BOSTON – Torii Hunter emerged from the visitors’ clubhouse at Fenway Park to spray champagne over the fans and family gathered there. Erick Aybar did him one better, handing over bottles of bubbly to those who came from California to see the Los Angeles Angels go for the sweep.
History gave no reason to hope for such a celebration.
The Angels and Vladimir Guerrero shrugged off their postseason failures and swept away the Red Sox on Sunday, scoring three runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning to beat Boston, 7-6, and advance to the AL Championship Series.
It was the first postseason sweep in Angels franchise history. And they did it against the team that has knocked them out of the playoffs the previous four times they met.
“I told you guys earlier: It’s going to be a different scene,” Hunter said in the clubhouse afterward. “Vladdy came through. That’s probably one of the biggest hits of his career.”
Papelbon was one strike away from extending the series with three different batters, but Aybar singled on a two-strike pitch, Chone Figgins walked after fouling off a full-count offering, and Bobby Abreu fouled off three pitches before doubling in a run.
Hunter was walked intentionally before Guerrero singled to center on the first pitch. Figgins and Abreu raced home to give Los Angeles a 7-6 lead. Major league saves leader Brian Fuentes pitched the ninth, and when Aybar caught Dustin Pedroia’s popup to end the game, pumping his right arm even as he tracked the ball with his left, the Angels advanced.
“It’s nice to be going home and playing again, instead of going home and it’s over,” said pitcher John Lackey, who was part of the Angels teams that were eliminated by Boston three times in the previous five years.
An eight-time All-Star and former AL MVP, Guerrero has a .321 career batting average, 407 regular-season homers and 1,318 RBI. But he’d managed only one extra-base hit in 69 at-bats going into Game 3, and he had one RBI in 19 playoff games since his grand slam against Boston in the 2004 Division Series. And he came through against Papelbon, who had never before allowed a run in 27 postseason innings.
“You’re not going to get to him too often. But we did this afternoon,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “And I felt great for Vlad. Hopefully, that’s a momentum-builder for him.”
For the AL West champion Angels, it was a chance to extend their tribute to pitcher Nick Adenhart, who was killed in an April car crash with a man who has been charged with drunken driving. As they streamed out of the dugout to celebrate, Game 2 winner Jered Weaver carried Adenhart’s jersey onto the field.
“When it comes down to honoring Nick Adenhart, and what happened in April in Anaheim, yes, it probably was the biggest hit” of his career, Guerrero said. “Because I’m dedicating that to a former teammate, a guy that passed away.”
The Angels open their first ALCS since 2005 on Friday against the New York Yankees, who finished off Minnesota on Sunday night in three games.
“We’re finally here,” said Angels owner Arte Moreno, who bought the team in 2003, a year after they won their only World Series. “I think that the fourth time’s a charm. It’s great for us, because we’ve been knocking on the door for a while.”
Los Angeles trailed 5-1 early, was behind 5-2 after seven innings and still down 6-4 when Papelbon retired the first two batters of the ninth.
The crowd that just one inning earlier had been primed for a celebration quietly filed out of the ballpark for the last time in 2009, having seen the wild-card Red Sox beaten.
“The season doesn’t wind down. It just comes to a crashing halt,” Boston manager Terry Francona said.
The Red Sox had won 12 of 13 postseason games against the Angels heading into the series, including an 11-game winning streak.