A's-Red Sox classic is no yawner

OAKLAND -- It was such a long, draining, emotionally exhausting game that even Theo Epstein must have had gray hair by the time it finally ended.

There were 435 pitches, 17 walks, 12 innings, 11 pitchers, four starting pitchers (and nearly five) and three lead changes. There were home runs that soared deep into the night and bunts that bounced past the mound and straight into postseason lore. There were controversial moves and surprise plays and beautiful diving plays. And by the time it ended 15 minutes before midnight in Oakland and 45 minutes after the bars closed in Boston, there wasn't an eye that wasn't bloodshot or a cuticle that hadn't been nibbled to nothing.

On the 100th anniversary of the first World Series game, Oakland and Boston delivered a four-hour, 37-minute autumn classic that finally was decided when catcher Ramon Hernandez dropped a beautiful bunt past the mound, allowing Eric Chavez to race home with the winning run in the Athletics 5-4 victory in Game 1 of their division series.

Asked when he might be able to fall asleep after such a game, Boston catcher Jason Varitek replied, "Tomorrow night.''

He might be right about that. The game ended so late that when players finally boarded the team buses, barely 11 hours remained before the start of Game 2 (first pitch is 1:05 p.m. Oakland time).

Memo to Lumbergh: You're going to have to wait on your TPS reports today. Between the lack of sleep last night and Thursday's game, there won't be a whole lot of production from the cubicles in Boston or Oakland today.

What type of game was it? Chavez said it was the best he's ever been involved with -- and he went 0-for-6. Boston second baseman Todd Walker had four hits and two home runs that each put the Red Sox ahead -- and he said he couldn't enjoy a bit of it.

"There are a whole lot of ways to not feel good about a baseball game,'' he said.

And the Red Sox felt them all.

This was a crushing loss for Red Sox Nation. On the centennial of their first World Series game, the Red Sox used starting pitchers Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe (and had a third starter, John Burkett, warming up in the bullpen when the game ended) ... and still lost.

They had 12 hits, seven walks and three home runs ... and still lost.

They were one out and two strikes from victory ... and still lost. They didn't allow a ball out of the infield in the fatal 12th ... and still lost.

They also yanked Boston closer Byung-Hyun Kim with two out and two on in the ninth and saw his replacement, Alan Embree, blow a 4-3 lead.

So, the Sox starting rotation is a mess and their closer is questionable. But other than that, everything is just fine.

"We've had a lot of devastating losses this season, none more so than tonight,'' Walker said. "But we have a lot of character in this clubhouse, and we'll come back. Going into (Game 2), if we score early it will change, but Oakland certainly feels good right now and has the momentum.''

The Red Sox were supposed to hold that momentum after Game 1 for no other reason than they started Pedro, considered the key to this series. With him able to start two games, Boston fans felt confident their team would win both. It didn't work out that way.

Matched up against Oakland starter Tim Hudson, Martinez allowed three runs in seven innings and threw 130 pitches (his highest total of the season), including 11 pitches in one dramatic at-bat with Erubiel Durazo in the seventh inning. Martinez wound up walking Durazo to load the bases that inning but retired Chavez to end the threat and preserve Boston's 4-3 lead.

That lead lasted into the ninth when Boston manager Grady Little brought in Kim to begin the inning. Kim walked one batter, hit another and got the hook in favor of the left-handed Embree when Durazo came up again with two out. Little defended the move as lefty-vs.-lefty strategy, but Kim was clearly upset when the move was first made and fumed in the dugout when Embree gave up a game-tying single.

That was questionable bullpen move No. 1. The next was Little's decision to use Lowe, the scheduled starter for Saturday's Game 3, as a reliever in the 11th inning. Lowe threw 42 pitches in two innings, but Little said he will start Game 3 as scheduled. He also said that even though Martinez threw 130 pitches, he could pitch Game 4 if necessary.

"That's just weird,'' Chavez said of the decision to use Lowe. "Hopefully, it works out for us. We'll have to see how all that stuff works out.''

Oakland manager Ken Macha's bullpen moves worked a little better. Rookie Rich Harden, normally a starter, pitched a scoreless 12th to earn the win, and closer Keith Foulke was more impressive, pitching three hitless innings.

"I'm kind of waiting to see how that works out, too,'' Chavez said of Foulke's 51-pitch effort.

Chavez made a game-saving play in the top of the 12th when he stopped a shot down the line and dove to third base in time to get the force for the final out. He found himself there again as a runner in the bottom of the inning when Oakland put runners on second and third with two out.

Boston chose to intentionally walk left-handed hitting Terence Long (who struck out his previous two at-bats) to load the bases and bring up the right-handed hitting Hernandez, which seemed like a strange move. Long isn't much of a hitter and by loading the bases, Lowe had no margin for error.

Macha said he noticed that Boston's Bill Mueller was playing deep at third base but that Hernandez decided to bunt on his own. It was a beauty, bouncing off the plate and past Lowe and into no-man's land.

"Derek Lowe is a pretty good athlete out there on the mound so a lot of things had to go right for them on that,'' Varitek said. "If the ball hadn't hit the plate first, I'm confident Derek makes that play.''

But it did hit the plate, and by the time Mueller fielded the ball, it was too late to do anything but watch Chavez score and Hernandez run past first base and into right field where his teammates chased him down and mobbed him.

"I thought he was going to jog around the field,'' Chavez said.

"I'm sure that if you ask their guys they're pretty down, but that was a great game and there were a lot of great performances out there, and it was great to be a part of it.''

Easy for Chavez to say. He doesn't have all New England planting the loss into its collective memory.

"I know Boston fans live and die by this team, just like we do, so they're probably as drained as we are,'' Walker said. "But at least they get three more hours to sleep. They don't have to get here early for batting practice so they can sleep in later.''

Right. As if anyone in Boston could sleep after that one.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.