04/24/08 6:53 PM ET
Heavenly seventh leads to Halos win
Angels take series against Red Sox after bats come alive
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
Already battling a team-wide flu bug, the Sox had to watch the Angels work counts, wait for the right pitch in the right spot and carve out a 7-5 decision at Fenway Park to take the series, two games to one.
Rare is the occasion an opponent out-walks Boston, nine to three, but that's what 37,848 witnesses observed on a flawless Thursday afternoon.
The same, maddening formula the reigning World Series champions have used to drive opponents to distraction was distilled into one 52-pitch inning, the seventh. It must have seemed endless to Red Sox Nation as it watched three Boston relievers trudge to the mound on the heels of young Justin Masterson.
Two walks around Maicer Izturis' single loaded the bases. Erick Aybar's infield single scored one run. Chone Figgins' single against Hideki Okajima delivered another. Gary Matthews Jr. -- wrapping up a highly productive series -- slashed a two-run single to center to complete the scoring before Okajima escaped a bases-loaded, none-out jam.
"It kind of gives you a little taste of what we're like and how we compete when we're healthy," Matthews said, having driven in five runs with two homers, a double and two singles in the two wins that came after the Red Sox claimed the series opener. "Stay healthy over 162 games, and it gives people a different look than last year."
After three walks and four singles had turned a two-run deficit into a two-run lead, the back end of the Angels' bullpen -- Justin Speier, Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez -- delivered once again in preserving Joe Saunders' win, his fourth without a loss.
"We were being patient, fouling pitches off, getting pitches to put in play," said Figgins, who went the other way for his RBI single after falling behind 0-2 in the count to Okajima. "You can't get up there and look for walks; you're looking to get a pitch to drive. I think we're getting better at being patient."
Walks by Figgins after an Aybar bunt single and Casey Kotchman -- his third free pass of the day, following a single and steal by Garret Anderson -- paid off in runs when Matthews ended a long duel with a double in the eighth and Izturis lifted a sacrifice fly in the ninth.
Those runs proved essential when David Ortiz slammed a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth against Shields, bringing Rodriguez out to retire Manny Ramirez on a drive to Torii Hunter in center to finish the job. The save was K-Rod's ninth and second in two nights.
"Those guys have a deep offensive club," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of the Sox. "You're not going to be able to grind it out with one-run leads.
"I really feel when we have our team together, we're seeing some things come together. We're swinging the bats much closer to what we expected than the playoffs -- and even our first trip in here last year."
Swept in three games in April in a debilitated condition in 2007, the Angels ended the season with another sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, in the American League Division Series.
That club was ravaged by injuries and illnesses to half the lineup. This time, it was Boston feeling the effects of subpar health, a virus sweeping through the clubhouse to bring disorder to the pitching plans.
Pressed into service after Josh Beckett (stiff neck) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (flu symptoms) both pulled out of starts in the series, Masterson made an impressive Major League debut, holding the Angels to one run in six innings.
Masterson had given up only one hit, a two-out single in the third by Matthews, when Mike Napoli launched a solo homer to right center leading off the fifth. Napoli's fifth homer of the season was the sixth in the series by the Angels, who have out-homered Boston, 26-23, this season.
Masterson walked four men, but effectively used his sinker for 11 outs on the ground. Reaching his limit at 95 pitches, the big right-hander turned it over to southpaw Javier Lopez to open the lucky seventh -- and that's when the Angels stole the Boston formula.
A walk and single later, Lopez gave way to Manny Delcarmen, who also surrendered a walk and single before taking a hike. Delcarmen (0-1) would absorb the loss after the normally reliable Okajima also struggled finding the strike zone.
"It got away in a hurry," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "We were trying to piece together the seventh so we can go to Okie [Okajima] and Pap [Jonathan Papelbon], and it didn't work from the very beginning."
Saunders yielded a run in the second on two singles, a walk and an infield out by Coco Crisp. A leadoff walk to Kevin Youkilis cost the lefty in the fourth when Crisp and Kevin Cash lifted back-to-back, two-out, RBI doubles to center, both bounding into the stands.
"I got through the sixth and gave us another chance to come back and score runs," Saunders said. "The seventh was awesome.
"It was a battle from the get-go, a struggle for me to get strike one. They're the best hitting team in the league. I was just trying to minimize the damage, give us a chance to win."
Nine walks, nine hits and seven runs -- an offensive chowder, Boston-style -- got it done.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.