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Angels take rare ALDS lead over Sox
Angels take rare ALDS lead over Sox
By Mike Bauman
ANAHEIM -- A nice, deep, cleansing sigh of relief is in order for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and their dedicated fans.
The appropriate response to the Angels' triumph in Thursday's American League Division Series opener is probably not dancing in the streets, because they are still two victories away from winning anything of substance. But for once against the Boston Red Sox in the postseason, the Halos will not be headed uphill from the outset.
They cannot really relax at this juncture, but they also do not have to be totally tense, on edge, worried, nervous, agitated, anxious, or frazzled. They have taken a postseason series lead on the Red Sox for the first time in this century. The first building block of October success has been put in place.
In their last three postseason tries at the Red Sox, the Angels have lost the first two games of a best-of-five series every time. For a team whose style of play exemplifies the idea of excitement, these results have been deadening.
But here, in Angel Stadium, in October, 2009, they have given themselves a chance, with a 5-0 victory in Game 1 that was impressive in every facet. Game 2 on Friday night, holds more promise than dread for the Angels at this point. Beating the Red Sox won't get any easier, but it does seem to be more of a possibility.
The Angels will start Jered Weaver in Game 2. He has already clearly established his value to this team. In the early part of this season, Weaver's quality work was the one constant of the rotation. And, in the last three postseason series against Boston, the Halos' lone victory belongs to Weaver, last year in a relief appearance.
He was relaxed at his interview session on Thursday. Asked about his brother, Jeff, winning a decision in relief for the Dodgers on Wednesday, Weaver, who had been referred to as "Jeff" moments earlier, smiled and replied:
"Yeah, Jered did a good job. Everybody else likes to mess up the names, so I thought I'd have a little fun with it."
Jered Weaver will not have the weight of the world on his shoulders for Game 2 Friday night. Of course, there will be pressure. This one victory has not changed the nature of the contest. But he is following a success, not trying to be a solo savior for this club.
The Red Sox will counter with a man who has formed an imposing postseason reputation before the age of 30. Josh Beckett has been dominant in two postseasons; 2003 for the Marlins, and 2007 for the Red Sox. He wasn't dominant last October, because he wasn't completely healthy.
He is one of those pitchers who insists that he treats a postseason start as "just another game." But he did acknowledge on Thursday that there is one distinct difference.
"I think the focus is going to be there," Beckett said. "I think the extra adrenaline helps that. So I think everybody's a little more locked in, in the postseason."
That's undoubtedly true. But this is not a question of which team is more locked in, because what are the options when you play all year for the right to be here? Can you be locked out, as opposed to locked in? Can you be only partially locked in? No, that's not the difference. And this thing you always hear about "we wanted it more," is not an all-purpose answer, either. Everybody "wants it" because if you worked hard enough since mid-February to get this far, you obviously want to take the last three steps that get you to the top of the baseball world.
The problem that the Angels have had against the Red Sox isn't being sufficiently locked in, or "wanting it" enough. The problem that the Angels have had was much more basic: The Red Sox kept them from scoring. Over the last two Division Series, the Angels have scored less than 2.5 runs per game.
The Angels' hope was that this year's much-improved offense would overcome the Boston pitching and change the results. That's not all that happened on Thursday night, but what did happen was even better for the Angels.
They got a superb start from John Lackey, who had lost Game 1 starts in each of the last two Division Series. They got enough offense, primarily, from Torii Hunter's three-run homer in the fifth. They had some exceptional defensive plays. This was a complete game by the Angels, in the postseason, against the same guys who had been giving them fits.
Now, the immediate future beckons, Game 2 on Friday night and then a cross-country trip to New England; which for the Angels means a colder climate and a much less friendly environment. But the Angels, for the first time in the new millennium, lead a postseason series against the Red Sox.
"When you get the first one out of the way," Hunter said, "I'm not going to say it's easier, but it's refreshing."
Mr. Hunter, as always, made the right selection. The Angels had a refreshing performance, a refreshing result, and now a refreshing opportunity to win a Division Series against the Red Sox. They will get nothing for free against the Boston team, which has both the talent and the experience to win everything in the postseason for the third time in the last six Octobers. But the Angels, with a superb Game 1 performance, have put themselves in a promising position.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.