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Angels let it get away in the ninth inning

Alex Gonzalez's bases-loaded blooper caps a two-out, two-run rally by the Red Sox.

September 17, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

BOSTON — It was a scene the Angels have become all too familiar with, one that makes their stomachs turn and their temples throb.

It played out again Wednesday night, the Boston Red Sox celebrating a wild and wacky 9-8 walk-off victory over the Angels with another group hug in the middle of the Fenway Park field, which has become a burial ground for Angels pennant hopes.

The Red Sox clinched division-series wins over the Angels in similar fashion in 2004 and 2008, and the fact that this one came after what the Angels felt were two blown calls by the umpires in a fateful ninth inning merely added to their frustration.

The struggles of closer Brian Fuentes, who had a loss and a blown save in his previous four outings, continued Wednesday night, the left-hander walking pinch-hitter Nick Green to force in the tying run and giving up Alex Gonzalez's game-winning single.

Just as big a concern for the Angels is their sloppy play the last three nights against a Red Sox team they probably will play again in the division series and a New York Yankees club that could be lurking in the American League Championship Series.

"I'm [ticked] off. You can see it on my face. You don't even have to talk to me," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "I know this is not a playoff game, but if you do this during the regular season, it could happen during the playoffs."

The Angels, who maintained their six-game AL West lead over the slumping Texas Rangers, seemed to wilt under the pressure of playoff-atmosphere baseball, committing errors that were costly in all three games.

They had a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning Wednesday night, but shortstop Erick Aybar dropped a throw from second baseman Howie Kendrick on Mike Lowell's fielder's choice grounder, an error that paved the way for three unearned runs in Boston's five-run inning.

Kendrick had trouble getting the ball out of his glove on David Ortiz's potential double-play grounder, and the Angels had to settle for a force out. Gonzalez capped the rally with a two-out, two-run single.

"It became a five-out inning," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "You can't afford to make mistakes against such a good team."

For whatever reason, these kinds of mistakes seem to happen against the Red Sox, especially in Fenway Park.

"You have to play to win, play the game, have fun, do what you do against every other team," said Hunter, who hit a solo home run in the sixth. "Don't change anything because it's the Red Sox or the Yankees. If you play nervous, you're going to make mistakes. Show some [guts]!"

Is it nerves? A case of stage fright?

"I hope not," Hunter said. "The last three days, I've seen things I've never seen. If you're nervous, you're going to fail. We need to clean it up."

The Angels recovered from their sixth-inning meltdown to score four unearned runs in the seventh, taking advantage of Boston catcher Jason Varitek's passed ball on a strikeout of Kendry Morales that should have ended the inning.

Vladimir Guerrero went from first base to third base on the miscue, Morales took first, and Kendrick (run-scoring single), Juan Rivera (two-run double) and Mike Napoli (run-scoring double) gave the Angels a 7-5 lead.

The Red Sox rallied to tie the score against relievers Kevin Jepsen and Darren Oliver in the eighth, on Casey Kotchman's run-scoring groundout and Jacoby Ellsbury's run-scoring hit.

The Angels went ahead, 8-7, in the ninth when Chone Figgins, Aybar and Bobby Abreu hit two-out singles against reliever Daniel Bard, and Fuentes retired the first two batters in the bottom of the ninth.

But Ortiz walked -- Fuentes said he was pitching around the slugger -- and J.D. Drew and Jed Lowrie reached on infield singles.

Fuentes thought he had Green struck out on an 0-and-2 check swing. First base umpire Jeff Kellogg disagreed. Green fouled off three pitches, took two balls, and then took ball four on a pitch that appeared to be right down the middle at the knees.

Plate umpire Rick Reed disagreed, the Angels fumed, and after Gonzalez's winning flare to left field ended the 4-hour 7-minute marathon, the Red Sox were tormenting the Angels with another walk-off celebration.




The stretch

Sept. 18-20 at Texas (three games): The Rangers missed a chance to gain some ground on the Angels this week, losing four of their last five games entering Wednesday night.

Sept. 21-23 vs. New York (three games): When the Yankees played at Anaheim before the All-Star break, they were swept by an Angels team without Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero.

Sept. 25-27 vs. Oakland (three games): The A's have some of baseball's better young pitchers, but they have one of the game's weakest offenses, ranking last in the league in home runs and slugging percentage.

Sept. 28-Oct. 1 vs. Texas (four games): No team has a better record (9-3) against the Angels this season than the Rangers. If the Angels haven't clinched the American League West title at this point, this series will be very interesting.

Oct. 2-4 at Oakland (three games): If the Angels have not wrapped up the division by this time, they would have Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir lined up to pitch against the A's.

-- Mike DiGiovanna

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