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BILL SHAIKIN ON BASEBALL

Angels pay a steep closing cost in defeat

Excellent work by Angels' bullpen goes to waste when closer Brian Fuentes gives up a tying home run to Alex Rodriguez in the 11th inning, paving the way for Yankees to win it in the 13th.

October 18, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

Brian Fuentes blew the save. That's the story.

He knew it. He did not try to hide from it.

The Angels could have, should have, flown back to Anaheim all even in the American League Championship Series. They did not, and all their fans will remember is that the All-Star closer blew the save.

After five hours of bitter cold, swirling wind and chilling rain, the Angels had lost.

"Unfortunately for us, I cost us the game," Fuentes said. "I take full responsibility for that."

Such is the life of a closer. This October has proven to be a particularly perilous one for closers. Jonathan Papelbon crumbled, and so did Joe Nathan, and Huston Street, and Ryan Franklin.

And now Fuentes, who gave up the home run to Alex Rodriguez -- on an 0-2 count! -- that enabled the New York Yankees to stave off defeat in the 11th inning, to extend the game and ultimately win in the 13th inning.

"It was so close to being over," Fuentes said, "and letting it get away, that's difficult. We'll move on."

The Angels play again Monday. Their season could be over as soon as Tuesday.

You would hope the fans in Anaheim would cheer Fuentes when he is introduced Monday. You would understand if some do not.

Such is the life of a closer. If you do your job, someone else is the hero. If you don't, you're the goat.

The Angels had staved off the legendary Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera. They had manufactured a run off someone named Alfredo Aceves.

They needed three outs from Fuentes, and the series would be tied.

Rivera had finished the eighth inning, and the ninth, and the 10th. He had gotten seven outs for the Yankees.

Fuentes could not get one before he blew the save.

"Deflating," Torii Hunter said.

They needed three outs from Fuentes. Rodriguez stepped to bat. The three batters scheduled to follow him were named Freddy Guzman, Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano.

Rodriguez has 553 career home runs. Guzman has one. Gardner has nine. Cano has 87.

Pitch around Rodriguez? Fuentes never even thought about it.

"Baseball basics," Fuentes said. "You don't want to let the leadoff guy get on. It wasn't an option."

Rodriguez took strike one, then strike two.

"You're definitely not thinking home run after you're down 0-2," Rodriguez said. "You are just trying to get on base. You definitely don't want to make the first out in that inning.

"He made two tough pitches on me, got me in the hole 0-2. I finally got a pitch I could handle and hit it well."

Fuentes wanted to waste a pitch. He wanted to throw a high fastball.

"It wasn't up enough," Fuentes said. "A guy with that much power, he shot it up and out."

It didn't clear the fence in right field by much. No solace in that.

"A home run is a home run," Fuentes said. "If it went off the [short right-field] pole in Boston, it still counts as if it's in the second deck."

And so the Angels got beat, by the one batter in the inning you would worry about beating you.

"You know he can beat you," Hunter said. "It was tough to see him like that."

Angels Manager Mike Scioscia gently deflected the question of how huge of a mistake Fuentes had made in putting the ball -- on an 0-2 count! -- anywhere within striking range of Rodriguez's bat.

"If you're going to miss a spot . . . he's the type of hitter that's going to let you know," Scioscia said, "and he did."

Fuentes stood his ground after the game, stood there for wave upon wave of reporters asking him to explain himself.

He answered every question calmly, without snapping.

He got several chances to say he would have pitched Rodriguez differently if given the chance. He refused, every time.

"That's a guy I want to get out," Fuentes said. "I had him down 0-2. That's where I wanted to be."

Then he boarded a plane for the long ride home, with his team down 0-2. That is not where he wanted to be, not where they wanted to be.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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