BOSTON (AP)—Torii Hunter(notes) emerged from the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway Park to spray champagne over the fans and family gathered there. Erick Aybar(notes) did him one better, handing over bottles of bubbly to those who came from California to see the Los Angeles Angels go for the sweep.
History gave no reason to hope for such a celebration.
The Angels and Vladimir Guerrero(notes) shrugged off their postseason failures and swept away the Red Sox on Sunday, scoring three runs off Jonathan Papelbon(notes) in the ninth inning to beat Boston 7-6 and advance to the AL championship series.
It was the first postseason sweep in Angels franchise history. And they did it against the team that has knocked them out of the playoffs the previous four times they met.
“I told you guys earlier: It’s going to be a different scene,” Hunter said in the clubhouse afterward. “Vladdy came through. That’s probably one of the biggest hits of his career. They’ve been waiting for him to do it, and he did it.”
Papelbon was one strike away from extending the series with three different batters, but Aybar singled on a two-strike pitch, Chone Figgins(notes) walked after fouling off a full-count offering and Bobby Abreu(notes) fouled off three straight pitches before doubling in one run.
Hunter was walked intentionally before Guerrero singled the first pitch to center and Figgins and Abreu raced home to give Los Angeles a 7-6 lead. Major league saves leader Brian Fuentes(notes) pitched the ninth, and when Aybar caught Dustin Pedroia’s(notes) popup to end the game, pumping his right arm even as he tracked the ball with his left, the Angels advanced.
“It’s nice to be going home and playing again, instead of going home and it’s over,” said pitcher John Lackey(notes), who was part of the Angels teams that were eliminated by Boston in three times in the previous five years. “This is the most fun for me, and I’ve got a ring. That says a lot.”
An eight-time All-Star and former AL MVP, Guerrero has a .321 career batting average, 407 regular-season homers and 1,318 RBIs. But he’d managed only one extra-base hit in 69 at-bats going into Game 3, and he had one RBI in 19 playoff games since his grand slam against Boston in the 2004 division series.
And he came through against Papelbon, who had never before allowed a run in 27 postseason innings.
“You’re not going to get to him too often. But we did this afternoon,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “And I felt great for Vlad. hopefully, that’s a momentum-builder for him. … I know he’s relieved. He’s excited about contributing. And hopefully it will be the start of something good.”
For the AL West champion Angels, it was a chance to extend their tribute to pitcher Nick Adenhart(notes), who was killed in an April car crash with a man who has been charged with drunken driving. As they streamed out of the dugout to celebrate, Game 2 winner Jered Weaver(notes) carried Adenhart’s jersey onto the field.
“When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart, and what happened in April in Anaheim, yes, it probably was the biggest hit (of my career),” Guerrero said. “Because I’m dedicating that to a former teammate, a guy that passed away.”
The Angels open their first ALCS since 2005 on Friday against the New York Yankees, who beat the Twins 4-1 on Sunday night to complete a three-game sweep.
“We’re finally here,” said Angels owner Arte Moreno, who bought the team in 2003, a year after they won their only World Series. “I think that the fourth time’s a charm. It’s great for us, because we’ve been knocking on the door for a while.”
Los Angeles trailed 5-1 early, was behind 5-2 after seven innings and still down 6-4 when Papelbon retired the first two batters of the ninth.
The crowd that just one inning earlier had been primed for a celebration quietly filed out of the ballpark for the last time in 2009, having seen the wild-card Red Sox beaten.
“The season doesn’t wind down. It just comes to a crashing halt,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “You go into the top of the inning excited because you think you’re going to keep playing. Half an inning later, you’re going home. So it’s disappointing.”
The Red Sox had won 12 of 13 postseason games against the Angels heading into the series, including an 11-game winning streak that dated back to Dave Henderson’s homer off Donnie Moore in the 1986 ALCS. Henderson, not coincidentally, threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Sunday, even adding a little jump and twist like the one he did after he helped propel Boston to within one strike of the ’86 World Series title.
Hendu’s shot in Game 5 sent the Red Sox to a win by the same 7-6 score.
Boston didn’t win it that year, but they ended their 86-year championship drought in 2004 after sweeping Los Angeles in the first round. The Red Sox swept out the Angels again in ’07 en route to a second title, and beat them in four games last year before losing to the Tampa Bay in the ALCS.
Darren Oliver(notes) earned the victory after getting one out in relief, and Papelbon took his first career postseason loss. The Red Sox closer had converted seven of his previous eight postseason save opportunities.
But after Billy Wagner(notes) put two on with two out in the eighth, the Red Sox were forced to bring Papelbon in with a 5-2 lead. He gave up a two-run single to Juan Rivera(notes) that made 5-4 before picking pinch-runner Reggie Willits(notes) off first base.
After Mike Lowell’s(notes) RBI single made it 6-4 in the eighth, Papelbon got Maicer Izturis(notes) on a foul popup and pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr.(notes) on a fly ball to center. Abreu lined a double off the Green Monster to cut the lead to 6-5.
The three runs Boston scored in the third inning were more than it had scored in the first two games of the series combined. In fact, Boston had scored a total of two runs in 32 postseason innings before taking a 3-0 lead on Sunday.
NOTES: The Red Sox hadn’t been eliminated in Boston since the Chicago White Sox finished off a three-game sweep in the 2005 first round. … Mike Napoli(notes) was hit by a pitch in the second inning, but Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez(notes) argued that it hit the end of his bat. Napoli was also hit in Game 2 by Josh Beckett(notes), who argued that the batter didn’t make any effort to get out of the way.