Angels' diving catches keep Twins at bayPosted: Saturday October 12, 2002 1:53 AM
ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) -- Credit the save to the Angels in the outfield.
With Anaheim clinging to a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning of Game 3 in the AL Championship Series, the Minnesota Twins hit two sinking fly balls that had "hit" written all over them.
But Alex Ochoa, who had just entered as a defensive replacement for Tim Salmon, and Garret Anderson found a way to make outstanding plays.
Doug Mientkiewicz led off the Twins' ninth against closer Troy Percival with a low liner to right field that sent Ochoa scurrying to his right, apparently to try to head off any chance of the ball going through for an extra-base hit.
But at the last second, the sprinting Ochoa dived and made the catch just a few inches above the grass for the first out.
"When it left the bat, I thought I had a good jump," Ochoa said. "And when I was getting closer to it, I knew I had a chance to catch it. On balls like that, if you don't get a good jump, you can't catch it. Defense is always important in games like this."
The second out was considerably easier for Ochoa: Dustan Mohr lifted a lazy fly to right that the Angels' right fielder was able to camp under.
Then, with the crescendo from the crowd at Edison Field building with each pitch Percival threw, A.J. Pierzynski hit a blooper to shallow left. The ball didn't appear deep enough or high enough for Anderson to reach, and the fans seemed to groan in unison.
Somehow, he got there.
Anderson, who hit a solo homer and doubled earlier in the game, rarely leaves his feet going after a ball, but he looked like a daring Gold Glove winner on Pierzynski's short fly.
Anderson quickly covered some 30 yards and made a sliding catch, barely getting his glove under the ball and above the turf.
"I just wasn't going to give up on it," Anderson said.
Still on the ground, he raised his glove with the ball perched in the web to show he'd made a game-ending catch.
The crowd roared and the Angels won 2-1 to take a two games to one lead in the best-of-seven series.
Percival, who earned his second save in two games and fourth of the postseason, appreciated the defensive support.
"I'll tell you what, they were both fantastic catches," he said. "That last one, I thought there was no chance in the world at it, because I know Garret was playing fairly deep with a lefty up, covering that gap. But he comes in on the ball better than anybody I've seen in left field. I'm glad to have him out there."
Inserting Ochoa for Salmon, who had a hamstring twinge in Game 2, turned out to be a key move by Angels manager Mike Scioscia.
"I was playing [Mientkiewicz] a little bit over to right-center because Percy throws so hard," Ochoa said. "I didn't think he was going to pull him down the line, so I played a little more in the gap."
Anaheim shortstop David Eckstein knew there was a chance the ball would be caught, since Ochoa was the one chasing it.
"Once we get ahead late in the game, Alex had been coming in. And this tonight was a perfect example of why. He has such range out there and covers a lot of ground, so he was able to make that play," Eckstein said.
Said teammate Shawn Wooten: "It was an unbelievable play. It always seems like when a defensive replacement gets in the game, the ball's hit at him."
Even Mientkiewicz appreciated the catch -- sort of.
"I hate Alex Ochoa," the Twins first baseman deadpanned. "That's just the story of my 2002 season. Every time I hit a ball on the barrel, there's nine guys in the field fighting for a chance to catch it."