10/23/09 7:10 PM EST
Angels ready for round 6 of tight tussle
Halos trying to reach Fall Classic with two wins on road
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
The Angels have a chance to become the fifth team in 25 years of seven-game LCS play to come back and win the final two games on the road.
"We're scratching, clawing, screaming, shouting ... we're just battlin', man," Torii Hunter said.
All through his two seasons with the Angels, Hunter has tried to infuse teammates with bravado, unshakeable belief, a fight-to-the-finish attitude and no-backing-down code.
The center fielder was angry, defiantly so, after the Angels fell to the Red Sox in four games in the 2008 AL Division Series. He thought his team hadn't responded with enough fire, enough mental toughness, when it counted.
John Lackey, who shares the intensity of Hunter's emotions, expressed similar feelings as the Angels packed to depart Fenway Park.
In a late-season visit to Boston, Hunter and Lackey both unloaded verbally, trying to incite teammates, drive them to a higher level.
It worked. The Angels KO'd the Red Sox in an ALDS sweep that featured one of the most compelling rallies in postseason history in Game 3 at Fenway Park.
"Something like this can make you feel like you can do anything," Hunter said amid the celebration. "You can take on King Kong."
He might have already been thinking about the Yankees.
The Angels came of age this season in the wake of the stunning loss of young pitcher Nick Adenhart. This is a committed "band of brothers," as reliever Kevin Jepsen put it.
Time and again, they have shown a resilience that has enabled them to overcome adversity, their bond tightened by the unimagined sorrow of the senseless loss of a beloved teammate.
The Angels certainly looked down for the count on Thursday night at Angel Stadium when Teixeira ignited a six-run seventh inning that lifted the Bronx Bombers to a two-run lead.
Lackey was lifted prematurely, he felt, after 6 2/3 innings with a four-run lead and the bases loaded. One huge call on a ball four to Jorge Posada -- Lackey was dead certain it was strike three -- had Angels faithful convinced the baseball gods were conspiring to assist New York.
HOME NOT ALWAYS SWEET
|Year||Led||Trailed||Games 6 and 7|
|2008||TB||BOS||TB lost 6, won 7|
|2004||NYY||BOS||NYY lost both|
|2003||NYY||BOS||NYY lost 6, won 7|
|2000||NYY||SEA||NYY won 6|
|1998||NYY||CLE||NYY won 6|
|1992||TOR||OAK||TOR won 6|
|1985||TOR||KC.||TOR lost both|
Coming into the series, the Halos matched up well with the Bombers, except for the bullpen. There is only one Mariano Rivera, simply the best closer ever, and New York has him.
The Yankees also had a solid eighth-inning man in Phil Hughes, the ideal late-game tandem. The Angels mix and match in front of closer Brian Fuentes, who racks up saves but inspires little of the confidence the great Rivera brings.
So here were the Angels, two down, the Yankees having seized the momentum with their six-run seventh. Hughes came on, Rivera in the wings waiting to deliver last rites.
Knowing they had little or no margin for error, the Angels manufactured three seventh-inning runs with a series of clutch at-bats involving two-thirds of the lineup. This is what they'd done all season. The Rally Monkey and the creature's fans went wild.
Then they watched Jered Weaver, a starter, work a perfect eighth inning and Fuentes coolly endure a bases-loaded ninth with a 3-2 fastball Nick Swisher could not handle, popping it up to shortstop Erick Aybar.
There have been some thrilling victories in the Scioscia era, but few as meaningful as this one.
It gave a team life when it appeared to have met an irresistible force.
"It's way up there," Hunter said when asked where this conquest ranked. "Way, way up there. But we're not done. We have to go back to New York and keep playing our baseball. We didn't do that last time. We can't let that happen again."
|"We're not done. We have to go back to New York and keep playing our baseball. We didn't do that last time. We can't let that happen again."|
-- Angels outfielder|
Passion and purpose. That has become Hunter's mantra. He is the Angels' leader -- their unofficial captain, as Fuentes put it. He never lets it get quiet with his team, knowing how dangerous that can be in a dugout during difficult moments. Energy and emotion are needed to whack away doubt.
The Angels came out smoking against A.J. Burnett in Game 5. Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero banged first-pitch hits, driving in three of the four first-inning runs. Discipline is good, but sometimes you have to throw haymakers.
The Angels need to more damage against Andy Pettitte on Saturday night than the Yankees can manufacture against Joe Saunders, another lefty.
Pettitte has an impressive postseason profile. There have been few better over the years in October.
But the Angels believe in Saunders, a Virginian with swagger who thrives on wintry conditions and showed it in Game 2 in the Bronx.
Facing Burnett, Saunders gave the Angels seven strong innings, keeping the ball down and getting three double-play grounders while yielding just two runs.
"It reminds me of home, when I was a kid in Virginia and D.C.," Saunders said. "I love pitching in cold weather."
If they can claim round six and force a grand finale, the Angels know what's waiting: CC Sabathia, revved for a third shot at a lineup he has minimized.
The Angels will counterpunch with Weaver, Scott Kazmir and any other combination Scioscia elects to throw at the Yankees and their smokin' attack.
"We're still in it," Chone Figgins said. "We've still got a fightin' chance."
While it's happened only four times, teams rallying from 2-3 deficits in LCS play to take the last two on the road, it has been done twice in the past seven years -- by the 2003 Marlins in Chicago and the 2004 Red Sox in New York.
Boston's "Idiots" did it right across the street from the new Yankee Stadium. It can happen here.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.