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Angels’ Seventh Is Pure Heaven

Times Staff Writer

It was the middle of the eighth inning Friday, and Fenway Park, normally rollicking with 37,000 karaoke artists this time of night, was eerily quiet, practically lifeless.

Sweet Caroline had left the building.

Oh, they still played the Neil Diamond hit over the public address system as they do every night in the eighth, but about half of the sellout crowd was gone by then, and those who remained didn’t have their hearts, or vocal cords, in it.

That’s how deflated the Angels left Red Sox fans during an 8-3 victory that featured a six-run, seven-hit seventh inning and another breakout performance by rookie second baseman Howie Kendrick, who had three hits and three runs batted in.

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Garret Anderson added three hits, two of them in the seventh, and Kelvim Escobar allowed two runs and six hits and struck out eight in six innings, as the Angels moved a half-game ahead of Oakland and into sole possession of first place in the American League West for the first time since April 28.

“For him to control a lineup like that with eight strikeouts shows the kind of stuff he had,” Manager Mike Scioscia said of Escobar. “The Sox are going to keep coming at you, so you really have to keep pressing on your own side.”

Sox fans heard about Kendrick all winter when he was prominently mentioned in trade talks involving Manny Ramirez. Now, they know why the Angels were so reluctant to part with him.

Kendrick, playing his first game on Fenway’s hallowed grounds, hit a key two-run single in the seventh, turning a 3-2 Angels cushion into a 5-2 lead, the highlight of his third straight three-hit game. He is 14 for 29 (.483) with 10 RBIs in his last six games.

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“My first two at-bats I was overaggressive, swinging at pitches I normally don’t swing at,” Kendrick said. “As the game progressed, I took the crowd out of it and played the same game I always play.”

Escobar looked sharp despite waiting out a 2-hour 2-minute rain delay, blanking the Red Sox on one hit through four innings, but his prescription goggles began to fog up because of the steamy weather in the fifth, and he had to remove them.

Were Boston hitters worried about Escobar’s control?

“I don’t know,” Escobar said. “They should have been.”

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Escobar didn’t walk anyone in the fifth or sixth, but back-to-back doubles by Coco Crisp and Alex Gonzalez in the fifth and Ramirez’s sixth-inning RBI double gave Boston a 2-1 lead.

But the Angels offense, which produced nine hits and 10 runs in the second inning Wednesday at Tampa Bay, staged another monster rally to turn Escobar (7-9) from a potential loser into a winner.

Anderson and Tim Salmon opened with singles, and Mike Napoli grounded into a fielder’s choice. Robb Quinlan beat out a slow roller to third, Anderson scoring to make it 2-2.

Maicer Izturis doubled to left-center for a 3-2 lead, and Kendrick smacked reliever Manny Delcarmen’s first pitch to center for a two-run single and a 5-2 lead. RBI singles by Juan Rivera and Anderson made it 7-2.

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Kendrick’s RBI single in the eighth made it 8-2 and capped his smashing Fenway debut, one Angels rookie pitcher Jered Weaver hopes to match in today’s nationally televised game when he attempts to become the first rookie to win his first eight starts since Fernando Valenzuela did it for the Dodgers in 1981.

“I checked out the field in early batting practice; I saw the red seat where Ted Williams hit his bomb,” Weaver said, referring to the right-field bleacher seat where Williams’ 502-foot blast landed in 1946. “It’s cool for me. It’s kind of a dream come true to play on a field with such history.”

Scioscia called this Weaver’s biggest start of the season “because it’s his next start, not because he’s pitching in Fenway or the streak,” he said. “He’s just going to pitch his game.”


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