ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Mike Napoli quickly made up for missed time.
A late replacement, the rookie catcher threw out a runner trying to steal, then hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning to send the Los Angeles Angels over the New York Yankees 6-5 Friday night.
Napoli, batting a paltry .228 after a fast start, lifted his fly ball to left field off Octavio Dotel.
“In that situation, especially against a pitcher he’s never faced who has a power arm, you’re looking for contact,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Mike’s strong enough to drive the ball to the outfield, and he got just enough of it to get it to the outfield and win the game. That’s a huge at-bat, and it should give him a boost of confidence.”
Napoli, who went behind the plate in the eighth inning after catcher Jose Molina left for pinch-hitter, threw out pinch-runner Nick Green trying to steal second in the ninth. Figgins followed with his play.
The AL East-leading Yankees stayed 5 1/2 games ahead of Boston in the AL East. The Angels remained 5 1/2 games behind Oakland in the AL West.
Francisco Rodriguez (1-2) pitched a hitless ninth inning for the win, but it may not have happened without a defensive gem from center fielder Chone Figgins, who made a running catch to rob Melky Cabrera of extra bases and end the inning.
“He’s a heck of a player and you can see how valuable he is to Mike,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He’s like a Darin Erstad with more speed, and he doesn’t take anything away from their club defensively when they move him around. It’s unusual when you have a player who can to the things he can do. Normally, there’s some kind of an Achilles heel in there somewhere, but I haven’t seen it.”
Alex Rodriguez, limited to one pinch-hitting appearance in the last two games because of a fever and a viral infection in his throat, struck out four times against John Lackey. It was the third time in A-Rod’s career that the two-time AL MVP fanned four times in a game.
“I’ve been swinging the bat pretty well on this road trip, until today. And today was pretty bad,” Rodriguez said. “I saw the ball fine. It was just a bad approach, bad swings, bad results.”
“What’s frustrating is you know you should hit a ball hard,” he said. “When you get pitches you should hit and you don’t hit them or foul them off, you want to strangle yourself. When you’re swinging the bat well, those are balls you drive to the gap for doubles. But tomorrow’s a different day, and I’ll be ready to go.”
Rodriguez had two strikes on him in his final at-bat, against Scot Shields, before hitting a grounder that backup shortstop Erick Aybar threw away. It was the major league-leading 100th error by the Angels, who committed only 87 last season.
Vladimir Guerrero hit a two-run double for the Angels, giving him 101 RBIs.
The Yankees took a 5-4 lead in the seventh when pinch-hitter Craig Wilson doubled off Shields and later scored on a wild pitch. The Angels tied it in the bottom half on a sacrifice fly by pinch-hitter Orlando Cabrera, who didn’t start at shortstop because of a split nail on his right index finger.
Yankees starter Jaret Wright allowed three runs and nine hits in 3 2-3 innings. Lackey allowed four runs and 10 hits over six innings and struck out seven.
Aybar increased the Angels’ margin to 4-2 with an RBI single in the fifth.
It was the first-ever matchup between Lackey and Wright, who are among eight pitchers in history to start Game 7 of the World Series as rookies. In 2002, Lackey beat San Francisco; In 1997, Wright got a no-decision for Cleveland against Florida. … Guerrero became the second player in Angels history with three straight seasons of 100 or more RBIs. The other was Troy Glaus (2000-02).