ANAHEIM, Calif. - "Stadium rats sent packing" was the front-page headline in a local paper yesterday, a resounding declaration that the Angels had eradicated a vermin problem that had surfaced publicly last summer.
That's not all that passes as good news around the Big A these days. The logical follow this morning is "Red Sox sent packing," a three-game sweep of the Sox this weekend sending a strong message that the Angels have made great inroads in eradicating a Sox problem that tends to surface in October.
With a 5-3, come-from-behind win against the Sox yesterday, Manny Delcarmen giving up a tie-breaking, two-run double to Casey Kotchman in the eighth after Tim Wakefield gave up back-to-back doubles to Juan Rivera and Howie Kendrick to start the inning, the Angels made it three straight games in which the Sox scored three runs or fewer.
"It seems like we never got a combination of good at-bats like they did," said Dustin Pedroia, the only Sox player to swing a hot bat all weekend, his three hits yesterday giving him seven in the series. "We're not going to win too many games scoring two, three runs with five, six hits.
"They had momentum in the eighth, and we haven't been doing that. Shoot, they get the big hit and keep adding on. They put that damn monkey on the board, and the place went nuts."
That would be the Rally Monkey, which has long since outlived the expiration date of similar gimmicks yet still puts a charge in the crowd, which yesterday was 44,164 strong. Angels fans were looking for a reason to come to life after right fielder Vladi Guerrero dropped Jacoby Ellsbury's two-out liner, allowing Coco Crisp, who had walked and stole second, to score the run that gave the Sox a 3-2 lead in the seventh.
Wakefield had kept the volume down with another superb start, limiting the damage to home runs on back-to-back pitches to Guerrero and Torii Hunter in the second. By his account, those were two of only three bad pitches he threw all afternoon. The third came after Rivera dumped a double into left field to open the eighth, and Kendrick hit a high knuckler into left field for the double that tied the score at 3.
Before the inning started, manager Terry Francona had closer Jonathan Papelbon up in the bullpen, primed for a multi-inning save if Wakefield faltered. But once the Angels tied the score, Francona turned to Delcarmen. Mike Mathis bunted Kendrick to third, and Delcarmen just missed outside on a 3-and-2 fastball to Chone Figgins. That brought Kotchman to the plate, and while he swings from the left side, Francona said he wasn't thinking of summoning lefthander Hideki Okajima because Kotchman had two hits in five previous at-bats against Okajima, including a home run, and overall has been hitting lefties better than righties.
Delcarmen said he had a terrific changeup while warming up in the bullpen. Unfortunately for the Sox, he left it there, hanging a high changeup that Kotchman whacked into the right-field corner, allowing two runs to score. "Not a good way to start the second half," Delcarmen said.
Francisco Rodriguez overpowered the Sox in the ninth, striking out the side for his 40th save, a number he has reached faster than any reliever ever (98 team games). Papelbon, meanwhile, never got out of the pen in three games.
The Angels finished the weekend with their first series sweep of the Sox since 2001, and now have won five of six overall against Boston, with three games yet to be played at Fenway Park next week.
"Regardless of what the score is, we're playing a very good team," Francona said. "We had a lead and didn't hold it. These are the types of games you've got to win."
The Sox, with Tampa Bay losing yesterday, remained 1 1/2 games behind the Rays, but now are just three games ahead of the third-place Yankees (two in the loss column), with the Bombers paying a visit this weekend after the Sox finish this West Coast swing with three games against Seattle. Perhaps playing the last-place Mariners will bring an end to the road blues that have once again appeared with a vengeance, the Sox now 2-10 in their last dozen road games, 21-32 overall.
"We'll be all right," said Pedroia, who is immune from whatever infestation plagues the Sox on the road, having hit in his last 21 games away from Yawkey Way.
"It's a long year. We have 60-something  games left. We need to find our way, and find it fast, because that's what the season is about."
They couldn't find it soon enough for Wakefield, who hasn't won on the road since shutting out the Tigers on two hits over eight innings May 6.
Guerrero has long been a Wakefield nemesis - of Guerrero's eight hits off the knuckleballer, five have been home runs - but once again Wakefield pitched splendidly (no walks for the third time in 20 starts this season), but was left to wonder how he is just 6-7 despite a 3.69 ERA.
"It's not easy, not fun," Wakefield said. "Obviously we play very good at home but it hasn't been happening on the road.
"Why? I have no idea."