An elite eight land Halos in final four

An elite eight land Halos in final four

ANAHEIM -- One of the big reasons the Angels have won a World Series and two division titles in the last four years is their bullpen, where some of the names and faces have changed -- even some as recently as three weeks ago -- but the nastiness has remained.

So when Scot Shields coughed up Game 4 of the American League Division Series in front of a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd Sunday night, tying the series at 2 and forcing the Angels to fly back to Anaheim for a Monday night Game 5 winner-take-all engagement, the mood in the room was calm.

"We've got a great bullpen," Shields said. "We'll bounce back. We always do."

Shields, who set a club record with 78 appearances and pitched in the first four ALDS games, somehow didn't make it into Game 5, but his prophecy proved accurate.

When starter Bartolo Colon had to exit in the second inning because of an inflamed shoulder, long reliever Ervin Santana, who was a starter for most of the regular season, held the Yankees at bay for 5 1/3 innings.

And when the Angels had a 5-3 lead in the seventh inning, setup man Kelvim Escobar and closer Francisco Rodriguez made sure it didn't get away.

"These guys do it time and time again," catcher Bengie Molina said after the Angels completed a 5-3 win over the Yankees, landing them in the ALCS vs. the White Sox. "They're the best bullpen in the league, and I feel like I've been saying that for a long time now."

Molina's memory was not clouded by the champagne he was drinking -- and wearing.

The Angels weren't the best in the league as far as statistics go in 2005 -- their 3.52 ERA ranked fifth in the AL. But with a Major League-leading 54 saves, 414 strikeouts and a closer, Rodriguez, who tied for the league lead in saves with 45, they did the job.

And when Escobar, their best starter in 2004, came off the disabled list in early September and vaulted into the setup spot previously inhabited by the oft-used Shields, the Angels' relief corps really took off.

Escobar used his arsenal of mid-90s heat and varying degrees of breaking pitches, splitters and changeups to post a 1.89 ERA in nine late-season relief stints.

Then he followed it up in the ALDS, giving up one run on two hits in seven innings (1.29 ERA) while striking out five over four appearances.

Monday was his masterpiece given the circumstances.

Escobar entered the game in the seventh inning after Santana had given up a leadoff homer to Derek Jeter that cut the Angels' lead to 5-3.

With one out, Escobar left a pitch up in the strike zone and Jason Giambi hammered it off the scoreboard in right-center field for a double.

But Escobar buckled down and got the two crucial outs, inducing a flyout to right field off the bat of Gary Sheffield and getting Hideki Matsui to pop out to the catcher.

In the eighth, he struck out Robinson Cano, got Bernie Williams to fly out to left field and lost Jorge Posada with a walk, but his job was done.

It was time for Rodriguez, who made it interesting by giving up three hits in the ninth but still got a double-play ball from Alex Rodriguez and a Matsui groundout to first base to end the game and the series.

Given the unfortunate events of the previous day, Escobar said it showed a lot that the bullpen could take care of business in Game 5.

"I don't think you can think too much in a short series," Escobar said. "We've thrown the ball well the last couple weeks. We believe in our stuff. Yesterday the game was over and then we got ready for the next one."

Rodriguez, who converted 18 straight save chances to close out the regular season and saved Games 2 and 5 in this series, agreed.

"We have confidence in ourselves and know we can do the job," he said.

"We know how to turn the page."

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