground single through the right side.
Let the second-guessing of Mike Scioscia begin. If he were managing in Boston, the torment would've already begun:
Why the squeeze? (He has guys who could pull it off, but then again, Scioscia probably enjoys LA for the same dearth of nattering nabobs that Manny Ramirez does.)
Why stick with Steve Shields when he had K-Rod ready to go? (Shields threw fewer pitches in 2 1/3 innings last night than K-Rod did in one.)
If the Angels had won, Terry Francona would've been accused of leaving Masterson out there for the ninth (even after his critical wild pitch led to the tying run in the eighth) to become the 21st-century Jim Burton. For non-Sox nerds, Burton was the rookie lefty brought in for the ninth inning in a tied Game 7 of the '75 Series. If you've never heard of him, well, he never got over surrendering the Series-winning run on Joe Morgan's two-out blooper.
Tonight, the Sox looked an old-style choke right in the eye. They spat in it.
Bring on the Rays, who marched impressively through Chicago in four. Bring on all that cowbell, too.
We need three days of rest before this one. Let's just hope the fort the Red Sox will be trying to hold over the next week isn't Dien Bien Phu.