Friday, October 09, 2009
And Only Scarcely Less Believable: Angels 5, Red Sox 0
That actually extended into the early innings of the game as well, because the Angels kept squandering two-out rally chances; the biggest one was in the third when Vlad came up with the bases juiced, and struck out swinging on three pitches. It was then I noticed that both managers had placed their aging but dubiously effective sluggers in the cleanup spot, and while it was little consolation at the time, it's also true that old habits die hard.
In Vlad's case, that's almost incomprehensible, though. Relatively small sample size though it be, Vlad's .241/.333/.291 postseason line is enough to make you wonder whether he'll ever do anything of note after all but eight teams have stopped playing. Last night in the seventh, he reached on a tapper back to the box that reliever Ramon Ramirez bobbled not once but twice, and was subsequently ruled an infield single rather than an E1. Kendry Morales eventually drove him in, collecting the first postseason RBI of his career, so there was that.
But the big play was the best play in baseball, a three-run homer that Torii Hunter absolutely crushed to dead center in the fifth. The way the inning started, it looked like the Angels had their hearts set on another round of small ball, too: Erick Aybar got a leadoff double, a hot smash grounder down the left field line past a diving Mike Lowell. Mike Scioscia then had Chone Figgins, ineffective otherwise in the leadoff spot (0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts), bunt Aybar over to third. Bobby "Walking Man" Abreu then did what he had done in his prior two at-bats, and took a free pass to first to plant men at the corners for Hunter, who banged his fourth career postseason home run to give the Angels a 3-0 lead they would not relinquish.
That shutout came courtesy of John Lackey, who pitched what is probably the best postseason game of his career, 7.1 innings of shutout ball against a foe that's beaten him like a piñata in previous years. Pitching out of trouble in the third (men on first and second with two out thanks in part to a rare catcher's interference call against Jeff Mathis) and sixth (again men on first and second with two out). Jim Scully suggested on Facebook last night that Lackey just pitched himself into several million more dollars, and I can't disagree.
Darren Oliver went the rest of the way, preserving the shutout, though not without its exciting and harrowing moments. With inherited baserunner J.D. Drew at first, Oliver wild pitched him to second in Old Friend Casey Kotchman's at-bat. Kotchman slammed a smash down the third base line near but not quite at Chone Figgins, who made a stop with his glove, dropped it, and managed to nip Kotchman at first while keeping Drew at second. It was Figgins' second artful play of the game, for he made a similar recovery against Kevin Youkilis in the sixth; with men on first and second, he collected the force by backing up and stomping on the bag only a half step ahead of the speedy Dustin Pedroia for the final out.
Finally, a word about the Angels' seventh-inning rally: Juan Rivera very nearly killed the whole thing by hitting into an extremely rare 5-2-5 double play. The booth announcers said the final out in that sequence was not a force, but I wasn't so sure and haven't seen the replay yet. But since it looked to me like forces all the way around, that was at least interesting.
And, yay, win versus the Red Sox, ending a six-game losing streak at home in the postseason! Also, the Angels handed Boston their first shutout since the Indians did it in the 1995 ALDS Game 2.
One more footnote: there were a couple of bad calls by first base umpire C.B. Bucknor, one in the bottom of the fourth with two out when Howie Kendrick reached on what was ruled an E6 from shortstop Alex Gonzalez; Youkilis had to leap to make the catch, but applied the tag to Kendrick anyway, though Bucknor ruled him safe. The other was in the sixth, when Kendrick reached on Mike Lowell's throwing error Youkilis did in fact hit the base before Kendrick arrived there according to the Angels' radio booth, but Bucknor once again ruled Kendrick safe, E5. Neither call had an effect on the outcome of the game, since Kendrick was stranded in both cases. And to think, Bucknor will be the man behind the dish tonight. Bleh.
The force was on, but Lowell couldn't find the bag, so he tagged Hunter. I heard something similar on the radio and it didn't make any sense.