10/11/09 11:43 PM ET
Angels show rally moxie, finish off Sox
Vlad's two-run single finishes two-out rally in ninth
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
In what he called "the biggest moment of my career -- so far," Guerrero ripped a game-deciding, two-out two-run single in the ninth inning on Sunday, stunning Red Sox Nation as his Angels completed a sweep of the American League Division Series with a 7-6 conquest at Fenway Park.Guerrero, who dealt with recovery from knee surgery, a torn chest muscle and a strain leg muscle in playing 100 games this season, dedicated his greatest hit to Nick Adenhart, a teammate killed in a tragic car wreck on April 9. "When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart and what happened in April," Guerrero said through Jose Mota's translation, "in that respect, yes, it's probably the biggest hit. Because I'm dedicating it to a former teammate, a guy who passed away." Known as "Moolah" inside the clubhouse, Guerrero was money after Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon walked Torii Hunter intentionally to load the bases. "To see Moolah get that hit and be over at first base, smiling like that, it's just the greatest feeling ever," Angels hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "People were saying he was slowing down, he couldn't do it anymore. But he showed everybody he's still got it. Everybody on this team is thrilled for the guy, believe me, because Moolah is so respected for what he's done and who he is." The Angels, moving on to their first AL Championship Series since 2005, will face the Yankees, who swept their ALDS against the Twins on Sunday night. The series, which will air on FOX, will open in New York on Friday. Seemingly bound for a Game 4 on Monday night, Erick Aybar started the climactic uprising with a two-out, line-drive single to center.
|Maicer Izturis||Popout to catcher (one out)|
|Gary Matthews Jr.||Flyout to center (two out)|
|Erick Aybar||1B on 0-2 fastball|
|Bobby Abreu||2B to left, Aybar scores|
|Torii Hunter||Intentional walk loads bases|
|Vlad Guerrero||1B to center , Figgins, Abreu score|
|Kendry Morales||Flyout left (three out)|
"I knew with the guys we had coming up, we had a chance," Aybar said. "I just wanted to see Vladdy get up. I knew he was going to come through. I knew how much this means to him."Chone Figgins coaxed a full-count walk against Papelbon, who had yielded a two-out, two-run single to Juan Rivera before finishing off the eighth inning. An RBI double off the Green Monster by Bobby Abreu, his third hit, had runners at second and third. After Hunter was given a free pass, Guerrero ripped Papelbon's first-pitch fastball into center field for the two biggest RBIs of his illustrious career. "Vladdy is a Hall of Famer in my book," said Hunter. "They said he couldn't hit a fastball anymore. That's what a scout said to ESPN. I think he proved he can still do that." Hunter's history of success against Papelbon -- a man who hadn't yielded a run in 26 postseason innings -- convinced Boston manager Terry Francona that loading the bases was the way to go. "It's tough to walk the bases loaded," Francona said. "But Pap throws strikes, and he had had a lot of success against Guerrero. I think Hunter was probably 3-for-7 with a homer. I guess, put it in a nutshell, we thought it would put us in a better chance to win. "It didn't work." After Hideki Okajima was summoned to retire Kendry Morales for the final out of the inning, Brian Fuentes shut down the Red Sox for his second save of the series. And the Angels celebrated on the field like it was 2002. It is the first time the Angels have eliminated the Red Sox, who knocked them out in the postseason four times, including the past two seasons. "I feel good for our guys," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "because this series was important for them -- not only to beat Boston, but beat a club of their caliber. "I think the way we did it in the sweep, certainly in Game 3 on the road with two outs in the ninth, has to give us a lot of momentum." The familiar "Beat L.A." chants, popularized in the 1980s when the Celtics and Lakers staged their classic rivalry, didn't emerge from the anxious crowd until two were out in the ninth. The Angels responded just as the Lakers had in 1985, by rocking their tormentors in their own house. It got progressively quiet inside the old yard through the at-bats of Aybar, Figgins and Abreu, as Hunter was given four wide ones. The mute button was pushed by Guerrero when he delivered the dagger. "It might have been quiet everywhere else," Hatcher said, "but it wasn't quiet in our dugout. We were going crazy in there." Mike Lowell's two-out RBI in the eighth against Kevin Jepsen had padded the cushion for Papelbon, but these are the comeback Angels, a team that set a franchise record with 47 come-from-behind victories. They rallied back in increments after the Red Sox had reached Scott Kazmir for a 5-1 lead through four innings. In the sixth inning, Boston, nursing a four-run lead, Daniel Bard came to the rescue of Clay Buchholz, restricting the Angels to one run from a bases-loaded, none-out opportunity when Rivera grounded into a double play and Maicer Izturis popped out. "We never quit," said Abreu, the distinguished veteran who, in Hatcher's words, "taught the young guys on this team how to win." Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew had delivered the big blows as the Sox jumped on Kazmir. Pedroia doubled home two runs in the third, and Victor Martinez followed with an RBI single. A one-out walk to Alex Gonzalez, not the most patient of hitters, led to Kazmir's undoing. It was followed by Jacoby Ellsbury's single, the Boston offense finally stirring after putting together only eight hits and one run in 18 innings in Anaheim while dropping the first two games. In the fourth, after Morales' first postseason homer in the top half had the Angels on the scoreboard against Buchholz, Lowell singled and Drew launched a homer to center field, bringing a roar from Red Sox Nation. Hunter opened the sixth with a double, moving to third on Buchholz's balk. After an infield hit by Guerrero -- Hunter holding at third -- and a walk to Morales, Buchholz was lifted. Bard kept the damage minimal, seemingly regaining control when he struck out two men in a perfect seventh. Waiting to finish the job were Billy Wagner and Papelbon, but the Angels weren't impressed. After Abreu doubled off first baseman Kevin Youkilis' glove leading off the eighth and Wagner walked Guerrero, Papelbon was summoned. His first pitch was lined into right-center by Rivera for a two-run single. "He always throws me fastballs," Rivera said. "That's what I was looking for, and he gave me one I could handle." Pinch-runner Reggie Willits was picked off first base by Papelbon, quelling that threat. David Ortiz singled with two outs in the eighth, and pinch-runner Joey Gathright stole second before Lowell drove his run-scoring single past first base. Darren Oliver got the final out of the eighth, and that made him the winning pitcher when the Angels rallied improbably. Kazmir, who had allowed only seven earned runs in six starts and 36 1/3 innings since coming to the Angels from the Rays on Aug. 28, departed after six innings, giving up five earned runs on five hits and three walks, striking out one hitter. He did not have his usual fine command at Fenway Park, but Kazmir's six innings enabled Scioscia to line up his bullpen the way he needed it -- and the oft-maligned unit delivered handsomely, outperforming Boston's touted relief corps. "What a day," said Angels backup catcher Bobby Wilson. "The only thing that would make it better was if my buddy was here with me." He was referring to Adenhart. Hatcher also was thinking about the young pitcher who had so much in front of him when he was killed. "If Adenhart's up there writing this script," the hitting coach said, "he couldn't have had a better script."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.