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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Exorcise, Exorcise, Come On Everybody, Get Your Exorcise: Angels 4, Red Sox 1

The early commentary on the Red Sox/Angels ALDS included the notion that Jered Weaver ought to be reserved to home starts, where his career 3.27 ERA is almost a whole run lower than his career 4.17 ERA on the road. That's not a big enough difference that, like Ervin Santana a few years back, where we're calling for him to go down to the minors, but it's pretty big.

One of the things I find interesting about Weaver the Younger is that this is his third postseason start, and he's quietly amassing a very impressive resume in a relatively small number of appearances; he's got a 1.88 ERA in three appearances, including now his first postseason win in by far his most impressive outing to date, notching seven strikeouts against only a single walk, and incredibly, handing Josh Beckett the first postseason loss of his career.

Weaver retired the side in order the first three frames and was pretty economical about it, getting out of the third on only 39 pitches. He got in trouble in the fourth with a leadoff triple to Jacoby Ellsbury that Torii Hunter was almost but not quite able to catch up to. When Dustin Pedroia bounced out to third, it looked briefly as though Weav might get out of the frame unscathed despite having to go through the three and four batters. Victor Martinez quickly put an end to that kind of speculation by spanking a 1-0 pitch up the middle to cash in Ellsbury. Weaver bore down, though, and retired Kevin Youkilis on a fly out to center, and struck out Ortiz swinging, limiting the damage to a single run.

Meanwhile, the Angels were only slightly less effective than the Red Sox, also going in order the first three frames while scratching out a lone single, Erick Aybar's two-out line drive in third that Chone Figgins promptly squandered by flying out to left. But for all that, the Angels did manage to get their starter his run back in the bottom of the frame, with Bobby Abreu reaching on a hard hit single in the hole at short that Gonzalez couldn't quite catch up to. When Torii Hunter rocked a ball down the left field line, for an instant it looked destined for extras — until it ended up in Mike Lowell's glove for the inning's first out.

But then Vlad stepped to the plate. I've learned to have low expectations of him: Thursday's 1-for-4 with a gift "infield single" has to qualify as some kind of low-water mark for his career in the postseason, one that hasn't been marked by a lot of success to begin with. But he managed to show up in this one, and singled Abreu over to third. Kendry Morales wasted no time and hauled an 0-1 pitch to deep right on a sac fly, scoring Abreu for the tying run.

Weaver burned through almost 40 pitches in the next two innings, and it was about then doubt as to the Angels' prospects for winning the series started to set in. By the middle of the seventh, Weaver had expended 106 pitches while Beckett had only seventy five coming into the bottom of the frame.

That quickly changed: Beckett walked Vlad — how? — on five pitches. Mike Scioscia, correctly recognizing Vlad's self-defeating proclivities on the basepaths, as well as his declining speed, correctly elected to replace him with pinch-runner Howie Kendrick. After an eight-pitch at-bat against Kendry (fly out to left), he rapidly dispatched Juan Rivera (now batting sixth, as befits his recent production), but not before Howie stole second. Maicer Izturis hammered out a single to push across the go-ahead run.

Improbably, Beckett then plunked Mike Napoli with an offspeed pitch. Now if there's one thing we've learned about Beckett, it's that he's a big-time headhunter, and his weapon of choice is the heater. For a moment it looked as though home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor had warned both benches — and even ejected manager Terry Francona — but as it turned out, neither of those things were true, because it was Francona who eventually collected Beckett after he subsequently gave up Erick Aybar's magnificent RBI triple. Helen noticed that Jacoby Ellsbury tripped immediately in front of the Adenhart logo in center field, which probably contributed to the base total.

The triple — perhaps assisted by Adenhart's ghost — pushed the Halos' advantage to 4-1, and there it stayed. Chone Figgins struck out for the second time in the game, and that ended the frame. The Angels sole offense thereafter was an eighth inning single off Abreu's bat, but he promptly erased himself trying to steal second in Howie Kendrick's only at bat of the game. Kendrick himself struck out against Jonathan Papelbon, brought in to relieve Billy Wagner, whom we suppose is now suspect in Francona's eyes.

Meantime, the Sawx continued to nip at Angels pitching, collecting an infield single (Ellsbury) in the eighth against Darren Oliver; for the second time in as many days, Casey Kotchman was sent in to pinch-hit against his old mates, only this time, he got yanked before even entering the batter's box. In the ninth, the ominously-named Kevin Youkilis doubled with one out against Kevin Jepsen, precipitating a change to Brian Fuentes. Fuentes eventually wobbled through the save, but not before giving up a walk to Jason Bay with Mike Lowell due up.

Obviously, after years of being swept by or generally losing to the Sox in the first round, this feels especially sweet. The Angels hadn't had a home postseason game win in their last six tries, so leaving town up 2-0 is a good feeling, the partial exorcising of some old demons. Of course, you can ask the 1982 Angels how much that's worth.

Nine to go, boys.

ESPN BoxAngels recap

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Yep, Guerrero's probably the worst base runner I've ever seen. Scoscia deserves some kind of special medal or something for bringing in Kendrick, imo.
Nit: it's Beckett's first postseason loss since the 2003 WS against the Yanks. Livan Hernandez prior to the 2002 WS was 6-0, and the Angels beat him good, though this was much, much more satisfying.

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