Angels' approach satisfies Scioscia
Supporting cast applies Teixeira's patience in Game 3 win
BOSTON -- The raw numbers are still far from impressive, but Angels manager Mike Scioscia saw positive signs on Sunday night in the way his hitters approached situations with runners in scoring position.
The Halos were only 3-for-14 with men on second and/or third base in Game 3 of the American League Division Series at Fenway Park on Sunday night, but two of those hits changed the game and extended the Angels' season for at least another night. In Monday's Game 4, featuring the Angels' John Lackey and the Red Sox's Jon Lester in a rematch of Game 1, the Halos would be intent on improving their .200 average (7-for-35) with men in scoring position.
"I think it started in Game 2," Scioscia said. "I think we had tougher at-bats [in the 7-5 loss at Angel Stadium]. We made them make better pitches, and to the Red Sox's credit, they did.
"Last night, I think we definitely had good at-bats, although statistically, it's not going to show up. That's what we need to do. We're not built around the home run, so when guys get in scoring position, we need to run the bases well to create opportunities, and we need to swing the bats and have good at-bats.
"I think that's hopefully going to be a positive for us moving forward in the next couple of games."
If that suggests Scioscia is optimistic about taking the series back to Anaheim for a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday, he stopped short of making any guarantees. He created something of a stir on Monday when he said his team "was not getting eliminated" in Game 3 in response to a question comparing the Angels to the Cubs, who were swept by the Dodgers in their National League Division Series.
Always pragmatic with a hint of the contrarian, Scioscia would have to admit that the most memorable of his club's three Game 3 hits with runners in scoring position was the rocket that Mike Napoli launched off the left-field light tower after a double by Vladimir Guerrero in the third inning. The home run tied at 3 a Game 3 the Angels eventually claimed in 12 innings.
Equally important was Erick Aybar's first hit of the postseason on an 0-2 pitch in the top of the 12th with Napoli on second, having singled and moved up on Howie Kendrick's sacrifice.
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Scioscia admitted he thought about having Robb Quinlan pinch-hit for Aybar but decided his shortstop -- 0-for-13 in the series at the time -- would match up well against southpaw Javier Lopez. Scioscia's gut impulse was right on the money.
With Napoli, Kendrick and Aybar -- the bottom third of the order -- combining for six Game 3 hits and four of their club's five RBIs, the Angels sense they've recaptured their offensive depth in the nick of time.
"We were a little too amped up in Anaheim," said Napoli, whose performance -- two homers, three RBIs, three runs scored, catching all 12 innings -- ranked with the best individual efforts in franchise history. "I think we've calmed down now and are just playing the game."
Napoli's eruption was an extension of the way he hit throughout September, when he was as hot as any hitter in the game.
"We talked about things that got Nap in the groove he's been in, squaring balls up," hitting coach Mickey Hatcher said. "I could see today he was a little more relaxed. When he got a walk [forcing home a run] in Game 2, he was seeing the ball well, and I think it helped give him back his confidence. He put a nice, controlled swing on the ball in this game. He's so strong, he gets a lot of carry. You saw that with the home runs."
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Napoli's first homer ended a 68-inning postseason homerless drought for the Angels, who entered Game 4 with only five extra-base hits in the series, compared to the Red Sox's 11.
The Angels' .353 on-base percentage was superior to the Red Sox's .336. No club gets in more favorable hitting counts than the defending World Series champions, whose regular-season on-base percentage was .358, compared to the Angels' .330.
The Halos also entered Game 4 having outhit the Red Sox, .293 to .246. The issue in recent years with the Angels has been patience and discipline. They've drawn only three fewer walks than the Red Sox in the series, indicating special attention to quality at-bats.
"We've talked a lot about that," Torii Hunter said. "In the postseason, every pitch -- every at-bat -- counts. You can't give away at-bats. They're too important."
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Mark Teixeira has had a significant influence on teammates who have studied his patient approach. With one of the best eyes in the game, he has a knack for maneuvering himself into good counts.
"I watch Mark closely," said Kendrick. "He won't swing at a pitcher's pitch, and that usually puts him in good counts. He'll swing at a pitch early in a count if it's where he wants it. If it's not, he'll let it go."
Kendrick's adrenaline was his enemy in the first two games in Anaheim, where he flailed away at sliders outside the strike zone.
In Game 3, Kendrick was back in his comfort zone. He lashed his first two hits of the series, staying back, getting a good look at the ball and driving it hard.
"I thought Howie had great at-bats," Hatcher said. "I was really pleased with how the guys reacted to Howie after that ball fell in between him and Torii [for three runs]. They were patting him on the back, telling him there was a lot of baseball left to be played."
Hunter made Kendrick his protégé the first day of Spring Training, and they stayed close all season.
"This guy is a born hitter," Hunter said. "It's good to see Howie relax and do what he can do."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.