For once, their trip to Boston resulted in an enjoyable visit
Within minutes of their team’s stunning 7-6 victory over the Red Sox yesterday, a small crowd of ecstatic Los Angeles Angels fans gathered in the third base concourse in front of the door to the visiting clubhouse.
Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, and several other players emerged from the room and shared in the celebration. Manager Mike Scioscia came out and handed an unopened bottle of champagne to his wife, Anne, for safekeeping.
No visiting team had wrapped up a postseason series at Fenway Park since the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 Division Series. Red Sox fans leaving the park glanced at the scene in disbelief and largely without comment.
But one felt the need to shout some advice over his shoulder.
“Just beat the Yankees,’’ he said.
Today, the Angels must feel like that, and anything else, is possible.
Los Angeles trailed by two runs with two outs in the ninth inning, the bases empty and No. 9 hitter Erick Aybar down, 0 and 2, in the count against Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon. To that point, Papelbon had pitched 27 innings in the postseason without giving up a run.
“What was I thinking? I was thinking we were in big trouble,’’ said Angels center fielder Torii Hunter. “That’s about the worst situation you can be in, especially against a pitcher like Papelbon. I figured we would have to come back tomorrow and try again.’’
But Aybar kept the game going with a single. Then Figgins drew a walk, before Bobby Abreu doubled off the wall in left field, driving in one run. The Sox intentionally walked Hunter to get to Guerrero, a once-feared hitter who had driven in one run in his previous 19 postseason games.
Watching from a suite, Angels owner Arte Moreno was thrilled.
“I wanted it to get to Vladi,’’ he said. “Am I missing something? . . . That’s still Vladimir Guerrero.’’
Papelbon threw a fastball over the plate, the pitch the notoriously impatient Guerrero was looking for. He drove it into center field, two runs scored, and the Angels had the lead.
“I wanted to be aggressive,’’ Guerrero said through an interpreter. “He threw me a strike and I was able to hit it up the middle.’’
Once Brian Fuentes got three uneventful outs in the bottom of the inning, the Angels had the victory, a berth in the American League Championship Series, and redemption.
The Red Sox had eliminated the Angels in the Division Series in 2004, ’07, and ’08.
“Losing three series like that will give you some ghosts in the clubhouse,’’ Scioscia said. “There was a sense of purpose with these guys.’’
Figgins said: “You hate getting to the postseason and getting beat by the same team every year. It feels awful. When you go through stuff like that, it motivates you.’’
Guerrero, now 34, is a former Most Valuable Player and an eight-time All-Star whose bat has slowed with age and injuries. But Scioscia kept him hitting cleanup. Guerrero also had the faith of his teammates.
“I knew he could do it. He looked like a little kid when he got that hit. I was watching him and he had a big smile,’’ Hunter said. “He’s a Hall of Famer in my book. He’s had some tough times in the playoffs, but you can’t take away what he did today.’’
Guerrero said familiarity with Papelbon played a role in the victory. Counting the postseason, the Angels had faced the righthander 10 times in the last two years before yesterday.
“It definitely helps,’’ Guerrero said. “Because when you see a closer, usually you don’t see that many pitches. I knew what he was trying to do.’’
Moreno took off his expensive loafers and celebrated with his players in borrowed plastic sandals. As he spoke to reporters, several players dumped beer on his head. Scioscia had a quiet toast with his coaches in his office and outside the fans snapped photos as players popped out.
“Last year, I was punching holes in the wall here. Now we’re celebrating in the same place I was punching holes in,’’ Hunter said. “I’m so excited right now I can’t explain it.
“It’s not about revenge. But it feels good to beat this team and to dance on their field. I have a lot of respect for that team over there, but this was a long time coming for us.’’
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.