07/20/08 10:59 PM ET
Kotchman, K-Rod give Vlad a reprieve
Slugger hits game-winning double; closer notches 40th save
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
"Any time you beat these guys," Howie Kendrick said following a 5-3 come-from-behind triumph over the reigning World Series champions, "it's a big deal."
Eighth-inning doubles by Juan Rivera, Kendrick and Casey Kotchman provided the late noise after early thunder from Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter, who homered back-to-back in the second inning against knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
With Jon Garland and Darren Oliver (3-1 with the win) limiting the Sox to three runs through eight innings, Francisco Rodriguez was positioned for a rousing finish. He struck out the side in the ninth to become the quickest ever to 40 saves, beating John Smoltz of the 2003 Braves by a whopping 10 games.
"We know what they're about," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "Any time we have a lead, we know they're going to have good at-bats. They have a lot of speed. Once they get the ball rolling, they're tough. That's why they have the best record in baseball. We all understand what kind of team they have."
Taking out the Red Sox three times in a row, making it five of six for the season, is meaningful for the Angels whether manager Mike Scioscia cares to admit it or not. They haven't forgetten how manager Terry Francona's marauders punished them in the American League Division Series on their way to the championship.
"I don't think this is a statement series this early in the season," Scioscia said, the Angels having swept the Red Sox for the first time since 2001 and the first time in Anaheim since April 1998. "That's a tough club. We played well this weekend, but I don't think there's any carryover.
"The season's more than this weekend. We've gotta keep it going." Scioscia never references the standings, which show his club leading the American League West by nine games over the A's and 9 1/2 over the Rangers. The Angels have the best record in the Majors and are the first team to reach 60 wins.
Garland, consistently jumping ahead in the count against the ultra-disciplined Sox, gave up two runs in the third on two singles and a Manny Ramirez double, then started mowing down hitters. He was unlucky in the seventh when Guerrero coughed up Jacoby Ellsbury's line drive with two outs, his error allowing Coco Crisp to plate the go-ahead run. He'd stolen second after a walk.
Wakefield rolled into the eighth having yielded just two harmless singles after the blasts by Guerrero (No. 17) and Hunter (No. 13) in the second.
Rivera opened with a double past third, and Reggie Willits ran for him. Recognizing Kendrick's ability to go the other way, Scioscia let him rip -- and that's exactly what Kendrick did, drilling a Wakefield knuckler into the left-field corner for the tying run.
"It's tough to hit off a knuckleballer," Kendrick said. "The biggest thing was to stay back and be patient. It was a sacrifice situation, and I was happy they let me swing.
"I was trying to move the runner over, go through the middle. It was inside, and I got a little ahead and put a good swing on it."
Kendrick's RBI was his 13th in the past 13 games. He's batting .423 in 52 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
After Manny Delcarmen replaced Wakefield and Jeff Mathis bunted Kendrick to third, Chone Figgins worked a full-count walk. Up walked Kotchman, who homered in April at Fenway Park against southpaw set-up man Hideki Okajima, warming in the bullpen.
Kotchman's .338 season average against lefties came into Francona's thinking as he decided to let the right-hander face him.
After taking an inside fastball for a strike and a fastball away, Kotchman wasn't fooled by a changeup on the inside, elevated "a tad" in the hitter's judgment.
Kotchman lashed it into the right-field corner, bringing Kendrick and Figgins flying around the bases.
"I got around on it and put it in a good place," Kotchman said. "I'm trying not to hit the top half of the baseball there; I don't want a ground-ball double play."
The eighth inning was the first time all day that the Angels had a runner in scoring position.
"That makes it tough to drive in runs," Kotchman said, grinning.
There is an earnestness to Kotchman that characterizes the cool demeanor of this team. New to the mix, with his bright smile and magnet personality, Hunter savors every exciting moment in his new home.
The center fielder was feeding off the crowd's energy when he smoked his homer to left-center following Guerrero's towering shot into the corner.
"When Vladdy goes deep or gets a double," Hunter said, "he kind of pumps you up. You're thinking, `I've gotta get up here and do something.' Vladdy's been getting it started for us. He did it [with a homer] yesterday and he did it again today."
Facing Wakefield, Hunter recalled, as he often does, the words of the late Kirby Puckett, his Minnesota guru: "There's no such thing as patience with a knuckler. 'If it's high, let it fly. If it's low, let it go -- there's no money to be made.'
"I let it fly," Hunter said.
The Angels are flying high as the Indians arrive for three games, after which the Halos embark on a 10-game journey through Baltimore, the Bronx and Boston.
"We're going to see them on the road trip," Kendrick said, knowing the Fenway Faithful won't forget how the Angels mistreated their heroes. "Hopefully, we can keep it going."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.