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bob ryan

A disappointment on every level

By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / October 4, 2008
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ANAHEIM, Calif. - I'm stupefied.

Not only that, but I'm mystified.

Are the Angels going to get swept - again?

What in the name of Daddy Wags is going on here?

Maybe you could see this coming, but I didn't. The Orange County American League Baseball Representative appeared to have everything going for it. The Angels had won those 100 games. They had been the best all-around wire-to-wire team in the league. They had their pitching lined up. They were (finally) healthy. They would have the first two games at home. And weren't they, how you say, "due?" I mean, the absolute worst that could happen would be a split, right?

Guess not.

There's been no mystery in the first two games, Red Sox victories. They have been out-hit, out-pitched, and out-defended by the Sox. The one defining moment of stupidity was theirs, and, sorry Mike Scioscia, it was stupid, unless third base coach Dino Ebel throwing up his arms as Vladimir Guerrero was rounding second base on that Torii Hunter bloop single in Game 1 means something different to you guys than it means to everyone else in baseball.

Of course, we all know Yogi's Law. Two ain't three, and you gotta win three.

"We have a challenge," Scioscia says. "This ain't over until somebody wins three games. It's the type of series . . . [we're] down, we go into Boston, win a game, and the pressure is back on them."

So what have we learned from the first two games of this series?

The first thing we've learned is that the 8-1 regular season Angels' advantage didn't mean diddly. What was suspected now has been confirmed: The Angels were the beneficiary of a schedule that had them playing the Red Sox when they were at their worst. Six of those losses came in back-to-back weeks coming out of the All-Star break. And the first series between the two was so far back in time and circumstance as to be irrelevant (April 22-24). C'mon. Back then, nobody even knew who Justin Masterson was.

The second thing we know is that the Red Sox have depth and versatility. Terry Francona made two lineup adjustments Friday night, and each paid off. He decided to sit Mike Lowell down, and he also made a change at shortstop, replacing Jed Lowrie, who had played well Wednesday night, with Alex Cora because of "just the style of pitching" and "the way Alex Cora swung at certain types of pitchers."

Kevin Youkilis moved to third. Mark Kotsay went to first. Cora played short. Kotsay had a pair of hits. Cora had a double, a walk, a run scored and he made some really quality plays at short, demonstrating awareness and a very nice arm. And Youk, though having little luck at the plate, had consecutive big defensive plays in support of Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, first making the classic barehand pickup and throw of a Hunter bunt attempt and then making a four-star snatch of a foul pop, leaning far into the stands to make the catch.

Keep in mind that all of these gentlemen play multiple positions, as do Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Coco Crisp.

As far as pitching is concerned, the Red Sox have had the clear edge. John Lackey threw a nice game for the Angels Wednesday, but Jon Lester pitched a better one. You can say, "Well, gee, Lackey was great except for that one pitch he left up to Bay," but he did leave that one pitch up to Jason Bay, and he didn't miss it, did he? That would be a no.

Daisuke Matsuzaka gave the Red Sox five rather classic Dice-K trick-or-treat innings in Game 2, leaving with a 5-3 lead after being handed leads of 4-0 and 5-1. Ervin Santana, a 16-game winner, was nothing special for the Angels, giving up five straight hits after two were out in the first, one of them another Bay blast, this one to the rocks in distant center field.

And the bullpen edge clearly has gone to the Red Sox. The setup men have even relatively equal, but Papelbon has given up one hit while striking out four in three innings of work, picking up the W in Game 2 when the Red Sox made a loser out of the vaunted K-Rod.

What's really been embarrassing is the puny attack of the Angels, whose first 19 hits in this series were singles before Chone Figgins led off the eighth Friday night with a gap-shot triple. The Red Sox, meanwhile, have had six doubles off the bats of five people, plus three home runs, two by Bay and one by J.D. Drew. That's without mentioning that Dustin Pedroia actually hit one over the low fence in left Friday night, the kicker that the ball landed in Garrett Anderson's glove, and that Big Papi missed a home run by a couple of feet.

The Red Sox also have submitted highlight film material in the field, starting with the almost ridiculous robbery of a Teixeira fly ball perpetrated by Ellsbury and followed by that superb smother and throw by Youkilis to get Guerrero at third base in the eight inning of Game 1 (not that Vladdy should have been going anywhere). And I'm telling you that Cora flashed some serious leather Friday night, and you can't exaggerate the Youkilis plays in the ninth.

However, what's up with the Angels? Gary Matthews Jr. isn't a bad outfielder, but he messed up an Ellsbury liner Wednesday night. Hunter has seven Gold Gloves cluttering up his mantel, but he allowed a very routine fly ball off the bat of Kotsay to bounce off his glove two nights later. That stuff never happened when he was with the Twins. Is there a seldom-discussed Curse of, I dunno, Jim Fregosi? Albie Pearson? Don Baylor? Somebody.

Whatever it is, this is not the team Mike Scioscia saw all season. That's why he has no choice but to put on the happy face.

"There is a challenge in front of us," he says, "and the only way to meet it is to go pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning, on Sunday. And we played well in their park all year and we have to do it now instead."

Those are brave and necessaary words for the skipper to utter, but let it also be pointed out that just in case the Angels actually win a postseason game against the Red Sox tonight, they then would have to look forward to a second rendezvous with Mr. Lester, who is 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA in Fenway, where also has pitched a no-hitter and an eight-inning one-hitter.

But I'm not going to lie to you. I expected a lot more from the Angels. And so did their manager.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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