Torii Hunter, who pumps blood into the Angels' collective body every day with his spirit and words, was determined not to let his American League West champions capsize as they prepared for Game 2 of the AL Division Series on Friday night at Angel Stadium.
Looking to seize a commanding lead on Friday after claiming Game 1, the Red Sox couldn't help but be supremely confident. They've taken the measure of the Angels a record-tying 10 consecutive times in postseason play -- a trend that disturbs Hunter more than somewhat.
"You know what the Red Sox have done?" Hunter said before the Angels sent All-Star right-hander Ervin Santana out against 18-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 2. "Last year, they won the World Series; they're the champs, and we know that. But we also are professionals and competitors, and, yeah, you give them their respect. At the same time, I'm trying to break that respect. I'm trying to take that crown off your head.
"So you can't give a team too much respect. Because if you give them too much respect, you get laid back and you're like, 'Oh, they're the Red Sox -- they're the champions.'
"Forget that. You've got to come ready to play and bring that dog with you."
Hunter had two of the Angels' nine hits in Game 1, driving in their lone run. Looking to generate more power after collecting no extra-base hits against starter Jon Lester and two Red Sox relievers, Angels manager Mike Scioscia inserted Juan Rivera into the lineup in right field for Game 2, batting him sixth, between Hunter and Howie Kendrick.
In taking the final eight regular-season meetings with the Red Sox, the Angels scored 55 runs, an average of 6.9 per game. Yet the Angels have manufactured only five runs (four earned) in their past four playoff games against the Sox.
Finally fully recovered from a broken left leg he suffered after the 2006 season, Rivera enjoyed a big second half this year, producing nine homers and 34 RBIs in 170 at-bats. That would translate to about 30 homers and 100 RBIs over a normal full season of plate appearances.
GAME 2: JUST THE FACTS
|Red Sox starter: RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka|
|2008: 18-3, 2.90 ERA|
|2008 on road: 9-0, 2.37 ERA|
|2008 vs. Angels: 0-1, 10.80 ERA|
|Career vs. Angels: 0-1, 10.80 ERA|
|Career postseason: 2-1, 5.03 ERA (four starts)|
|Angels starter: RHP Ervin Santana|
|2008: 16-7, 3.49 ERA|
|2008 at home: 5-5, 4.03 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: Did not face BOS|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 1-2, 5.73 ERA|
|Career postseason: 1-1, 6.17 ERA (one start, two relief appearances)|
|Red Sox lead series, 1-0. Boston has beaten the Halos 10 consecutive times in the postseason, matching the longest stretch of playoff victories by one team over another.|
|Game 1: Red Sox 4, Angels 1|
|Did You Know? The last time the Angels beat the Red Sox in October was in 1986.|
Scioscia had left-handed options against Matsuzaka -- switch-hitters Gary Matthews Jr., Kendry Morales and Reggie Willits -- but he opted for Rivera's right-handed muscle. Rivera is a career .284 hitter against both right-handers and lefties, and he has hit righties better (.253) than southpaws (.233) this season.
"Juan's a bat that we wanted to see how it would match up [against Matsuzaka]," Scioscia said. "He's driving the ball well in the second half. Some years, he's hit righties better than lefties. He's a good hitter. He's swung well in past playoff situations."
Rivera is a .333 career hitter in 18 Division Series games. He's 1-for-11 (.091) in League Championship Series play and 1-for-6 (.167) in World Series competition.
"Juan can rake," Hunter said. "We're going to be aggressive and take our hacks if it's in the zone. We can't be timid. You can't play this game scared. We need to go out and play our game."
Like Hunter, his center fielder, Scioscia wants to see the assertive, confident Angels who punished the Red Sox in the regular season show up -- quickly.
"Some guys maybe tried to do too much [in Game 1]," Scioscia said. "If you can line a pitch up the middle, you can't get psyched up because it's the playoffs and hit it over the left-field fence. It doesn't work that way.
"The best way to define [attitude] is to understand situations, what you need to do -- just execute. You have to stay in your game."
Scioscia likes a good baseball movie such as "The Natural" as much as the next guy, but he doesn't believe in magical bats and mystical forces.
In a 10-game streak dating to the fateful Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS -- Scioscia jokingly claims that his current players "were in diapers" at the time -- the Red Sox have handled the Angels in October with fundamental excellence and performance under pressure, not some sort of divine power.
"There's no mystique about it," Scioscia said. "They've played better baseball than we have in playoff environments head to head. In '04, they took it to us [with an ALDS sweep] ... and last year, they took it to us.
"We need to play better on the field. They're a terrific ballclub, and we're a terrific ballclub. The bottom line is to bring it on the field, and it's a shame if we don't bring it, because if you bring it on the field and the other team teats you, it's easy to turn the page and say, 'Hey, congratulations.'
"But if you don't bring it to the level you need to and you lose the series, that's tough to swallow. We're a good team. One win puts the ball back in the other team's court, and that's what we're focused on doing."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less