MLB

Different Angels, different result vs. Red Sox

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Sean McAdam

   
 

BOSTON

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim had been here before, of course, and each time, met with the same result. Three times in the previous five years, they had been sent home for the season by the Boston Red Sox, and as this year's ALDS began, they were forced to answer the same familiar questions. But in the cramped visitor's clubhouse at Fenway Park Sunday afternoon, the Angels were spraying champagne, celebrating, in order, their comeback win, their sweep of the series and the relief they felt in finally vanquishing the Sox. General manager Tony Reagins circled the room, surveying the party and offering congratulations. "From Game 1," said Reagins, "the guys weren't tense. They weren't uneasy. They just relaxed and played." He was asked what was behind the team's newfound quite confidence. "Torii," he said without a second's invitation. "Torii." Across the room, Torii Hunter had yet to change out of his uniform pants, intent on savoring the moment. He had just one hit Sunday, and batted only .200 for the series. But he belted a three-run homer to break a scoreless pitcher's duel in Game 1, played peerless defense in center, and more than anything, provided the Angels with a steely, determined center. The seeds of this sweep may have been planted a month ago when the Angels came to Boston and dropped two games, immediately after a loss in New York. Hunter saw a tentative bunch, one unsure of whether it belonged on the field with the best teams in the American League. He made a decision then and there to speak his mind, to confront his team's lack of swagger. "I wasn't looking that far ahead," said Hunter of his September statement. "It was just the moment. I just felt we needed to play with some (guts), just go out there and play our game, play the best way you know and use your God-given ability. I felt like some of the guys weren't doing that." In Anaheim, it had been the Angels top two starters who shut down the Boston lineup, limiting them a single run in 18 innings. Sunday, predictably, Red Sox bats broke out at home as they raced to a 5-1 lead. But the Angels lineup chipped away with a run off starter Clay Buchholz in the sixth, two off Billy Wagner in the eighth and three more off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth. After Bobby Abreu's wall-scraping double to pull them within a run in the ninth, the Sox had an open base and elected to walk Hunter to get to Guerrero, who was without a postseason RBI since 2004. Papelbon mislocated with a fastball to Guerrero, who served it into center, scoring the tying and go-ahead runs. "I'm so happy for him," said Hunter beaming. "That's why everyone was screaming, man, and Vladi had this big smile on his face when I looked out there are first base." "He hasn't really driven the ball to his capabilities in the postseason said Mike Scioscia. "For Vlad to come up with that big hit, that's huge for us. I know he's relieved. He's excited about contributing and hopefully, it will be the start of something good." If Hunter gave the Angels the will to win the series, Abreu may have shown the way, going 5-for-9 and reaching base nine times in 13 plate appearances. His patience and relentless approach at the plate proved contagious early in the season and essential this posTseason as the once free-swinging Angels lineup shifted gears and instead, drove up pitch counts. "I feel he's our most valuable player," said Scioscia of Abreu. "He brought patience to the ballclub," said Hunter. "You see guys swinging at strikes and not swinging at balls in the dirt like we did last year. When you swing at strikes, you might not get a hit every time, but the percentages are higher." In the home clubhouse, there was almost an air of disbelief. Being swept was stunning enough for these Red Sox, but the manner in which the Sox lost couldn't have been more surprising. Papelbon had two outs and two strikes on Erick Aybar before the Angels began to rally in the ninth. Until Sunday, Papelbon had never allowed an earned run in his career in the postseason. Then, in the span of less than two innings, he allowed two inherited runners to score and allowed three runs of his own in the fateful ninth. But Boston's problems went far deeper than Papelbon. Among the nine regulars, only leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury hit as high as .250. Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay and David Ortiz — the Nos. 4-5-6 hitters in the middle of the order — combined for three hits in three games. "We got outplayed in the series," said GM Theo Epstien. "We didn't play our best baseball. We didn't play all that well and they certainly did. You have to be a really good team play well to win the playoffs. We didn't play well." For the Red Sox, it was their first first-round loss since 2005; for the Angels, it marked the first time they'd advance to the ALCS since that same season. Matched against one another one more time, there was little doubt which was the better team this time.

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