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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Relief and reprieve

Angels stay alive on Aybar's hit in the 12th and 7 1/3 shutout innings from the bullpen. Napoli homers twice.

October 06, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON -- This one had all the makings of another Angels playoff disaster against the Boston Red Sox, with the requisite failure to cash in on numerous opportunities, a blown defensive play that cost them three runs and a baserunning gaffe that killed a potential ninth-inning rally.

But a strange, almost crazy thing happened as an eerie fog rolled into Fenway Park past midnight Sunday, with the Angels appearing on the way to another American League division series sweep at the hands of their October nemeses.

The Angels didn't fold.

A catcher clubbed a pair of early home runs, a stout bullpen combined for 7 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, a shortstop who was hitless in 13 series at-bats delivered a game-winner, and a starter making his first career relief appearance threw two scoreless innings for the win.

It all added up to a thrilling 5-4, 12-inning Game 3 victory that ended the Angels' nine-game playoff losing streak and their 11-game playoff losing streak to the Red Sox, and kept them alive in a best-of-five series they now trail two games to one.

Game 4 is tonight in Fenway, where Angels ace John Lackey will oppose Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester.

"We're a new team, we have a new spring in our step," said Angels pitcher Joe Saunders, who gave up four runs in 4 2/3 innings. "We're still in a hole, but I like where we're at right now. We just got a whole lot more confident."

Part of that confidence stems from an offense that banged out 16 hits, including a pair of home runs by Mike Napoli, whose two-run shot off the light standard above the Green Monster in left field in the third inning tied the score, 3-3, and whose solo shot to left-center in the fifth gave the Angels a 4-3 lead.

Napoli also sparked the winning rally with a leadoff single to center against reliever Javier Lopez in the 12th. Howie Kendrick bunted Napoli to second, and Erick Aybar, hitless in the series, stroked a soft single to center to score Napoli for a 5-4 lead.

Jered Weaver, who did not make the playoff rotation and last pitched in an Arizona Instructional League game a week ago, walked David Ortiz to open the bottom of the 12th.

But the right-hander got Kevin Youkilis to fly to center, struck out Jason Bay looking and got Alex Cora to ground to third baseman Chone Figgins, who made a nice backhanded stop and threw to first to end the 5-hour 19-minute marathon.

"That was a long night, I tell you," said Figgins, who had three hits and set the tone by banging Josh Beckett's first pitch of the game for a double. "I looked at the time, and man, it's 11 p.m., midnight, 12:30 . . . then Aybar got the hit, and I was excited."

Weaver also threw a scoreless 11th inning, after closer Francisco Rodriguez got Jed Lowrie to fly to right with the bases loaded to end the 10th.

Setup man Scot Shields, 0-3 with a 13.85 career ERA in Fenway, threw 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out three.

"The whole pitching staff did a great job," Shields said. "When they had us on the ropes, we made some big pitches."

There were some big mistakes too. Torii Hunter was gunned down by about 10 feet in the ninth trying to stretch a single to left into a double, and a second-inning bloop to shallow center by the Red Sox turned into the first three-run single in postseason history.

With the bases loaded and the runners moving on a full-count pitch, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a popup that Kendrick, the Angels second baseman, had a bead on.

Kendrick waved his arms as if to call for it, and Aybar said, "I thought for sure Howie had the ball."

But Kendrick pulled up, and the ball dropped in front of Hunter, giving Boston a 3-1 lead and wiping out the advantage the Angels took on Juan Rivera's bases-loaded walk in the first.

Though Kendrick appeared at fault, Hunter took the blame.

"I've got to call him off, I'm the center fielder," Hunter said. "There's no way he should be trying to make that play. They got three runs right there. They don't get those runs, this game would have been over a long time ago."

The Angels came back thanks to Napoli, who ended their 68-inning playoff streak without a homer dating to Orlando Cabrera's two-run shot in Game 3 of the 2005 AL Championship Series against the White Sox.

Napoli led off the fifth with a homer to left-center to give the Angels a 4-3 lead, becoming the first Angel to homer twice in a playoff game since Tim Salmon in Game 2 of the 2002 World Series.

But the Red Sox tied it in the fifth when Ellsbury led off with a double to left-center, a ball that glanced off left fielder Garret Anderson's glove on the warning track, and Youkilis delivered a run-scoring double off the center-field wall.

The bullpens then took over, with four Boston relievers combining for six scoreless innings, including two by Jonathan Papelbon, which could affect the closer's availability for tonight.

But the Angels, who were three for 14 with runners in scoring position and left 16 on base, finally broke through in the 12th, and they will live to see Game 4.

"When you get the win," Hunter said, "all that other stuff goes out the window."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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