A win for good measure
The Boston Red Sox brought their heavy lumber to Anaheim on Monday night, the dangerous middle-of-the-order tandem of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez lugging a combined 38 home runs and 140 runs batted in with them.
The Angels brought their measuring sticks.
Eager to see how they matched up against the team with the best record in baseball, the Angels chopped the Red Sox down to size, riding a superb start by Jered Weaver, an unexpected power boost from Maicer Izturis, some bend-but-don’t-break relief, and the aid of a controversial call to a 4-2 victory in Angel Stadium.
Justin Speier threw a scoreless seventh inning, Scot Shields survived a shaky eighth, giving up a leadoff walk and a single before retiring three straight, and Francisco Rodriguez, with a thunderous crowd of 44,142 on its feet, struck out Brandon Moss with two on to end the ninth for his 28th save.
“I’ve never been in a playoff game,” rookie catcher Jeff Mathis said, “but I assume that’s what it feels like right there.”
Many are predicting that the Angels, who pushed their American League West lead over Seattle to four games, and the Red Sox, whose AL East lead over the Yankees shrank to six games, their smallest margin since May 12, will meet again in October.
To have any chance of beating the Red Sox in the playoffs, the Angels will need to come through in the clutch as they did Monday, when they beat Boston for the first time this season.
The teams hadn’t met since April 16, when the Red Sox completed a three-game sweep in which they outscored the then-anemic Angels, 25-3, in Fenway Park. The Angels, as Manager Mike Scioscia noted, “are a better team now than when we faced them earlier in the year,” and they were itching to prove it.
“This will be a nice challenge, a good way to see if we can go all the way,” shortstop Orlando Cabrera said. “We need to step up against teams like this.”
One of the smallest among them, the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Izturis, who had all of two home runs this season, stepped up in a big way, stroking a Curt Schilling split-finger pitch over the short wall in right field to lead off the seventh, breaking a 2-2 tie.
“That’s the last thing Izzy is trying to do,” Scioscia said. “He’s got a little bit of pop. When it comes, it’s a welcome surprise.”
Mathis followed with a double to left, ending an 0-for-18 skid, and took third on Reggie Willits’ sacrifice bunt. Chone Figgins hit a sinking liner to Moss, who’d replaced Ramirez in left field after the slugger was ejected for arguing a check-swing third strike call in the fourth.
The ball hit Moss’ glove and bounced a few inches into the air. Mathis broke from third on initial contact and was on his way home while Moss bobbled and eventually secured the ball for the out.
Boston appealed, and home-plate umpire James Hoye correctly ruled Mathis safe, giving the Angels a 4-2 lead. According to Rule 2.00, runners may leave their base the instant the fielder touches the ball.
“I didn’t know it until I got into the dugout,” Mathis said. “I saw it hit his glove, and that’s when I took off.”
Hoye appeared to miss a call in the eighth, though, ruling Mathis caught Mike Lowell’s foul tip on Shields’ breaking ball in the dirt for strike three. Replays showed the ball hit the dirt.
“It was a huge relief to get the strikeout there with the game on the line,” Shields said.
Weaver didn’t get the win but gave up only two runs -- on Kevin Youkilis’ two-run homer in the third -- and six hits in six innings. Schilling, activated Monday after sitting out seven weeks because of shoulder tendinitis, gave up four runs and nine hits in six innings, including Casey Kotchman’s tying, two-run single in the fourth.
A superb play by Cabrera preserved that score in the fifth. With runners on first and third and two out, Ortiz hit a grounder off the glove of the diving Figgins at third. Cabrera scooped up the carom and threw to first for the out.