Angels not ready to leave quietly
BOSTON -- It took everything the Angels had, a couple of things that they'd never had before, a few gifts from the usually ungenerous Red Sox and more than five agonizing hours of playoff baseball. But the Angels finally -- finally! -- got on the right side of the postseason tote board on Sunday.
"That's typical Angels baseball right there," said third baseman Chone Figgins, who had three hits in a 5-4, 12-inning win (Recap | Box Score) that closed Boston's gap in the best-of-five American League Division Series to 2-1. "Down to the wire."
Sunday night's game was more than a simple must-win for the Angels. It was, in many ways, a ringing answer to an informal referendum being held on the way that the franchise does its baseball business. The Angels won 100 games in the regular season, running away with the AL West title. But in losing the first two games of this series, they had stretched a streak of postseason losses to nine games, going back to the 2005 playoffs. Worse, they had lost 11 straight postseason games to the defending World Series champion Red Sox, dating to the '86 ALCS.
Another wipeout in straight sets would have been a damming indictment on everyone from owner Arte Moreno to manager Mike Scioscia. And a sense of possible impending Angels' doom hung heavy over Fenway Park for most of the night.
It finally lifted in the top of the 12th when shortstop Erick Aybar, 0-for-13 to that point in the series, smacked the first postseason hit of his career, a one-out single off of Boston's Javier Lopez, to score catcher Mike Napoli from second with the winning run. Jered Weaver, a starter relegated to the bullpen for this series, then finished off his first-ever trip from the bullpen by working through the meat of the Boston order to gain the win. Weaver, the last of six Los Angeles pitchers that Scioscia called upon, went two innings and gave up just one hit.
"They told me to be prepared, and that you never know when it's going to happen," Weaver said after the game as the clock slipped past 1 a.m. "It's a little different hearing my name called when that phone rings. But it was fun, that's for sure."
This game, from the start, had the smell of Angels' desperation all over it. The Angels scored a first-inning run on a bases-loaded walk from Boston starter Josh Beckett. Then, in the second, they gave it back when the usually steady defense allowed a bloop off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury to fall into short center, scoring three runs. It was the first three-run single in postseason history.
"I need to get a massage and relax out there, I was so tense," said center fielder Torii Hunter, who had a pair of hits and an awful baserunning blunder in the game. "It was very intense out there."
The Angels' postseason was saved, at least for the time being, by Napoli, who did way more than lead off the 12th with a single and score the game-winner off Aybar's hit. In the third, Napoli hit a two-run homer off of Beckett to tie the score, and in the fifth he hit another homer off Beckett to give the Angels another brief lead.
The two-run shot in the third, on a 3-2 hanging breaking ball, was especially impressive. "Hopefully, about a month from now, we'll talk about that 3-2 breaking ball that Nap hit off one of the toughest pitchers ever in a playoff environment," Scioscia said. "That was big."
As nicely as things finally turned for the Angels, they flipped the other way for Boston. Beckett, making his first postseason start of the year after straining an oblique muscle late last month, gave up nine hits in his five innings of work, more than he had in any of his previous nine postseason starts. He also walked four, more than he had since his first start of this year and more than he had in October since his first postseason start in '03.
The Red Sox also were playing without outfielder J.D. Drew, who is nursing a sore back. (Drew made a pinch-hit appearance Sunday, striking out.) And Mike Lowell is clearly playing hurt. His range at third base has been severely compromised by a sore hip. He is 0-for-8 in the series.
"I just think sometimes we need to try to do what's right for the ballclub, and it maybe is different than we've done in the past," Boston manager Terry Francona said before the game, in explaining his reasoning for holding back Drew. "I think we have to recognize some of the things that have happened to our team physically."
Add those problems to the woes of AL MVP candidate Dustin Pedroia (0-for-13) and catcher Jason Varitek (2-for-11), and suddenly the Angels look like they could actually make a series of this thing. "It's obviously a momentum shifter for us," Weaver said of Sunday's win. "We're still confident. I think this team is very capable of coming out of the hole we're in."
They'll try to even the series Monday when L.A.'s John Lackey and Boston's Jon Lester meet in a re-do of their Game 1 matchup. The Sox won that game, 4-1. If a Game 5 is needed, it's scheduled for Wednesday in Anaheim.
Whatever happens from here, the Angels have at least made a mini-statement that they won't go as quietly this time as they have in their last few trips into the postseason. "It's all we can ask for," Napoli said.
For now, anyway. For now.