Saturday, October 4, 2008
K-Rod gets beat, but Angels still believe
By Eric Neel ESPN.com
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Sixty-two times, he had enough. Sixty-two times, Francisco Rodriguez, the all-time major league single-season record holder for saves, turned the opposition away when it mattered most.
Friday night just wasn't another one of those times.
On Friday night, with his Los Angeles Angels locked in a 5-5 tie with the Boston Red Sox in the top of the ninth inning, the indomitable K-Rod got beat.
He left a changeup high in the zone to J.D. Drew and paid the price. With pinch runner Coco Crisp on second base, Drew launched the ball high and deep to right-center field, just over the Angels' West Division Champions banner and into the first few rows of seats.
"I'll take that matchup any time," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said afterward. "He saved 62 games for this team."
"It's baseball," catcher Jeff Mathis said. "[Drew] put a bat on the ball. What happened happened."
Rodriguez is the symbol of the Angels' 100-win season, the face of the 2008 team, but he isn't the only one responsible for the fact that those 100 wins feel irrelevant right now. The team is heading to Boston in a 2-0 hole, gearing up to face Josh Beckett, one of the best postseason pitchers of the modern era, in a must-win situation because the players, as a group, didn't have enough to win Game 2 of the American League Division Series.
They came mighty close. Again and again.
Down 4-1 with two outs and the bases loaded in the first inning, right fielder Juan Rivera grounded out to shortstop. Down 5-2 with two outs and runners on first and third in the fourth inning, left fielder Garret Anderson struck out swinging. Down 5-3 with two outs and runners on first and third in the fifth inning, pinch hitter Kendry Morales popped up to third. Down 5-4 with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning, shortstop Erick Aybar struck out swinging.
Francisco Rodriguez, who allowed four home runs all season, gave up a go-ahead two-run home run to J.D. Drew.
As a group, the Angels were 3-for-14 with runners in scoring position in Game 2. As a group, they felt the game, and quite possibly the series, slip from their grasp. As a group, they felt the momentum building time after time, heard the crowd cheering and beating their ThunderStix, and believed they would have enough, as they had 100 times before. As a group, they came tantalizingly close to evening up this series.
"We had opportunities all the way through the game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We did a good job pressuring those guys. We just couldn't finish it off."
"It's tough to swallow," Hunter said, raising his voice in a hushed Angels postgame clubhouse. "I'm pissed. I don't want to lose. Not like that."
Hunter picked up two hits and drove in a run, but he undermined the Angels' efforts, too, dropping an easy fly ball off the bat of Boston first baseman Mark Kotsay in the seventh inning.
It was that kind of night.
"We win as a team and lose as a team," said Angels third baseman Chone Figgins, who collected his team's only extra-base hit so far in the series with a triple in the eighth inning and came around to score the team's fifth run. "Everybody did their part to win, and everybody did their part to lose, too."
Now, with the bitter taste of a near miss in their mouths, the Angels head back East to try to turn the series around. You couldn't blame them for cursing the gods who seemed to again and again show them the object of their desire Friday night only to deny them the last essential seeing-eye grounder, the crucial ball to the gap and, ultimately, the pitch that would have struck out Drew. You couldn't blame them for thinking there might be better luck, just enough good fortune, to make the difference next year.
But that wasn't the way they were playing it in the Angels' clubhouse just minutes after what might prove to be a crushing loss.
"This game ain't over until somebody wins three games," Scioscia said. "The [players] are down, [but] we go into Boston, win a game, and the pressure is back on them."
"We don't do anything different. We press on," middle reliever Scot Shields said. "We had the best record in baseball for a reason. We're confident in what we can do back there."
And no matter what Drew did Friday night, to a man, the Angels are sure the next time K-Rod takes the ball, they'll be talking about more than "almost." They'll be talking about save No. 63 and Game No. 4.
"Frankie, this guy is an incredible competitor," Scioscia said. "He'll bounce back. I know he will. We need him."
Eric Neel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine.