The Anaheim Angels evened the American League Championship Series by defeating the Minnesota Twins 6-3 at the Metrodome. The best-of-seven series now shifts to California, where the Angels will host the next three games.
The Angels bounced back from a 2-1 loss in game one by relying on their strengths. They used scrappy baserunning and a couple of home runs to build a lead. Then, when their starting pitcher began to fade, they shut down the Twins by turning to a group of relief pitchers that was the best in the American League this year, statistically. To Angels Manager Mike Scioscia the game demonstrated how his team is able to win.
"Tonight, we were able to do some things. I thought we ran the bases well early in the game. They opened the door for us a little bit for us, we took advantage of it. That's the type of baseball we have to play. We've been playing it all year," he said.
The Twins opened the door only after the Angels pushed on it for awhile. Three of Anaheim's six runs scored on their two homers. But the other three came during a second inning that illustrated the Angels' aggressive approach on the basepaths.
A single and two doubles had scored one run and put runners on second and third when Adam Kennedy came to bat with one out. Kennedy hit a meager tap back to the Twins' pitcher, Rick Reed. Instead of being conservative by staying at third base, Anaheim's Brad Fullmer gambled by trying to score on the play. The Angels lost that gamble when Reed threw to catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who tagged Fullmer out.
But the Angels kept pushing. As the runners took their leads off first and third, Reed threw to first base where Kennedy stumbled and fell. By the time he picked himself up off the carpet, first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz was charging toward him with the ball. Kennedy looked like a dead duck. Mientkiewicz says it was a ruse.
"He was picked off on purpose, I think," Mientkiewicz said.
On the pond a duck will sometimes cause a commotion to attract an intruder's attention while the brood sneaks off to safety. On the baseball diamond, Adam Kennedy played the duck while the Angels' Scott Spezio tried to score from the third. Manager Ron Gardenhire says the Twins saw what was up and tried to stop it but couldn't quite make the play.
"We thought they'd try to run there. We got everything right, we picked the guy off first. Dougy turned and threw home, but he threw it on the first base side of home and A.J. had to reach back and he ends up getting the ball kicked out," Gardenhire said.
Pierzynski was charged with an error but Mientkiewicz blamed his own poor throw. Minnesota made the fewest errors in the major leagues this year. Mientkiewicz says the Twins are confident good fielding can thwart additional baserunning ploys the Angels are likely to try in the remainder of the series.
"They've done it to us before, so we expect that. Nothing's going to surprise us. We understand they play the game aggressively and they're going to try to do things that other teams don't. But we feel that as defensively sound as we are, they're playing right into our hands and they're going to give us outs," he said.
By the sixth inning the Angels had built a 6-0 lead. When the Twins cut that lead in half, the Angels took out starting pitcher Ramon Ortiz and turned loose the league's top bullpen.
They used Brendan Donnelly first; then a 20-year-old phenom from Caracas named Francisco Rodriguez, and finally veteran Troy Percival, the team's all-time leader in saves.
Gardenhire says the Angels bullpen is as good as advertised. "Those guys all have different looks, great sliders. It's the first time we've seen the kid. Wow. The ball was jumping out of his hand. Then you've got Percival to end it up, that's pretty good. That's why they're where they're at. They did a number out there. And I thought we did pretty good. We had some good battles. We gave ourself a chance late. We made too many mistakes early but we had a chance. We had some runners on and we had some good opportunities."
The crowd of 55,990 broke the team record set during last week's first round series with the Oakland A's. In four consecutive innings the fans put up a roar as the Twins' leadoff batter reached base.
But three of those times the cheers faded as the runner was erased -- twice on double plays and once on a pickoff. The Twins actually had more hits in the game than the Angels but were not able to string them together as Anaheim did.
Thirdbaseman Corey Koskie acknowledged the double plays were discouraging. "Right when you think you've got something going, you've got the leadoff guy on. Then you double up and now you've got the third guy up and nobody on base now. So I was a little discouaged at not being able to put a couple together."
The series shifts to the West Coast. Games three through five are scheduled for Friday through Sunday in Anaheim.
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