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Angels strike the right chord with precision

The Angels and Red Sox play a fine symphony, with the Angels hitting most of the high notes.

October 10, 2009|BILL DWYRE

A great baseball game builds like a great night at the symphony. The Angels and Red Sox played one Friday night, and in the end, the Angels hit most of the high notes.

It seems fairly clear now that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who have been off-key so often in recent postseason play, are now producing sweet music.

This game started slowly, quietly. Soft percussions.

The guys with the batons in their hands, Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett and Angels pitcher Jered Weaver, controlled everything.

Beckett didn't give up a hit until Erick Aybar singled in the third. Weaver didn't budge until Jacoby Ellsbury tripled to center to open the fourth. Ellsbury had been 0 for 24 in the playoffs coming into that at-bat, so you could chalk that one up to law of averages.

Ellsbury scored when Victor Martinez singled him across, but that was only a little stir. Whistling woodwinds. And even when the Angels answered in their half of the fourth, with Bobby Abreu singling, going to third on Vlad Guerrero's hit-and-run bouncer between first and second and coming home on Kendry Morales' deep liner to right field, the 1-1 game remained a building drama.

The crescendo was in the distance. The audience knew that but could only inch forward in its seats in expectation.

Until then, the lyrical fiddling of America's pastime had to keep everybody entertained. And the best baseball fiddler in the world, first-chair quality, was the Angels' Bobby Abreu.

He has become a symbol of change for a team that once was eager and headstrong, restless in each trip to the plate. For example, the last time power-hitter Guerrero walked was 2003. May 10. OK, just kidding, but only a little.

Abreu came to town and approached each at-bat like it was a wine-tasting trip. Sample this, sample that. Swirl it around. Never commit. Wait for what you want. And then wait some more. If you hate baseball, he will drive you nuts. If you love it and understand it, you will cherish each waggle, each 30-scond gardening job in the batter's box before he actually steps in to hit.

The last time Abreu swung at a first pitch was at Asheville in 1992. Just kidding again.

Suddenly, other Angels became picky. Trips to the plate were scientific, a sort of harmony of patience replacing years of cymbal banging.

A symphony has a time schedule. A baseball game has nine innings. The anticipation grows as the ending nears. Something big will happen, has to happen.

And for the Angels, the seventh inning was time to cue the trumpets and trombones. The maestro, Manager Mike Scioscia, whose theory is to get runners in scoring position, somehow, someway, directed exactly that.

Guerrero walked, mostly because he couldn't reach any of Beckett's pitches. Scioscia sent in the faster Howie Kendrick to pinch-run, and everybody in the place, which included the Red Sox dugout, knew what was coming next. Kendrick would try to steal, so Scioscia would have a runner in scoring position.

And the song was played just like it was written on Scioscia's the sheet music. Kendrick beat the throw to second, and then the gnats took over.

Maicer Izturis, 5-foot-8 second baseman, who owns Beckett with 10 hits in 27 bats, slashed a single up the middle with two out. Kendrick danced home -- Guerrero would still be running -- and that broke the tie in a game that looked, felt, even smelled like a one-run deal from the moment Weaver and Beckett unleashed their first pitch.

The crowd, all decked out in their night-on-the-town Angels reds, rocked with the music of a grand finale, and then got a curtain call.

Catcher Mike Napoli was hit in the back with a pitch. The Red Sox thought he didn't do enough to get out of the way and protested. Add anger to the drama.

That put men on first and second and gnat No. 2 at the plate, 5-10 shortstop Aybar. A swing, a long drive over Ellsbury's head in center field, two more runs home.

Sweet music for Angels fans.

And suddenly, closer Brian Fuentes was inducing Mike Lowell to fly out to end the game, meaning a 2-0 lead in this best-of-five American League Divisional series.

Scioscia, never one to acknowledge the applause until the fat lady has sung, was pleased, nevertheless.

"I feel good about the way our club is playing," he said. "It's good to see them get rewarded with a couple of wins on a national stage like this."

So the Angels headed to Boston for Game 3 with the violins in perfect tune.

And Friday night's audience of 45,243, well rehearsed in this season of success, headed for the exits, fulfilled with the knowledge that they had witnessed a virtuoso performance.

This time, the baseball playoffs, at least so far, have brought sweet sounds to the Angels. But there is much more to come.



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