Commentary

Angels do the little things vs. Red Sox

L.A. takes walks, steals bases and pitches as it builds 2-0 lead over Boston in ALDS

Originally Published: October 9, 2009
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Yes, the Angels still must win one more game. Yes, Angels fans have been one victory away before and seen it all slip away. And yes, it's never easy beating the Red Sox at Fenway, and this entire series would completely swing around with a loss to Boston there in Game 3.

But even so, perhaps this year is different. Perhaps this year is special. Perhaps this year the Angels will get past the Red Sox. After all, there must be magic in the air when you see something as rare, unexpected and downright inexplicable as what happened in the Angels' 4-1 Game 2 victory Friday night.

Vladimir Guerrero walked to lead off an inning.

Yes, Vladimir Guerrero. The man who regularly swings at pitches so far out of the strike zone they could hit the guy in the Durham Bull costume, drew a walk that led to the Angels' game-deciding, three-run, seventh-inning rally against Red Sox starter Josh Beckett. Heck, Guerrero even squatted slightly, Little League-style, to make his strike zone smaller on Beckett's 3-0 pitch. That pitch was a strike, but he took the next pitch as well for ball four.

And you thought you had seen everything.

"Man, trust me, we were jumping up and down like he had hit a home run," Torii Hunter said of the reaction in the dugout. "Vladdy was taking pitches, working the count, and I'm like, 'What the hell is going on?' That definitely was a big walk because we wound up scoring a run right there, and you've got to compliment Vladdy for that."

Guerrero walked just 19 times during the regular season, and each and every one surprised his teammates.

"Vladdy gets a walk, and he's excited," Hunter said. "He comes in, and we're telling him, 'Hey, Vladdy, big walk.' And he says, 'Yes, sir! Yes, sir!" He was screaming. He was very excited about that walk."

[+] EnlargeVladimir Guerrero
Jacob de Golish/Getty Images Vlad Guerrero likes to swing the bat, but even he took some pitches in Friday's win.

"I was very happy because I knew the importance of that run and being able to get that walk," Guerrero said in Spanish through an interpreter. "It was a good feeling to know I did my job and we were able to get something out of that inning."

The Angels won Thursday's opening game after Hunter's mammoth three-run homer, but they won Friday because they executed on the little things. Beckett was cruising when the seventh inning began -- he had thrown just 75 pitches and allowed only three singles -- but the Angels scratched and battled so much that he threw 28 pitches in the seventh and still didn't get out of the inning. Howie Kendrick pinch-ran for Guerrero and stole a key base that allowed him to score on Maicer Izturis' two-out single. A hit batter later, Erick Aybar tripled to center to knock out Beckett and put the Angels up 4-1.

While losing to the Red Sox in their past three division-series matchups, the Angels failed to execute like that. But they're doing it this time, and it's making a huge difference. As Hunter explained when asked why they were doing it this year and not in the past, "That's baseball."

Equally important, if not more so, the Angels are getting some outstanding pitching. John Lackey pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 1, and Jered Weaver followed up by holding the Red Sox to one run and two hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Weaver won 16 games this season with a rotation-best 3.75 ERA, but you might not have even known he was pitching, what with all the pregame hype centered on Beckett. That's certainly understandable, given Beckett's record over recent Octobers, a history that has earned him a deserved reputation as one of the best postseason pitchers of his era. Weaver, on the other hand, flew enough under the radar that even when a reporter asked about him during a news conference Thursday, he referred to him as Jeff, his older brother.

[+] EnlargeJered Weaver
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesJered Weaver -- yes, Jered, not Jeff -- pitched 7 1/3 strong innings for the Angels in Game 2.

"I get them confused all the time, too," confessed Jered's own manager, Mike Scioscia. "If Jered had a nickel for every time I call him Jeff, he'd be richer than he is now."

"It happens a lot," Weaver said. "It's been happening since I was 12 years old. My parents mix us up all the time. It's something I'm used to, so it's not a big deal. I like to joke about it."

Weaver allowed only two hits, both in the fourth inning. He gave up a leadoff triple to Jacoby Ellsbury but kept the Red Sox to just one run (on Victor Martinez's single).

"That was huge," Weaver said. "Any time you get a leadoff triple with the middle part of the lineup coming up, you want to put some water on the fire to cool it down a little bit, and I was able to make some pitches and shut them down."

And now the Angels need just one victory to get past the team that stopped them cold in their three previous division series.

"One year we weren't healthy. Last year we played hard, but they got some big hits," hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "That last game we played last year, that loss, was a big game, and we would have liked to have taken it one more game, but they had last at-bats. It just seems like these guys really want to get it done at home with our fans. We had two good games, but the one thing we talk about is that's a good team over there, and they never quit, and it isn't over with. It's not even close to being over yet."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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