- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

ANAHEIM, Calif. | At the end of 11 dramatic innings, nearly four and a half hours of playoff baseball tension and - at last - a victory over the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels weren’t so much in the mood to celebrate as they were to take a nap.

“It was an emotional roller coaster, man,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “We were up. We were down. We were pissed off one inning and then happy the next. I don’t want to go through that again. I’m losing my hair.”

The way this American League Championship Series is going, Hunter may have no choice but to invest in Rogaine by week’s end. As thrilling as Games 1 through 3 have been, no one would be surprised if those that follow surpass them in the drama department.

The Angels’ 5-4 victory in Monday’s Game 3 was merely the latest chapter in an already fascinating novel. In surviving a wild, back-and-forth ballgame that featured all sorts of twists and turns and strategic decisions, Los Angeles avoided falling into a devastating 3-0 hole and seized momentum away from the Yankees, who looked invincible for nearly two weeks.

“That was a heck of a ballgame this afternoon,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

Less than 48 hours removed from a 13-inning New York victory, Game 3 perhaps surpassed its predecessor in intrigue and mood swings. The Yankees stormed to a 3-0 lead on homers by Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon. The Angels rallied to tie on Vladimir Guerrero’s first postseason homer in five years, then took the lead on Howie Kendrick’s triple and Maicer Izturis’ sacrifice fly in the seventh. But before the crowd of 44,911 could rejoice fully, Jorge Posada homered to tie the score again and ultimately send it to a dramatic conclusion in extra innings.

The winning hit came at last in the 11th, courtesy of Jeff Mathis, Los Angeles’ backup catcher who roped a two-out double to left-center to bring Kendrick all the way around from first and set off a mad celebration at the plate.

“The biggest hit of my life,” said Mathis, a career .200 hitter who had only one other RBI in seven previous postseason appearances.

The Mathis double, though, was merely the final cherry on top of a gooey, chocolate sundae of a ballgame that even the losers had to appreciate.

“This is what baseball’s about,” Damon said. “The viewing audience is definitely getting their money’s worth. These are two very good teams going at it.”

Winners in each of their first five games this postseason, the Yankees did everything they could to try to extend the streak to six. Manager Joe Girardi used seven relievers and all but two players off his bench. He even forfeited his designated hitter, moving Jerry Hairston out of the role to replace Damon in left field in the 10th and leaving (for a moment) closer Mariano Rivera as his No. 2 hitter.

The afternoon’s final innings also featured the Angels’ Bobby Abreu straying too far off second base on a double and getting tagged out by first baseman Mark Teixeira, Angels closer Brian Fuentes intentionally walking Rodriguez with two outs and nobody on in the ninth and Rivera making a poor throw on a sacrifice bunt in the 10th but then wriggling his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam.

“There was a lot of great baseball on that field this afternoon,” Scioscia said. “I think there were a lot of twists and turns, and both teams played a terrific game. There were a lot of little things that were really interesting if you’re really into the game of baseball.”

The defining moment came in the 11th from some unlikely sources. Kendrick, a one-time starter who earlier this year was demoted to the minors and now finds himself platooning at second base, delivered a two-out single off Alfredo Aceves to ignite the rally. Mathis, who entered in the eighth and produced a leadoff double in the 10th only later to get forced out at the plate, then drilled a shot to the gap in left-center. Kendrick came sprinting around and slid in with the winning run.

“Everybody on this team, I mean, day in and day out, it’s somebody new,” Kendrick said. “It just shows the depth we have. We believe in everybody.”

And just like that, the Angels suddenly may have won over a legion of believers who figured the outcome of this ALCS had already been written.

“It’s a booster, man,” Hunter said. “We definitely feel that we can try to ride this wave and keep going. Hopefully we can take another one tomorrow.”

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