Jered Weaver threw 7 1/3 brilliant innings, giving up one run and two hits. A pair of gnats, 5-foot-8, 170-pound Maicer Izturis and 5-10, 170-pound Erick Aybar, delivered a pair of humongous hits. The bullpen, a soft spot for a good chunk of the season, held firm.
This may be hard to fathom for Orange County baseball fans, but when the Angels arrive in Fenway Park this weekend, it will be the Boston Red Sox -- and not the visitors -- who have their backs against the Green Monster.
The Angels, playoff fodder for the Red Sox for so many years, pushed their October nemeses to the brink of elimination with a 4-1 Game 2 victory in Angel Stadium on Friday night to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-five American League division series.
Izturis broke a 1-1 tie with a two-out, run-scoring single in the seventh inning, and two batters later, Aybar smoked a two-run triple to center to cap a three-run rally against Boston starter Josh Beckett.
Relievers Darren Oliver, Kevin Jepsen and Brian Fuentes nailed down the final five outs, Fuentes earning his first playoff save.
Of the 35 teams that have taken 2-0 division series leads, 31 have gone on to win the series. Game 3 is Sunday in Boston.
“We know the challenge ahead of us,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “There’s only one thing that gives you command of a best-of-five series, and that’s when you win three games. We know what’s ahead of us. We’re going to have to play good baseball.”
They played near-perfect baseball Friday night, beginning with Weaver, who struck out seven, walked two and allowed only one runner past first base.
Like ace John Lackey the night before, Weaver received a rousing standing ovation when he departed in the eighth, waving his cap to the crowd and snapping his glove toward his parents, who were seated behind home plate.
Weaver, who mixed his fastball with slow curves and changeups, then sought out Lackey, who threw 7 1/3 shutout innings in Thursday night’s 5-0 victory, and thanked him for setting the tone.
“You can’t help but take some momentum from him,” Weaver said.
The Red Sox have no momentum, having hit .131 (eight for 61) and scored one run in the two games in Anaheim. They lost with their ace, Jon Lester, pitching Thursday night. They lost with Beckett, who has one of baseball’s best playoff pedigrees, Friday night.
But the Red Sox, who eliminated the Angels in the 2004, 2007 and 2008 division series, going 9-1 in those games, know a little something about resurrections.
They’re the only major league team that has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series, over the New York Yankees in the 2004 AL championship series.
“I’d rather not be down 0-2 because the team we’re playing is really good,” Boston Manager Terry Francona said. “But until they tell us to go home, we’ll take our team and keep going.”
Beckett, who hadn’t lost in the postseason since Game 3 of the 2003 World Series when he was with the Florida Marlins, matched Weaver through six innings, the score tied, 1-1.
Jacoby Ellsbury tripled and scored on Victor Martinez’s single in the top of the fourth for a 1-0 Boston lead, and Bobby Abreu singled, Vladimir Guerrero delivered a run-and-hit single, and Kendry Morales hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth to make it 1-1.
Then the Angels went into role-reversal mode in the seventh. Guerrero, the free-swinging slugger who’s rarely met a pitch he couldn’t hack at, drew a leadoff walk.
Pinch-runner Howie Kendrick stole second. Morales flied to left and Juan Rivera grounded out, but Izturis, who entered with a .370 average (10 for 27) against Beckett and a career .327 average with runners in scoring position, lined a run-scoring single to center.
Izturis stole second, and Mike Napoli took one for the team, stealing a page out of Cal State Fullerton’s playbook and letting a high breaking ball hit him in the left shoulder.
Beckett argued that Napoli made no attempt to get out of the way. Umpire CB Bucknor disagreed.
“It was a curveball that I didn’t think was going to hit him unless he leaned into it,” Beckett said. “But it doesn’t matter if the umpire won’t listen to you.”
Said Napoli: “I didn’t lean into it. I turned my body away to protect myself. I just didn’t get out of the way.”
Said center fielder Torii Hunter: “He took it like a champ.”
Napoli took first, and both runners scored when Aybar, not known for his power, ripped his triple far over the head of Ellsbury in center for a 4-1 lead.
“We’re like that,” Angels batting coach Mickey Hatcher said. “We’ll go 0-0-0 and then a four-spot, 0-0-0 and a three-spot. We have a tendency to break out one inning and feed off each other.”