Angels got more than just a win in Game 3

Walking underneath Angels Stadium an hour after the

game, I passed several Angels players as they strolled toward the

ballpark exit.

First, injured reliever Scot Shields, who told me his heart was still

pumping. Then, right fielder Bobby Abreu, who beamed as he explained

how the Angels did not quit. Finally, right-hander Ervin Santana, the

loser of Game 2 and winner of Game 3, who offered his usual shy smile

and said, “pretty nice.”

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This is what the Angels needed — not just a victory, but a catharsis.

Maybe now, after rallying from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Yankees in

11 innings, 5-4, the Angels finally will regain their confidence,

their mojo and everything else they had lost in the New York cold.

“I’m so excited right now,” center fielder Torii Hunter had said

earlier in the clubhouse, “I’m at a loss for words.”

Understand, the Angels still face difficult odds, trailing the

American League Championship Series, two games to one. But if Monday’s

victory does not liberate them, nothing will.

The Angels pressed for two games and a good part of a third,

committing fielding blunders, baserunning mistakes and various other

sins.

Now, they can breathe.

“It was like, ‘Yes, no, yes, no, YES!” left-hander Joe Saunders said,

moving his arm as if it were a rollercoaster to describe the wildly

shifting emotions.

No! Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon hitting solo shots to

give the Yankees a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning.

No! Hunter getting picked off first base, Abreu getting caught off

second, right-hander Kevin Jepsen allowing a game-tying homer by Jorge

Posada in the eighth.

No! The Angels failing to score off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in

the 10th after getting runners on first and third with none out.

Saunders said it was harder for him to watch Game 3 than it was for

him to pitch Game 2. But in the end, thanks to Jeff Mathis, a catcher

with a career batting/on-base/slugging line of .200-.277-.320, the

Angels finally produced an exclamation point of their own.

Manager Mike Scioscia considered hitting for Mathis in the 10th. He

considered using a pinch-runner after Mathis led off the inning with a

double. But Mathis runs fairly well. Scioscia loves his defense. And

there was one other thing.

“They had Mariano in the game,” Scioscia said. “So it’s going to be a

little different game the way you play it moving forward. If they have

Mariano still in the bullpen, and I think there’s definitely an

absolute sense of urgency, you better get it done then.”

Scioscia’s decision ultimately made little difference in the 10th; a

faster runner could not have done better than Mathis, who was forced

at home. And it’s a good thing Mathis was still around in the 11th —

all he did was hit a two-out double to deep left-center for the game-

winning hit.

Mathis had hit three doubles in two games only once before in his

career, in Aug. 2007. Now he has hit three doubles in extra innings of

two consecutive ALCS games. His walkoff hit scored Howie Kendrick

from first base with the winning run.

Ah, Kendrick, another unlikely hero. Once considered a future batting

champion, he was demoted to Class AAA earlier this season and now

shares second base with Maicer Izturis, usually starting only against

left-handers.

I asked Kendrick before the game how he would approach Yankees lefty

Andy Pettitte, against whom he was 4-for-16 lifetime. Kendrick said he

did not have a particular approach. He explained that because he was

batting seventh, he would watch how Pettitte worked other hitters,

then develop a game plan.

That turned out OK. Kendrick flied out in his first at-bat, then hit a

home run in the second, the first against the Yankees in six postseason games. Kendrick later produced two big hits against righties —

a one-out triple off Joba Chamberlain in the seventh and two-out

single off Alfredo Aceves in the 11th — and scored three of the

Angels’ five runs.

So many Angels contributed. Izturis hit a sacrifice fly to break a tie

in the seventh. Left-hander Darren Oliver pitched 1 2/3 scoreless

innings, buying time for the offense. The bullpen as a whole allowed

only one run in six innings. And then there was designated hitter

Vladimir Guerrero.

Is it too late for me to take back my suggestion for Scioscia to drop Guerrero from the cleanup spot?

Guerrero tied the score with a two-run homer off Pettitte in the

sixth. His shot followed a mound visit by Yankees manager Joe Girardi,

who presumably advised Pettitte not to throw an 89-

mph fastball down the middle on a 2-2 count.

Truth be told, Guerrero is still overmatched by good fastballs. Part

of the Angels’ problem, one player said, is that Hunter and others are

trying to do too much to compensate for their cleanup hitter’s

decline. Leadoff man Chone Figgins is 2-for-12, Kendry Morales 1-

for-13, Juan Rivera 1-for-13.

On the other hand, Abreu got his first two hits of the series Monday,

reaching in his final three plate appearances. Guerrero had a single

and a walk in addition to his homer. The bottom three spots in the

Angels’ order went a combined 7-for-13 with five extra-base hits and

three RBIs.

Maybe now everything changes.

This is what the Angels needed.

A victory. A catharsis. A start