07/19/08 9:02 PM ET
Aybar's triple caps Halos' rally over Sox
Four-run seventh started by Guerrero's leadoff solo homer
By Mike Scarr / MLB.com
It wasn't just eastern elite versus upstart West or new age yawning at the thought of old school.
The clash was there in simple baseball terms, big ball against small ball, and it was small that proved large, as the Angels hustled a 4-2 victory from the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon, improving to 59-38, tops in the Majors.
Vladimir Guerrero drilled a solo homer to open the seventh, demonstrating that the lineup isn't completely bereft of power, but it was a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt by Reggie Willits and Erick Aybar's bases-clearing triple that highlighted the four-run frame and underscored the Halos' philosophy and mission.
The Angels are going to win with pitching, defense and a motion offense that won't scare the opposition as much as distract it, and Saturday's result proved again that when the pieces fall together, Los Angeles is able to overcome a seemingly superior lineup.
"They bring out everybody's 'A' game, because they are a great team," said starter Joe Saunders, who allowed a pair of runs over 6 2/3 innings for a no-decision. "I like our 'A' game against their 'A' game, and so far, we've been able to scratch across some runs."
Coupled with a series victory in Boston in April, the Angels are 4-1 against the Red Sox this season, and they have a shot at a sweep in Sunday's finale. The Angels will make one last visit to Boston on July 28-30 in the middle of a three-city trip that will also take them to Baltimore and New York.
"Boston is a great ballclub," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "They're deep, and they can close down games with the best of them. You have to play well to beat them, and fortunately, this afternoon, we got a lot of things done right at the right time."
After taking an 11-3 pounding on Friday night, the Red Sox sent their ace to the hill on Saturday, and Josh Beckett responded. Beckett tossed a complete game, but he was tagged for the loss. The right-hander dominated the Angels through six innings and suffered primarily from familiarity.
Beckett allowed a leadoff single to Chone Figgins in the bottom of the first inning, and the Angels' third baseman stole second and advanced to third on Casey Kotchman's deep fly ball to left field. But the Angels did not threaten again until Figgins' one-out double in the sixth.
In between, Beckett retired 10 in a row at one point and gave up just a pair of singles -- one was a broken-bat hit by Juan Rivera that sent the barrel windmilling past Mike Lowell at third and prevented shortstop Jed Lowrie from making a clean play.
Beckett also recorded four of his six strikeouts during that stretch, with two coming in the bottom of the fifth, as he caught Torii Hunter looking at a curveball that was out over the plate and got Garret Anderson looking at a 94-mph inside fastball.
Providing support to Beckett was the middle of the Red Sox's order, as Manny Ramirez doubled to lead off the top of the second. It was Ramirez's third hit of the series and his 14th in 26 at-bats. Kevin Youkilis followed by drilling a 2-1 pitch from Saunders to straightway center.
It was the 17th home run this season for Youkilis to establish a new career high, and it gave him four homers and 16 RBIs in his past six games.
"I was trying to hit the ball up the middle, and I hit it hard and it went out," Youkilis said.
The Red Sox, who rank second in the American League in runs scored and third in homers, have been showing their power stroke with three big flies in the first two games of the series here, but they have yet to score one run without sending the ball over the wall. In the process, the Angels have a 15-5 scoring advantage.
"We've been getting on base, but we need to take advantage of those opportunities more," Youkilis said.
Cashing in were the Angels, who were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position on Saturday. That lone hit was Aybar's.
After Guerrero hit his 16th home run of the year by depositing Beckett's first pitch of the seventh into the visiting bullpen -- the ball whistled just a few feet past closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was doing some warmup stretches -- the Angels put their game to work.
Hunter and Anderson followed with back-to-back singles to left field, and Scioscia summoned Willits to pinch-hit for Rivera and lay down a bunt to advance the runners. With first base open and one out, Red Sox manager Terry Francona countered by intentionally walking Howie Kendrick, and Scioscia called on Aybar to pinch-hit for catcher Jeff Mathis.
"After a while, you kind of adapt to a pitcher and figure out what he's doing," Hunter said of Beckett, who pumped a steady diet of fastballs all afternoon. "Vladdy hitting that home run kind of sparked something. I laid off two pitches in and got something I could handle, and it went from there."
Aybar ripped the 1-0 offering from Beckett (9-6) past Youkilis at first and down the right-field line and into the corner to score three runs.
It was Aybar's first pinch-hit of the season.
"I hit a good pitch; I made contact," Aybar said through an interpreter. "I was trying to keep it as simple as possible."
That took Saunders off the hook, who was making his first start since notching a scoreless inning in Tuesday's All-Star Game and the birth of his new daughter, Matea.
With just one-third inning of relief, Jose Arredondo improved to 4-0 on the year, and closer Francisco Rodriguez recorded his 39th save of the season, despite allowing Ramirez to come to the plate as the tying run in the ninth.
"Obviously, we want to beat them when it counts, and they've had our number in the playoffs for a long time," Saunders said. "It is reassuring to know that we can play with them, and it gives us a bit of confidence that we can."
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.