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ALCS GAME 3 / ANGELS 5, NEW YORK 4 (11)

Angels get a life, thanks to Jeff Mathis

The 'no-hit' half of Angels' catching platoon delivers biggest hit of his life, an RBI double in 11th inning to give them a 5-4 victory over Yankees and new life in an AL Championship Series they trail, 2-1.

October 20, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

He's the defensive half of the Angels' catching platoon, the one who supposedly can't hit, the guy one Orange County newspaper blogger referred to earlier this season as a "busted prospect."

Monday afternoon, Jeff Mathis was a playoff hero, the guy who touched off a wild celebration in Angel Stadium after he pulverized an Alfredo Aceves slider for a two-out, run-scoring double to left-center field in the 11th inning.

Mathis' hit, which followed Howie Kendrick's two-out single to center field, gave the Angels a dramatic 5-4 walk-off victory over the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

Kendrick scored all the way from first, popping up after his slide into the plate and landing in the waiting arms of on-deck hitter Erick Aybar as a crowd of 44,911 erupted.

Mathis spiked his helmet to the ground near second base and pointed to his mother and grandmother in the crowd before being engulfed by a mob of back-slapping teammates.

The victory breathed life and, possibly, momentum into an Angels team that suffered a devastating 13-inning Game 2 loss in Yankee Stadium on Saturday night but now trails the best-of-seven series, two games to one. Game 4 is tonight in Angel Stadium.

"Man, that was a crazy game, an emotional roller coaster, up, down, up, down," center fielder Torii Hunter said after the third postseason walk-off win in franchise history. "We were so happy one inning and so sad the next. I promise you, that's one of the best games I've ever been involved in. My heart is hurting right now."

The game was filled with so much tension, so many twists and turns, that a regulation nine innings couldn't contain it.

The Yankees took a 3-0 lead on solo home runs by Derek Jeter in the first inning, Alex Rodriguez in the fourth and Johnny Damon in the fifth, all off Angels starter Jered Weaver.

Kendrick, whose first-half struggles got him demoted to triple-A Salt Lake in June, hit a solo homer off Yankees starter Andy Pettitte in the fifth to make it 3-1.

Bobby Abreu ended an 0-for-11 ALCS skid with a single in the sixth, and Vladimir Guerrero silenced a legion of critics -- most of them Angels fans fed up with his feeble swings -- by hitting a two-out, two-run home run to left to make it 3-3.

For Guerrero, who went one for seven and stranded eight baserunners in Game 2, it ended a string of 86 playoff at-bats without a homer; his last was a game-tying grand slam in Game 3 of the 2004 division series against the Red Sox.

"Before the game, I told him, 'Everyone says you're done -- that's bull, the heck with them, go out there and prove you're still the man,' " Angels batting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "I said, 'I believe in you. Today is a new day.' Then I said, 'Please prove me right.' "

The Angels took a 4-3 lead in the seventh when Kendrick tripled to right-center off reliever Joba Chamberlain and scored on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Maicer Izturis, whose 13th-inning error cost the Angels the game Saturday night.

Then things got really wacky.

Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui drew a walk from Angels reliever Kevin Jepsen to open the eighth and was replaced by speedster Brett Gardner, who took off on an 0-and-1 pitch to Jorge Posada.

But Angels Manager Mike Scioscia called for a pitchout, and Mathis, who entered as a -- what else? -- defensive replacement to start the eighth, gunned down Gardner at second.

The Angels went from elation to deflation two pitches later when Posada lined a homer to center for a 4-4 tie.

Abreu led off the bottom of the eighth with a double to center but over-ran second and was thrown out.

Angels closer Brian Fuentes got two outs to start the ninth and intentionally walked Rodriguez, who hit a game-tying, 11th-inning homer off Fuentes on Saturday night. Nice move by Scioscia. Pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston struck out to end the inning.

Mathis then doubled off Phil Hughes to open the 10th, and Yankees Manager Joe Girardi summoned closer Mariano Rivera, whose wild throw to third on Aybar's bunt allowed the Angels to put runners on first and third with no outs.

But Rivera escaped the jam by inducing three grounders to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who made a diving stop of Chone Figgins' ball down the line for the first out, threw home on Hunter's grounder for a force out and snagged Guerrero's chopper to end the inning.

Right-hander David Robertson got the first two outs in the 11th and Girardi pulled him in favor Aceves, another right-hander, because he thought it was a better matchup.

Kendrick singled and Mathis, who hit .211 with five homers and 28 runs batted in this season, delivered "the biggest hit" of his life.

"Any time you're down around .200, you're frustrated and you're searching for things," Mathis said. "But when you're in the cage, trying to get yourself right, these are the moments you think about. . . .

"To get a hit like that and enjoy that moment with all the guys . . . it's an awesome feeling."

--

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

--

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Short list

The Angels' history of walk-off hits in the postseason doesn't take long to recount, although catcher Jeff Mathis added to it Monday with his 11th-inning RBI double.

1979

* In their first postseason appearance, the Angels trailed the Baltimore Orioles, 2-0, in a best- of-five series and were down, 3-2, going into the ninth inning of Game 3. Rod Carew doubled and Brian Downing walked with one out in the ninth. Baltimore's Al Bumbry dropped a pop-up by Bobby Grich, scoring Carew. That brought to the plate Larry Harlow, a midseason pickup from Baltimore. Harlow doubled to center field for a 4-3 victory.

Baltimore won the series in four games.

1986

* The Angels rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth against the Boston Red Sox to send Game 4 into extra innings. In the 11th, Jerry Narron singled and was sacrificed to second. After an intentional walk, Bobby Grich singled to left for a 4-3 victory and 3-1 series lead.

Boston won the series in seven games.

-- Chris Foster

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