|Francisco Rodriguez reacts after getting Mike Lowell to pop up for the final out. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Reuters)|
ANAHEIM, Calif. - I want to take the Angels seriously. I want to believe they can challenge the Red Sox should they meet again in October.
But it's hard to get into a lather about a threat from California. Memories of past Octobers keep flashing through my mind. When I close my eyes I see Angels who never got into hardball heaven while playing the Red Sox in the postseason.
The Angels beat the Sox again yesterday, rallying for four runs off Josh Beckett in the seventh inning. Los Angeles leads the American League West by eight games, and owns the best record in baseball (59-38). The Angels have beaten the Red Sox four times in five meetings in 2008.
So why is this not a matter of concern in Red Sox Nation?
Because the Angels can't beat the Red Sox in October, that's why.
The great Francisco Rodriguez came on to smother the Red Sox in the ninth inning yesterday, picking up his 39th save by getting Manny Ramírez and Mike Lowell to pop up with two. Rodriguez has a championship ring in his pocket and is threatening to shatter the all-time save mark. But we know if this had been the playoffs, Manny would have been standing at home plate, flipping his bat, raising his arms like Arthur Fielder on the Esplanade, and admiring his home run off K-Rod.
That's just what happens when these two meet in the really big games.
In 2004 and again last year, the Sox started championship runs by sweeping the team from Anaheim. Last autumn was particularly embarrassing for the Halos. Boston outscored Los Angeles, 19-4, over three games, finishing with a 9-1 clincher here in the Big A. Curt Schilling blanked the Angels for seven innings with a high school fastball. The wounded, weakened Californians failed to hit a home run in 99 at-bats in the series.
"They kicked our butts last year," said the Angels estimable manager, Mike Scioscia, after yesterday's 4-2 win. "We didn't play well. We played poor baseball. They played great baseball and took it to us. Without taking anything away from the Red Sox, I feel like our team didn't represent as well as we could. Hopefully, we'll keep moving forward and reach our goals this year."
It's always easy to make a case for the Angels. They play aggressively, forcing rival defenses into mistakes. They have a flexible roster of seasoned professionals. They can field two starting outfields. They have a team ERA significantly south of 4.00 and sent three pitchers to the All-Star Game, including Rodriguez. They are 37-19 in games decided by two runs or fewer. They are 38-18 against teams over .500. They are 11-0-2 in their last 13 series against American League opponents.
But I can't rid myself of the images in my head. I see Manny's' majestic walkoff home run over the Coke bottles against K-Rod. I see Schilling baffling the Halos on sheer smarts and location. I see David Ortiz hitting a walkoff ALDS winner in '04. I see Chone Figgins - the Swiss Army knife of baseball players - struggling mightily in playoff games at Fenway.
Boston's tournament dominance over the Angels dates to 1986 after the Angels took a 3-1 series lead over John McNamara's Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. In Game 5, the Angels took a 5-2 lead into the top of the ninth, but folded under the weight of expectation and Gene Mauch's overmanaging. The Sox won the dramatic fifth game, then came home and swept two more with ease.
California's 1986 collapse obviously has nothing to do with today's matchups, but the 2008 Angel roster includes plenty of holdovers from '04 and '07. These are guys with something to prove against Boston. The teams playing this weekend aren't much different from the ones that squared off last October.
Los Angeles added Torii Hunter over the winter, but offense is still a problem. Maicer Izturis (three homers, 32 RBIs) batted in the No. 3 spot in the order Friday and yesterday. Meanwhile, Vladimir Guerrero looks more and more like Rico Carty every day. Vlad can still dent the baseball (he crushed a first-pitch homer off Beckett in the seventh), but he's running like Sean Casey. The Red Sox will be getting Big Papi back in a few days. The Angels are still in need of another big bat to take them to the proverbial next level.
Angel lefthander Joe Saunders, who pitched 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball, said, "We want to beat them when it counts. They've had our number for a long time. So far we've been able to scratch out some wins against them. They're a really good team, they bring out everybody's A game. But I like our A game against their A game."
Cool, Joe. See you in October.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.