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10/20/09 12:10 AM ET

Comeback Kendrick: Infielder sparks rally

Scores winning run after homer lifts Halos off the deck

ANAHEIM -- When Howard Kendrick was riding the bus with Triple-A Salt Lake throughout most of June after being sent down by the Angels, the last thing on his mind was the postseason.

He certainly didn't want to think about last year -- when he went just 2-for-17 against the Red Sox in the Division Series -- and thoughts of this year's postseason didn't make much sense either.

After all, he wasn't even sure what his role would be the rest of the season, having been sent down on June 11 after batting just .236 through his first 58 games.

But the second baseman played his way back into playing time with the Angels, batting .346 in 20 games in the Minors before returning to Anaheim and hitting a blistering .351 in his next 54 games to lead the Major Leagues in batting after his July 4 callup.

And Kendrick was rewarded even further on Monday in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, hitting a solo home run to put the Angels on the board in the fifth inning before scoring the winning run in the 11th inning on Jeff Mathis' walk-off double.

"It was fun, to be honest," Kendrick said. "After the start I had this year, I'll take anything I can get. I never even thought of that when I was in the Minors. At the time, I was thinking about Triple-A and wasn't even thinking about Major League Baseball. I was worried about where I was at, but once I got back up here, I started worrying about playing."

Kendrick made the most of his opportunities in the second half, as he split time with Maicer Izturis at second base while playing almost exclusively against left-handed pitching.

But the biggest change for him was a mental one. His teammates noticed, as he appeared much more confident than in years past.

"This year it's a different Howie," said Torii Hunter, whose locker is next to Kendrick's. "He's ready to go. He's a bulldog."

Big-boppin' battles
Most combined home runs in an LCS game
HR Clubs Date
7 Red Sox (4), Rays (3) * 10/11/08
7 Mets (4), Cardinals (3) 10/15/06
7 Marlins (4), Cubs (3) * 10/7/03
6 Yankees (4), Angels (2) * 10/19/09
6 Yankees (4), Red Sox (2) 10/16/04
6 Yankees (3), Red Sox (3) * 10/16/03
6 Orioles (3), Yankees (3) 10/13/96
* -- extra innings

That new mentality was on display in Game 3, with the Yankees starting left-hander Andy Pettitte and Kendrick in the lineup as the team's eighth hitter.

By the time Kendrick came up in the fifth, however, his team was already down, 3-0, and appeared headed to a seemingly insurmountable three-game deficit in the ALCS.

One swing from Kendrick gave the Angels life, as he drilled a 1-1 cutter from Pettitte over the left-field wall to give Los Angeles their first run of the game while shifting the momentum back to the home team's favor.

"It was our first large hit there," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "So we needed to keep going. Howie had got us back in the game with that home run."

Kendrick came through with another big hit in the seventh inning. With two outs and the game tied, the Yankees turned to right-handed reliever Joba Chamberlain against Kendrick, but the move backfired. Kendrick hit the first pitch he saw off Chamberlain for a triple off the right-field wall and scored on a sacrifice fly hit by Maicer Izturis.

The run gave the Angels their first lead of the day, and although Yankees catcher Jorge Posada hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning, the momentum was still in the Angels' favor.

And finally in the 11th inning, that momentum tipped all the way into an Angels victory, with Kendrick sparking a two-out rally with a single. Then it was time for Kendrick to flash his speed, coming around from first on Mathis' game-winning hit.

"With two outs, I was just booking it," Kendrick said with a laugh. "After I saw the ball hit, I just started running and didn't think about much except getting to home plate."

And once Kendrick crossed home, he and his teammates celebrated with his teammates the Angels' first win ALCS win since 2005 against the White Sox.

But for Kendrick, he's hoping it was the first of four celebrations against the Yankees.

"I feel good, but today was just one game," Kendrick said. "We still have a lot of baseball left to play."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.