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10/11/09 7:30 PM ET

Aybar rises to occasion in Game 3

One strike from defeat, shortstop sparks deciding rally

BOSTON -- One pitch away from facing a Game 4, Erick Aybar had one objective.

Put the ball in play.

Goal accomplished. Aybar singled to center, and in the process triggered an improbable and monumental ninth-inning rally at Fenway Park.

The Angels were able to pull out a 7-6 win in Game 3 on Sunday largely because Aybar avoided being the last out.

Trailing by two runs entering the ninth, and facing Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Angels stormed back against long odds. They had two outs and no one on before scoring three times.

Until Aybar stepped into the box, Papelbon retired Maicer Izturis on a foul popout to catcher Victor Martinez. Pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr. lifted a flyout to center field, bringing up Aybar as the last hope.

Papelbon's first-pitch was a 96-mph fastball, taken for strike one. Aybar swung through another 96-mph fastball for strike two. With 38,704 on their feet anticipating the a Red Sox win, Aybar kept the Angels' hopes alive.

"I was thinking, 'It's Papelbon on the mound. I know he throws fastballs, and he throws hard. I was thinking, make contact,'" Aybar said. "It found the hole."

Given new life, the Angels scored the decisive three runs, completing their sweep. Chone Figgins walked, and Bobby Abreu lined an RBI double off the Green Monster in left field. Figgins stopped at third, and Abreu cruised into second.

Torii Hunter was intentionally walked to load the bases, and Vladimir Guerrero's two-run single to center silenced the crowd.

From the Angels' dugout, manager Mike Scioscia went into the ninth inning hoping for an opening. Aybar provided it.

The Angels put together an improbable ninth-inning rally at Fenway Park to win Game 3 and sweep the Red Sox in the American League Division Series.
Maicer Izturis Popout to catcher (one out)
Gary Matthews Jr. Flyout to center (two out)
Erick Aybar 1B on 0-2 fastball
Chone Figgins Walk
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)

"Somebody get on and let's keep having good at-bats," Scioscia said. "Erick Aybar kept it going. I think Figgy was a key at-bat in the ninth inning, drawing a walk.

"And then, obviously, Bobby hitting the double and Vlad. But I don't think there was one defining moment in the game. We had done a pretty good job as far as pressuring them. We didn't finish it off with hits with runners in scoring position. We felt good about what we could do in the batter's box, and eventually we came through."

Often when a team wins in dramatic fashion, you will hear comments that there never was any doubt. That wasn't the case with Hunter. Openly, the straight-shooting Hunter noted, it looked bleak.

"Two outs in the ninth inning, Papelbon is one of the best closers," Hunter said in a champagne-soaked clubhouse. "Yeah, you've got a little doubt."

Because of the Angels' comeback, there will be no Game 4. Instead, the Angels completed their first American League Division Series sweep. Now they move on to the AL Championship Series.

"We did it against one of the best in the East," Hunter said. "This is one of the best games I've ever been in."

Along with eliminating the Red Sox, the Angels ended Papelbon's postseason scoreless-innings streak at 26 1/3. It was the longest scoreless playoff string since Mariano Rivera's 33 1/3 innings from 1998-2000.

Abreu was unaware of the stretch.

"I didn't know that," the Venezuela native said. "But I know that he's one of the best pitchers and best closers in the game, especially in this situation -- in the postseason. He's been in this situation before. For us, we knew it wasn't going to be easy to get that comeback."

Division Series
Gm. 1LAA 5, BOS 0WrapVideo
Gm. 2LAA 4, BOS 1WrapVideo
Gm. 3LAA 7, BOS 6WrapVideo

A standout throughout the series, Abreu enjoyed a three-hit afternoon, including two doubles. The patience he displayed at the plate paid off, as he finished the three games 5-for-9 (.556) with four walks and four runs scored.

"This is one of my most special wins," Abreu said. "I've never been in that situation, to play the other series. [I was] always shut down in the first round. So now to me to go to the second round is something special.

"In this game, you never know. Once they get the 27 outs, that's when it's over. This team, we're always making comebacks. We're always pushing forward, being aggressive. We never surrendered. That's why you never know about the Angels."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.