Angels rally in 12 to keep season alive
Aybar's first hit of ALDS sets stage for Game 4 on Monday
BOSTON -- It was the game of Mike Napoli's life, a total performance that gave his franchise life. Larry Bird, in another part of town in a musty old garden, never was more dominant with so much on the line.
"It's huge," Napoli said after his teammates, all of them except center fielder Torii Hunter, had departed Fenway Park's cramped visitors' clubhouse on Sunday night. "I'm glad I was able to do something to help."
Do something to help? Napoli was at the center of everything the Angels did to keep their season alive with a dramatic 5-4 victory over the Red Sox in 12 innings in Game 3 of the American League Division Series, setting up Game 4 on Monday night between John Lackey and Jon Lester.
The Angels are trying to become only the fifth team to drop the first two games and come back to win a five-game Division Series since the postseason expanded in 1995 to include a third tier. The 2001 Yankees, having stunned the Athletics, are the only team to lose the first two at home and come back to celebrate at home.
Gone is the Angels' nine-game postseason losing streak. Gone is their 11-game postseason skid against the Red Sox. Very much alive is a six-game winning streak by the Angels at Fenway Park.
In their best regular season in franchise history, which included a club-record and Major League-high 100 wins, the Angels were 5-1 at Fenway, having won the final five.
Make that six now. With a lucky seven in Game 4, they would push the series back to Anaheim for a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday -- and if that happens, the momentum will belong to the Angels.
In helping the Angels claim Game 3, Napoli left his handprints everywhere.
The catcher hit a monstrous game-tying two-run homer in the third inning, demonstrating light-tower power by banging Josh Beckett's curveball halfway up the standard above the Green Monster.
Shutting the door at Fenway
"I was just trying to drive it through the infield with Vlad [Guerrero] at second [on a leadoff double]," Napoli said. "He put a pitch in a place where I could drive it, and I got into it a little bit."
After ending the Angels' 68-inning postseason homerless drought with that blast, Napoli launched another one two innings later off Beckett. The second shot, to left-center field, gave his team a one-run lead that was erased on doubles by Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis in the bottom of the fifth.
Leading off the 12th inning against lefty Javier Lopez, Napoli was behind in the count, 2-0, battled back to 2-2 and banged a single to left.
"I shortened up my stroke, like I did on the first home run," Napoli said. "We needed a baserunner there."
Bunted to second by Howie Kendrick, Napoli came rolling home -- the big man can run for a catcher -- on Erick Aybar's RBI single to center.
Going back behind the plate for a 12th inning of labor, Napoli called the right pitches for Jered Weaver, who finished his second scoreless inning of relief to nail down the win in his first relief appearance since his junior year at Simi Valley (Calif.) High School.
"Nap was awesome," Weaver said.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia had boldly told the media in his pregame session that his team would not get swept.
GAME 4: JUST THE FACTS
|Angels starter: RHP John Lackey|
|2008: 16-7, 3.49 ERA|
|2008 on road: 7-2, 3.23 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox (reg. season): 2-0, 2.81 ERA|
|2008 ALDS Game 1: 0-1, 2.70 ERA|
|Career vs. Red Sox (reg. season): 3-6, 5.54 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-3, 3.51 ERA (10 games, eight starts)|
|Red Sox starter: LHP Jon Lester|
|2008: 16-6, 3.21 ERA|
|2008 at home: 11-1, 2.49 ERA|
|2008 vs. Angels (reg. season): 0-0, 7.20 ERA|
|2008 ALDS Game 1: 1-0, 0.00 ERA|
|Career vs. Angels (reg. season): 1-1, 7.78 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-0, 1.10 (four games, two starts)|
|Red Sox lead series, 2-1. The Red Sox's streak of 11 consecutive postseason wins over the Angels came to an end with a 6-5 loss in Game 3.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 4, Angels 1|
|Game 2: Red Sox 7, Angels 5|
|Game 3: Angels 5, Red Sox 4 (12)|
|Did You Know? The only time the Red Sox have lost a postseason series after taking a 2-0 lead in their history was in the 1986 World Series against the Mets.|
"That game was swinging on a heartbeat for most of the night," Scioscia said. "Nap had a couple of big hits for us, and he caught a great game."
Scioscia values the catcher's relationship with his pitchers higher than anything else in the game. That challenge became compounded for Napoli when he was asked to deal with six pitchers, all with unique styles and temperaments.
Starting with Joe Saunders, charged with four earned runs in 4 2/3 innings, Napoli guided rookie Jose Arredondo, veterans Darren Oliver, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez and -- finally -- Weaver, a starter-turned-reliever, through 36 outs and 51 batters. Total pitches called: 225.
"Just a great night," Napoli said. "It's what you ask for as a catcher -- to be able to handle your staff and help a little on the offensive side. That's a plus."
On Saturday, Napoli had said, "Let's shock the world."
There were stars aplenty in the Angels' cast on survival night, from leadoff catalyst Chone Figgins to Aybar, the young shortstop who delivered his first hit of the series when it mattered most, finding open space in center.
Figgins jump-started the attack when he drilled Beckett's first pitch into the right-field corner for a double, scoring on Juan Rivera's bases-loaded walk.
Beckett left five runners stranded in the first two rounds and nine total in his five innings. Coming back from an oblique strain, he was not the force who dominated the 2007 postseason for the defending World Series champion Red Sox.
Saunders was better than Beckett, just not as fortunate. The Red Sox had to be surprised by the way they took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the second.
Saunders loaded the bases with two outs before Ellsbury lofted a harmless fly ball to shallow center. A miscommunication between Hunter and Kendrick, the second baseman, resulted in the ball dropping between them for the first three-run single in postseason history.
"That's on me," Hunter said. "I should have called him off and caught that ball.
"I feel bad about that, but there's no time for negative thoughts now. This team showed what it was all about tonight."
Before Napoli's first homer, Guerrero's leadoff double snapped his string of 56 postseason at-bats without an extra-base hit. In the designated-hitter role, Guerrero is hitting .583 in the series.
Figgins, collecting hits in his first three at-bats, got the offense rolling -- and made several big plays with the glove.
The last outs of the 11th and 12th innings, behind Weaver, came on sharply hit balls backhanded at third by Figgins, who made accurate throws to first.
"The grass is wet," Figgins said. "Those balls weren't easy to handle. I've played some good defense this year, and it was a huge win."
After the Red Sox drew even in the fifth inning, the Angels' staff registered seven scoreless innings with their season on the line.
Arredondo and Shields were brilliant. K-Rod needed 33 pitches to douse a bases-loaded fire in the 10th before turning the game over to Weaver.
"I started throwing and getting loose in the sixth inning," Weaver said. "I kept watching and waiting, and when they needed me, I was ready. It was a little different going into the closer mode there at the end, but I had a good time with it."
Up next is Lackey, who took a no-hitter into the ninth inning at Fenway on July 29, taking on Lester. The southpaw trumped Lackey and the Angels, 4-1, in Game 1 by yielding one unearned run across seven innings.
Funny thing is, it's the Angels who have made themselves right at home at Fenway Park this year.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.