I’ve been looking forward to writing this article on THT for two years now, but I’ve been really looking forward to this celebration for 23 years, almost exactly to the day. The Red Sox started this game with Dave Henderson throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, pointing to the Angels dugout and reliving his homerun hop. I’ve got to thank Henderson for reminding the longtime Angels fans of that tragic game, and at the end of the day, the Angels finally had their turn to pull out an impossible win against a top closer.
Sure, none of the current Angels were playing in 1986, and most of them weren’t even on the team in 2004. But they know the history. And this Angels team was sick and tired of it. They came out to play determined, focused baseball with an edge, to finally be the team that knocks Boston out of the playoffs. And this time they succeeded.
In all three games, the home team controlled the first two thirds of the game. John Lackey and Jered Weaver pitched incredible games to start the series, pitching 7.1 innings apiece, with only Weaver allowing even one run. Torii Hunter gave the Angels all the offense they needed in Game One with his three-run homer off Jon Lester.
What I did not expect was the role the bullpens would play in this game. In my preview article, I recognized that the Red Sox had the better bullpen. The Angels bullpen, however, had no trouble holding the leads in the first two games, allowing zero runs, while in Game Three the Angels scored five off the bullpen to Boston’s one.
For the series, the Angel bullpen allowed only one run in 5.2 innings, while the vaunted Red Sox bullpen surrendered seven. Brian Fuentes finished off the Red Sox, earning saves in Games Two and Three. Darren Oliver pitched in all three games, did not allow a run, and earned the win in Game Three. I feel I owe Oliver an apology after writing this earlier in the week: “Darren Oliver had great numbers on the season, but any team that expects Oliver to carry it in the postseason is going to have a very short stay there.” Well, Oliver carried this bullpen, and the Angels are not done yet. Oliver’s career prior to joining the Angels featured a lot of high ERA seasons. He was signed as a free agent at the age of 36 in 2007, and since then has pitched 210 innings with a 3.10 ERA, and a 15-3 record. I was way too dismissive of his abilities when I wrote that, and Darren has been one hell of a pitcher since joining the Angels, and now has had a great postseason series as well.
The Angels scored five runs before they made their last four outs against Papelbon, stunning the baseball world. Since Papelbon throws almost all fastballs, and is always near the strike zone, I’m surprised more hitters don’t approach him like Juan Rivera did in the eighth, and Vladimir Guerrero did in the ninth, driving the first pitch. Too many hitters start their plate appearances against him by taking, and just wind up helpless once down 1-2 or 0-2 in the count.
I’m as pleasantly shocked as anyone that the Angels finally beat Papelbon, who had never allowed a postseason earned run before, but during the ninth inning I did think back to an early season game where the Angels showed me they could get to this guy. On April 11, Papelbon entered the game with a two-run lead. Torii Hunter led off the inning and took him deep. Kendry Morales doubled, Mike Napoli walked, and Chone Figgins walked with two outs to load the bases. Howie Kendrick hit a line drive just as hard as Vlad did today, but he hit it right at J.D. Drew to end the game. That game showed me that the Angels could get to this guy. The Angels picked the perfect time to actually pull it off.
I wonder, as many people are, about the decision to walk Hunter to load the bases for Guerrero. Did the April 11 game play into this decision? I didn’t think the Red Sox were the kind of team to make decisions based on tiny sample sizes (Hunter was 3-for-5 against him in his career). While Hunter had the better season, Guerrero probably still projects as the better hitter. Perhaps they were thinking about Guerrero’s long stretch without a postseason RBI, and just pushed their luck too far. In any case it shows how far this Angels team has come. The 2004 and 2007 teams were carried by Vlad, if you shut him down, or pitched around him, the Angels had few others who could hurt you. Now, Boston pitches around other hitters to get to Vlad.
The Angels baserunning was also a factor in Game Two. Howie Kendrick and Maicer Izturis stole bases that led to runs in the seventh inning. Kendrick’s steal was especially important, right after his steal Juan Rivera grounded out sharply to third, had Kendrick been on first it would likely have been an inning ending double play. The Angels made a few baserunning mistakes, but none that were costly.
The Angels played almost flawless defense in the series. The only error charged to the Angels was on Jeff Mathis’ catcher’s interference in Game One, which was a questionable call to say the least. Boston only had 15 hits in the three games, and just about every one of them was an obvious hit, with nothing the defense could have done about it. Chone Figgins made a few excellent plays in Game One, Erick Aybar made a spectacular play and strong throw to retire Youkilis in Game Three, and Kendry Morales displayed his sure hands at first base for the entire series.
Boston, on the other hand, hurt themselves in the field. In Game One, Howie Kendrick twice reached on infielder errors. Replays show he was actually out on both plays, and neither affected the score, but in each case the infielders did make bad throws on routine plays. In the seventh inning Jason Bay allowed an extra run to score on a throwing error, and might have prevented both runs that inning had he made an accurate throw to retire Juan Rivera at third.
In the eighth inning Bobby Abreu started the inning with a ground ball to first that Kevin Youkilis got a glove on and knocked into the dugout. It was ruled a double, but I’m sure Youkilis usually makes that play. One out later, Kendry Morales grounded out to second on a ball that Pedroia bobbled. Had he fielded the ball cleanly, he might have started an inning ending double play. On Vladimir Guerrero’s ninth inning single, off the bat I thought Ellsbury might have made a game ending catch. He was probably playing deeper than the game situation called for.
I hope Dave Henderson stayed to watch the whole game. It was one of the most enjoyable endings I’ve ever seen (thought it’s not going to top the last two games of 2002). I feel like a giant monkey is off my team’s back, and where he belongs: on the scoreboard, jumping up and down to inspire another Angels rally.