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Angels enjoying a season of comebacks
Angels enjoying a season of comebacks
By Joe Frisaro
BOSTON -- A sign of a championship-caliber team is to play at your best when everything seems bleak.
All season, the Angels have demonstrated that characteristic.
It's really not a mystery as to why they've advanced to the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. They're moving on because they've shown the ability to bounce back under trying circumstances.
Resiliency was a trademark during the regular season, and it carried over into the playoffs. They set a franchise record with 47 comeback victories during the year, and they've tacked on two more in the AL Division Series.
Their resolve surfaced once again on Sunday in a 7-6 win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Down by two entering the ninth inning, the Angels scored three runs -- after getting to two outs with no one on -- off closer Jonathan Papelbon.
"We're just resilient," closer Brian Fuentes said. "We take a step back and then we march forward. We'd keep going and we'd get hot. I don't know if we ever really got cold. Coming into the season, we'd hear about the past."
Three times since 2004, the Red Sox eliminated the Angels in the American League Division Series.
The tide turned this year.
"It certainly is a different feeling and one that we wanted to experience as a team," said Vladimir Guerrero, whose two-run single off Papelbon proved the difference on Sunday. "It seems like a more emotional team, a little more gutsy, more put together."
The 47 comeback wins is a testament to the scrappiness of the squad. Late in the year that statistic prompted center fielder Torii Hunter to note: "Don't ever leave the park early, you just might miss something."
The Angels trailed only their ALCS foe, the Yankees, for most come-from-behind wins during the 2009 regular season.
In recent years, the Angels may have fallen short in the first round, but the franchise has now taken a big step toward returning to the World Series for the first time since its 2002 championship season.
"Part of it is the depth in the organization," Angels owner Arte Moreno said. "You keep banging the door down and hopefully you get there. I'm proud of the whole team."
In Game 2 on Friday at Angel Stadium, Los Angeles trailed Boston ace Josh Beckett by a run early, but were able to pull out a 4-1 win.
Two-out hitting in the late innings played a pivotal role in the final two games of the ALDS.
In the seventh inning of Game 2, the game was tied at 1 with two outs before Maicer Izturis' RBI single. Two batters later, Erick Aybar ripped a two-run triple.
More clutch hitting came through at Fenway Park. In the eighth inning, Juan Rivera hit a two-out, two-run single off Papelbon, making it 5-4.
Then came the ninth-inning heroics.
The Angels put together an improbable ninth-inning rally at Fenway Park to win Game 3 and sweep the Red Sox in the American League Division Series.
Popout to catcher (one out)
Gary Matthews Jr.
Flyout to center (two out)
1B on 0-2 fastball
2B to left, Aybar scores
Intentional walk loads bases
1B to center , Figgins, Abreu score
Flyout left (three out)
Bobby Abreu hit an RBI double and Guerrero lined the decisive two-run single to center, giving the Angels the lead that was preserved by Fuentes.
"To beat the [Red Sox] in three straight games, I didn't know if that would ever happen," Abreu said. "These guys know how to handle these situations in the postseason. They've shown they're good. We have to give credit to our pitchers."
In terms of overall record, the Angels were better a year ago. They finished 100-62, compared to 97-65 this season. In the 2008 postseason, however, they stumbled, and were eliminated by Boston in four games.
"Last year, everything went bad for us [in the playoffs]," Hunter said. "These guys came into Spring Training pumped up. A lot of things happened this year.
"We had a lot of obstacles to overcome. But we found something. We found some heart. We found some purpose and passion. And we showed it this series. We took care of one of the best teams in the East, and one of the best closers in the game."
Next up is another daunting task, taking on the Yankees, beginning Friday at New York.
The Angels hope their strong starting pitching carries over. But they know if they get into trouble, they have a track record of bouncing back.
"Obviously, the starting pitching has done a great job, and it will need to," right-hander Jered Weaver said. "The 'pen has done a great job as well. And we're putting runs up on the board.
"We aren't going to roll over. We know that. We found ourselves in a hole [in Game 3 at Boston], but the hitters were able to put some at-bats together, and we came back with a win."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.