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Halos making Sox taste own medicine
Halos making Sox taste own medicine
By Mike Bauman
BOSTON -- For this postseason matchup, the situation is unique and new. For the Boston Red Sox, it's almost a day at the October office.
The Angels and the Red Sox have changed postseason places. Boston, which bounced the Halos from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, is trailing in the American League Division Series by two games. After winning one game over three postseason series against the Sox, the Angels have won twice that many in two nights.
Now the scene shifts to Fenway Park for Game 3 on Sunday. The two primary questions to be answered are: How do the Red Sox deal with adversity and how do the Angels deal with prosperity?
The only good thing about this deficit for the Boston Red Sox is that they've been down before and have lived to tell about it. This club has specialized in postseason comebacks.
The most storied would be the unprecedented climb back from a three-game deficit in the 2004 AL Championship Series. It was history-making and it was against the Yankees. It led to Boston's first World Series championship in 86 years. It could not have been any bigger.
There are only four members of the current Red Sox roster who were on the 2004 team, but that performance will always remain in the franchise's collective memory bank. Perhaps the more immediately helpful example is the 2007 ALCS, when the Red Sox trailed the Indians, three games to one. The Red Sox ran off three straight against the Indians, and four more against the Colorado Rockies to become the only team this century with two World Series championships. The majority of the players on the current roster were on that team, so they know firsthand how this can be done.
Those two examples don't hit any home runs, throw any strikes, or turn any double plays. But they serve as clear evidence that no postseason deficit is too large for a talented and determined group. The Red Sox have qualified in both categories. Does that help?
0-2 Division Series deficits
Only four teams have come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a Division Series, all of them from the American League.
"I think it does to a certain extent," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said Saturday. "The first two games didn't really go very well this series for us. But, you know, we're still here. We're at home. we play a lot better at home.
"We need to come out and swing the bats better and just play better. If we do that, try to win each inning. We have to go back to the basics and try to find a way to win a game.
"I remember in '07 we were down 3-1 against Cleveland. It was the worst feeling ever. You had that kind of same feeling now obviously. You have that terrible feeling in your stomach that you don't want the season to end. We know we have a great team. We just haven't played well the first two games. So we just have to go out there and kind of (take) baby steps. You have to try to win every inning, win every pitch, and hopefully that leads to games."
What was the Red Sox's strategy when they were down in the postseason? The same one they will use now.
"Our strategy is that we need to win a game," manager Terry Francona said.
This was exactly the way he and his team dealt with the three-game deficit against the Yankees. Their focus was totally upon what was directly in front of them and nothing more.
Fenway can be one of the biggest home-field advantages in baseball. It's a quirky park and a wildly enthusiastic fan base is right on top of the action in more ways than one. That can't hurt, either.
"First and foremost, this is an intimidating place to play," left fielder Jason Bay said. "You come in here, the atmosphere, crowds, what have you. That gives us a little bit of an advantage. And everybody, I mean leaguewide, plays better at home. I don't know what it is. But for us it's kind of a comfort level. That's something we battled all year, really. We've really played well at home. Tried to manage on the road. I don't think there's one specific thing. Guys are more comfortable, and you can feel it when we get here."
The Angels face one or two games here. With the three postseason series losses to the Red Sox not entirely erased from their minds, it seems reasonable to expect that the Angels aren't going to become smug or complacent.
In Anaheim, they won with superb pitching, timely hitting, solid defense. In other words, they had it all working. Now they have to take that quality all the way to New England.
And conventional wisdom -- often the worst sort of wisdom -- gives them the edge in the pitching matchup in Game 3. Then again, conventional wisdom gave the Red Sox the edge in the pitching matchups in both Games 1 and 2, and you saw how that went.
Here, Boston will start Clay Buchholz, a young pitcher with indisputable talent and a big league no-hitter already on his record. But this will be his first postseason start.
The Angels, meanwhile, start Scott Kazmir, who pitched very well for the Angels down the stretch after a rocky first half with Tampa Bay. He has typically pitched well in Fenway Park (6-4 with a 3.05 ERA, remarkable for a left-hander.)
"I like the atmosphere," Kazmir said of pitching at Fenway. "It feels like I love being on the big stage. I really just get amped up for games like that where you have a crowd just all over you and just kind of just in a territory that you're really not comfortable in. I really like being in that stage."
If that's what works for you, go with it. The Red Sox go home, but they have to deal with adversity. This is not a new deal for them, but it's never easy. The Angels, meanwhile, after three disappointing postseasons against Boston, have to deal with the October equivalent of prosperity -- a two-game lead in a best-of-five series.
If the Angels continue to pitch like they did in the first two games, they'll win this series and two more this autumn. But first they need to find one more victory against a Red Sox team that has been very good at playing with desperation.
Mike Bauman is national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.