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Friday, October 5, 2007
Updated: October 6, 6:27 PM ET
Until Manny homers, Angels make all the right moves

By Howard Bryant
ESPN.com

BOSTON -- Throughout a strange Friday evening, it appeared the Los Angeles Angels finally had found themselves at Fenway Park, a place that has been nothing but unkind, especially in the postseason.

AL DIVISION SERIES

Angels-Red Sox
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Early, they had rediscovered their running style, scampering around the bases, chasing Boston's heralded but uneven starter Daisuke Matsuzaka for three runs in the third inning, finally knocking Matsuzaka out with two outs in the fifth. Their starting pitcher, Kelvim Escobar, struggled early by giving up a pair of runs in the first inning, and appeared doomed to the unhealthy fate of his teammate, John Lackey days earlier. But Escobar then recovered, was dominant and was even given a lead.

A kid in the stands made one of the critical plays of the evening to that point, stealing an out from Angels catcher Jeff Mathis, which prolonged an inning and led to a Boston run. Coco Crisp, the Red Sox center fielder, straddled second base on a fly out in the sixth, yet forgot to retag the base as he ran back to first for an inning-ending double play.

Vladimir Guerrero
Vladimir Guerrero is one of many frustrated Angels players.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia managed desperately and effectively -- pinch hitting for Mathis in the middle of his eighth-inning at-bat -- putting the Angels in numerous positions to take control of a critical game.

Yet for all of its lack of convention, and the appearance that the Angels had found the way to put some life into what felt like an inevitable division series victory for the Red Sox, the game ended all too predictably. The Angels suffered a second consecutive beatdown at Fenway, this time losing 6-3 on a booming, game-ending three-run homer by Manny Ramirez in the bottom of the ninth off Francisco Rodriguez, the Angels' dominant -- but against Boston, vulnerable -- closer.

Because of Ramirez, the Angels are again on the edge of winter. And for the second time in four years, it's coming at the hands of the Red Sox, whose mastery of them is beginning to resemble an epidemic. The Red Sox needed four hours to beat the Angels, but beat them they did, for the 18th time in 26 tries at Fenway Park. They've beaten the Angels eight straight in the postseason, dating back to 1986, and the Angels have not yet seemed to find the way to counter.

That the game ended with a Ramirez home run -- Scioscia ordered Rodriguez to walk dangerous David Ortiz, which brought Ramirez to the plate -- was fitting, for it underscored the fundamental difference between these two teams. The Red Sox, when all else fails, can end the game with one swing of the bat, and the Angels cannot.

It feels great, man. It's been a long time I don't do something special like that. But I haven't been right all year long. But when you don't feel good and you still get hits, that's when you know you are a bad man.

--Manny Ramirez

And therein lies the difference, looking even more likely now to be a fatal one.

"I think part of the reason [Ramirez] got a chance to swing was because David's such a good hitter and such a clutch hitter," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "It's hard to let David beat you, but Manny's such a good hitter behind him, he made them pay."

The showdown took place in the ninth inning. An inning earlier, in the eighth, with the score tied 3-3, the Angels put runners on second and third against Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon, who struck out Chone Figgins to end the inning.

With one out in the ninth, after Julio Lugo led off the inning with a single off Justin Speier, Scioscia called on Rodriguez. After walking Ortiz, Rodriguez threw his fateful 1-0 pitch to Ramirez, then skulked off the mound while Ramirez stood for an eternity at home plate, both arms over head, as the ball sailed onto Lansdowne Street, and the frenzy commenced.

"You know, I got a lot of confidence in myself. He's one of the greatest closers in the game, and I'm one of the best hitters in the game," Ramirez said. "He missed his spot, and that's it.

"It feels great, man. It's been a long time I don't do something special like that. But I haven't been right all year long. But when you don't feel good and you still get hits, that's when you know you are a bad man."

The Angels did not wilt, and going home to Anaheim Stadium might be the elixir they desperately need. But despite their toughness, they nevertheless paid dearly for their lack of punch. By the end, they needed a MASH unit. Vladimir Guerrero left the game in the eighth inning with a bruise on his left shoulder where he was hit by a Manny Delcarmen pitch in the seventh. The Angels were already without Gary Matthews Jr., and left fielder Garret Anderson, suffering from conjunctivitis in his right eye, literally is playing with one eye open.

Manny Ramirez
All the cheers are for Manny Ramirez after his game-winning three-run homer.

Off Matsuzaka, L.A. punched in three runs on six hits in four innings, which included three doubles and a stolen base, all Angels trademarks.

Escobar struck out two in the second and two in the third, then froze Lugo to end the fourth, outpitching Matsuzaka.

With a 3-2 lead, the Angels did not have a hit past the fifth inning. The only baserunners came on a Casey Kotchman walk in the fifth, Delcarmen hitting Guerrero in the seventh, an error by Mike Lowell on a Howie Kendrick grounder and a Papelbon walk of Juan Rivera in the eighth. Los Angeles finished 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox stayed close and foreboding, and it is here that although Matsuzaka was not great, or even particularly good, he did not collapse, which is the mark of an ace. Scioscia would not allow Ortiz to beat him, walking him four times after Ortiz singled in the first, creating the kind of game in which one blast could make the difference. And it did.

"That's the way you play the game," Francona said. "That's why you want to have as many good hitters as you can, so they can't pitch around people."

Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.