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Revenge is sweep for the Angels

They rally in the ninth inning to eliminate the Red Sox and advance to AL Championship Series.

October 12, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

BOSTON — The Angels danced all over their demons Sunday, and when they were done with their little jig on the Fenway Park field, they drowned them in beer and champagne.

In the ancient stadium where their pennant hopes usually go to die, the Angels came to life in dramatic fashion, scoring five runs in the last two innings for a stunning 7-6 American League division series-clinching victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Vladimir Guerrero, the slugger-turned-playoff wallflower who had driven in one run in his last 19 postseason games, followed an intentional walk to Torii Hunter with a bases-loaded, two-out, two-run single to cap a three-run ninth inning against closer Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn't given up a run in 26 playoff innings.

Three times in the ninth, the Angels were down to their last strike, but Erick Aybar came through with a two-out single to center, Chone Figgins drew a full-count walk, reaching base for the first time in 13 division series plate appearances, and Bobby Abreu lined a run-scoring double off the Green Monster in left field.

Brian Fuentes, whose shaky second half stirred concerns about the playoff worthiness of the bullpen, threw a 1-2-3 ninth to complete a three-game sweep of the team that eliminated the Angels from the 1986, 2004, 2007 and 2008 playoffs.

"To beat one of the best closers in the game on their field after being down two runs in the ninth . . . it's unbelievable," Figgins said amid a wild clubhouse celebration. "This is stuff you dream about."

The Red Sox wanted the Angels to relive a nightmare.

Down 0-2 in the series, Boston carted out Dave Henderson to throw out Sunday's ceremonial first pitch. It was Henderson who hit the dramatic ninth-inning, two-run homer against Donnie Moore and the one-strike-away Angels in Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series.

"That was terrible," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. "I love Dave Henderson, but looking at that, I'm like, 'What are they trying to say?' They probably shouldn't have brought him out. It was bad luck, I guess."

In an ironic twist, the Angels, who will open the ALCS on Friday night against the Yankees in New York, beat the Red Sox on Sunday by the same 7-6 score by which Boston won that Game 5 in 1986 in Anaheim.

"Redemption," General Manager Tony Reagins said. "So many emotions go through your head in this park, with the history we have with this club, and now we're moving forward. It's sweet."

The Angels ended 2008 here, with Aybar botching a ninth-inning suicide squeeze in Game 4 of the division series, Jed Lowrie hitting a walk-off single and John Lackey so angry after the 100-win Angels came up short, he "wanted to throw someone through a wall."

Sunday, that bitterness was replaced by elation.

"Last year, I was punching holes in the wall, and now we're celebrating -- I'm so excited," Hunter said. "Man, this feels good. You're talking about one of the best closers in the game, and Vlad came through. That's the biggest hit of his career. That's why he's a Hall of Famer."

Trailing, 5-2, the Angels rallied in the eighth when Juan Rivera, after Abreu's leadoff double, a walk to Guerrero and Kendry Morales' groundout against Billy Wagner, poked Papelbon's first pitch to right-center for a two-out, two-run single.

Pinch-runner Reggie Willits was picked off first to end the inning, and Boston scored an insurance run on Mike Lowell's single in the bottom of the eighth for a 6-4 lead.

But after Papelbon got two outs in the ninth, the Angels, who had a club-record 47 come-from-behind wins this season, including a major league-high nine when they trailed by four runs or more, went to work.

Aybar singled, Figgins walked, and Abreu, who hit .556 (five for nine) with four walks and four runs in the series, doubled off the wall in left, clapping his hands and pumping his fist while he rounded first base.

"I was so excited in that situation," said Abreu, who had never advanced past the first round of the playoffs. "You need a hit. You need to keep the rally going. You need to stand up and show you're a good hitter."

With runners on second and third, the Red Sox intentionally walked Hunter, who hit a home run against Papelbon on April 11 in Anaheim.

Sitting next to the Angels' third base dugout was one stunned fan.

"How about walking Torii to get to Vladdy?" Angels owner Arte Moreno said. "Figure that one out. I looked at my wife and said, 'Am I missing something?' "

Hunter actually thought it was a wise move, but it backfired when Papelbon threw a first-pitch, knee-high fastball over the middle to Guerrero, who is known to chase pitches outside the zone. This one, he lined to center for a clean single.

"I'm not going to say it's my biggest hit, but one thing it brings to mind is that we lost a teammate earlier this year," Guerrero said through an interpreter.

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