All season long, the Angels had been the standard-bearers of the American League.
They clinched the West with 18 games remaining to highlight their franchise-record 100-win season. They had a team built for the postseason, with a lineup manager Mike Scioscia said was one of the deepest and most versatile he had ever managed. They had a strong bullpen backed by closer Francisco Rodriguez, who set a major league record with 62 saves, and they even bolstered their offense with the midseason acquisition of Mark Teixeira.
All season long, the Angels could do no wrong.
But when the pages of the regular-season calendar turned to the postseason, it seemed, the Angels could do no right.
Until, that is, the Angels finally got it right last night.
After Scioscia defiantly proclaimed in a pregame press conference, "We're not getting eliminated tonight," the Angels backed up their manager's words by battling for 5 hours 19 minutes to keep their flickering postseason hopes alive. It took the Angels 12 innings to score a 5-4 victory over the Sox in Game 3 of the Division Series, which snapped their streak of playoff losses against Boston at 11, and, more importantly, prevented them from getting swept in the ALDS for the second year in a row.
"We felt we were going to play better," said Scioscia, who will send Game 1 starter John Lackey to the mound tonight against Jon Lester. "Although we had a miscue that cost us three runs, still we played a much better game. I feel good about that. That game was swinging on a heartbeat for most of the night."
Before each game at Angel Stadium, a video montage of the Angels is played on the huge screen in right field and is accompanied by Train's catchy anthem, "Calling All Angels." Last night, with his team on the brink of elimination, catcher Mike Napoli answered.
He belted a pair of home runs off Sox starter Josh Beckett to highlight a 3 for 5, 3-RBI effort. He also scored the go-ahead run in the 12th on shortstop Erick Aybar's single to center.
"I mean, it feels great," Napoli said. "It got us back in the ballgame, and kept us in the game. It's all we can ask for. We got some big hits and we came away with a victory."
After Jacoby Ellsbury cleared the bases in the second with a three-run blooper that fell in shallow center beyond the grasp of the converging trio of center fielder Torii Hunter, second baseman Howie Kendrick, and Aybar, Napoli tied it at 3 in the top of the third when he tagged a Beckett breaking ball on a 3-2 pitch for a two-run homer that sailed over the Monster seats.
"Hopefully, about a month from now, we'll talk about that 3-2 breaking ball that Nap hit off one of the toughest pitchers ever in a playoff environment," said Scioscia. "That was big at the time. It got us back in the game and, you know, it was not an easy pitch to hit.
"Beckett's tough, and he throws that 3-2 hook, and Mike stayed on him, and that was an impressive at-bat."
Napoli's first postseason home run snapped the Angels' playoff drought of 68 innings without a homer, dating to Orlando Cabrera's homer in the 2005 ALCS vs. the White Sox. Napoli's second homer, a solo shot into the Monster seats in the fifth off Beckett, tied the game at 4 and marked the third multihomer game of the 2008 playoffs, joining Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria and Philadelphia's Pat Burrell.
"I was going up there trying to give a tough at-bat and drive a ball," Napoli said of his first homer. "I got a couple pitches I could handle and put a good swing on it, and they happened to leave.
"Like we said, we're going to come out [tonight] and lay it on the line and keep going."