Inside jobbed: Figgins narrowly misses
Ellsbury's diving grab foils shot at legged-out homer
ANAHEIM -- As the ball left his bat, Angels leadoff man Chone Figgins immediately took flight. He had something in mind right from the get-go."I was thinking four," he said, as in four bases.
It was the sixth inning of Game 1 of the American League Division Series, the Angels leading the Red Sox, 3-0. At second base after Mike Lowell's throwing error and a bunt by Jeff Mathis was Howard Kendrick.Figgins got into a Jon Lester delivery and sent the ball rocketing toward right-center, fleet Jacoby Ellsbury in desperate pursuit. "It was slicing away from him," Figgins said. "I was already near second base when he laid out for it. If it had gotten by him, I was coming all the way. "Man, so close. That doesn't happen very often. It would've given us a five-run lead." Figgins, the only player in the Majors to reach at least 30 steals each of the past six seasons, had five homers in 615 at-bats this season. He saw more pitches than any hitter in the Majors, averaging 4.21 per plate appearance. The Angels claimed their five-run lead an inning later, and Darren Oliver got the final five outs after John Lackey delivered 22 in a superior effort, outdueling Lester to give the Angels a leg up. "When Figgy hit that ball, I was watching Ellsbury and thinking inside-the-park," said Angels center fielder Torii Hunter, whose three-run homer against Lester was the telling blow of Game 1. "The way Figgy flies around the bases, I don't think they could have thrown him out."
Hunter was centrally involved the last time a player hit an inside-the-park homer in postseason play, during Game 2 of the 2006 ALDS in Minnesota.Oakland's Mark Kotsay hit one of those twisting drives Hunter calls knuckleballs. Hunter, the Twins' Gold Glove center fielder, came up empty with a dive, and Kotsay circled the bases. "Kotsay hits balls that are knuckling all over the place," Hunter said. "Sometimes they're impossible to track. You think you have it, and it knuckles away from you." A Gold Glove candidate for his sterling play all season at third base, Figgins made two big plays in Game 1 behind Lackey. With two on and two out in the sixth, Kevin Youkilis hit a full-count chopper toward third. Figgins charged, and Dustin Pedroia flashed into his turf. "I couldn't see the ball, but then I got to it and got to the bag in time," Figgins said. "That," Lackey said, "was a tougher play than it looked. But I wasn't worried. Figgy's been tremendous over there all season. I think he deserves the Gold Glove." In the eighth, after J.D. Drew led off with a single and advanced on Lackey's wild pitch. Former Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman batted for Alex Gonzalez and went the other way, slashing a ground ball. Knowing Kotchman so well -- they lockered next to each other and were close friends -- Figgins was on it in a heartbeat and threw him out. It was the last pitch thrown by Lackey, who gave way to Oliver. "I hate to do it to my old buddy Kotch," Figgins said, grinning, "but I owed them one after what Ellsbury did to me."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.