10/11/09 6:40 PM ET
Halos bury demons at Fenway
Too many superlatives to describe Angels sweet sweep
Not bad for three games. But what a piece of work this American League Division Series sweep of the Boston Red Sox was. What a reversal of form and fortune.
The history of these two teams at this level was dumped into the dustbin. The three consecutive ALDS victories by Boston, the 9-1 record against the Angels in those three events, all the painful stuff the Red Sox had inflicted on the Angels became historical oddities.
The Angels won two games at home primarily on the strength of superb pitching. On Sunday, for Game 3 in Fenway Park, they diversified. They came back off the deck, four runs down, to win 7-6 on a thrilling three-run ninth-inning rally. And they fashioned this rally against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who had never before been scored upon in the postseason.
At the defining moment, the Red Sox had intentionally walked center fielder Torii Hunter to load the bases to get to designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero. Not that long ago, this would have been an unimaginable act, because Guerrero was one of the most dangerous hitters in the game. But his stock has slipped with a decline in power and run production this year.
Maybe his stock will now climb, because Guerrero delivered a two-run single that became the game-winner. And after the game, he did something that was, in its own way, even better than that. He dedicated the game-winning hit to the late Nick Adenhart, the young Angels pitcher who was killed in an auto accident in April. Guerrero was asked if this was the biggest hit of his career, and he said it was, not because of the circumstances, but because it would honor Adenhart.
Even the greatest moments of competitive achievement can use a sincere touch of human emotion, and Guerrero provided that, too.
The Angels did precisely what they had to do here, after falling behind by four runs. One run in the sixth, two in the eighth, made the comeback plausible. The sixth inning should have been bigger, because they had loaded the bases with nobody out. But they did not evaporate after this disappointment.
|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)|
A crucial point in the ninth, in a rally that was achieved with two outs, was a double by right fielder Bobby Abreu, two hitters in front of Guerrero. The double scored a run and put the tying and winning runs in scoring position.
On a 1-2 pitch, Papelbon threw a 96-mph fastball over the outer half of the plate, but significantly up, out of the strike zone. Abreu, a master of patience and selectivity at the plate, has spent a career taking this pitch. But here, he swung. After the baseball left his bat, the next thing it hit was the Green Monster in left. This was exactly what Abreu had in mind in the first place.
"Well, in that situation, it looked like I was supposed to take that pitch," Abreu said with a smile. "But you want to be aggressive, especially with Papelbon. He's one of those guys, he comes right at you. He's not afraid to throw the fastball. So I knew that any fastball middle away would be something good to hit, hit the ball the other way, especially on the big wall. So I took my chances on that and it was successful."
Nice adjustment. This whole week, from one coast to another, the Pacific to the Atlantic, was about the Angels trying to do something they hadn't been able to do before. It was like climbing Mt. Boston, which seemed at least as large as Mt. Everest. In three previous tries, they couldn't get to the summit. In fact, they barely got beyond the base camp.
But they are on top of the mountain now. Their achievement is real. This looks like, this feels like more than a garden variety first-round postseason victory. This is because of the postseason history between these two teams, and the fact that in the past five years, Boston has been the premier postseason team in baseball, specializing in improbable comebacks.
So getting up two games on the Red Sox didn't mean that eventual victory was anything like automatic, especially with the series moving to Boston. The degree of difficulty beating the Red Sox in the postseason has risen dramatically.
And for the Angels, who had not met their own expectations in the three previous ALDS against Boston, it was not just a matter of beating the Red Sox. It was a matter of playing the kind of baseball they were capable of playing, the kind that has made them an elite team, an elite franchise, division winners in five of the past six seasons.
"We talked earlier in the series. I felt really good that we were playing good baseball," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We felt if we played good baseball that everyone could see the talent on this team, because we haven't shown it in the playoffs.
"Last year, we played better. But outside of '02 and '05, we've had a rough go. Part of it is Boston; they're a deep club. We didn't match up well with them a couple of years. They took it to us.
"Personally, I feel good for our guys, 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 Angels buried some demons here. This sweep was a splendid achievement, and all those successful two-out at-bats against Boston's best reliever were good enough to be at least mildly amazing. Now the Angels move on to the AL Championship Series. There shouldn't be too many people talking about how they used to have a tough time with Boston.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.