SERIES: American League division series; Red Sox lead 2-0.
Nothing more than an extra arm in spring training, Bronson Arroyo has emerged as Boston’s No. 3 starter in the playoffs—an impressive slot considering who he follows in the rotation.
Arroyo will try to follow strong performances by Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez and pitch the Red Sox into the AL championship series for a second straight year as they try to close out the frustrated Anaheim Angels in Game 3 at Fenway Park.
Arroyo, who wasn’t even installed as Boston’s fifth starter until May, spent the last three months of the season providing the Red Sox with one quality start after another. He went 8-2 after July 26, and was unbeaten in nine straight outings to close the regular season.
“Yeah, it’s been an amazing year for me,” Arroyo said. “You know, I knew I had an outside shot of being a good starter in spring training and everything has worked out where I had an opportunity, and the organization has given me the fifth ball every fifth day and I had not had the opportunity before this. I’m just glad that I’ve proven myself to be consistent enough to be given the ball in Game 3.”
The 27-year-old right-hander maintained his poise in several key starts during Boston’s second-half run to the AL wild card, earning the respect of manager Terry Francona and the rest of his teammates.
“Bronson has earned his stripes,” Francona said. “He’s made a lot of starts this year and we’ve seen him evolve into a pretty good major league pitcher. And we would not give him the start if we didn’t think he could handle it.”
Just as he has for the better part of the last three months, Arroyo will again follow Schilling and Martinez, both of whom handcuffed the Angels in Anaheim to stake the Red Sox to a commanding 2-0 lead with the series shifting to Boston for Games 3 and 4.
“I think it’s definitely going to calm me down personally,” Arroyo said of the 2-0 cushion he’ll be working with in his first career playoff start. “You now, if you’re down 2-0 and it’s a do-or-die game like it is for them, it’s going to allow me to go out and try to be aggressive early in the game and just try to establish the strike zone. And just like being up ten in a baseball game, you don’t have to worry about being so picky with shots or whatever. I can go out and throw the ball and hopefully our offense will come through tomorrow.”
But rather than complaining about his team’s poor pitching, manager Mike Scioscia was more concerned with his team’s lack of aggressiveness in key situations.
“The one thing that I think hurt us tonight, and it does bother us, is the fact we didn’t do the things offensively that we needed to do,” Scioscia said after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss in Game 2.
“We didn’t get our bunts down, we had a chance to go from first to third a couple times and we didn’t take advantage of it. Those are things we have to have in our game and we know, we talked about it, and we are going to have to take that aggressiveness, bring it to that level as we go back to Boston.”
The Angels, who have lost six straight to the Red Sox dating to the regular season, will try to get a lift from right-hander Kelvim Escobar, who helped pitch Anaheim into the playoffs last weekend in Oakland.
Escobar allowed four runs and six hits over 5 1-3 innings, but did not receive a decision in the Angels’ AL West-clinching 5-4 victory over the Athletics on Saturday. The 28-year-old Venezuelan is hoping the performance under pressure serves him well in Friday’s must-win game at Fenway.
“I don’t think I get any pressure, because when you put pressure on yourself, I think you try to do too much, and it never works out that way,” said Escobar, who will be making his postseason debut.
“But that weekend in Oakland, it was huge for us. It was kind of like a playoff game, and I couldn’t sleep the night before, with the excitement, knowing that if we win the game, we clinched our division. But I try not to think too much and put pressure on myself.”
The Angels managed three runs in each of the first two games. Unlike 2002, when Anaheim lost Game 1 of each series en route to first-ever World Series title, the Angels weren’t able to climb out of their early hole Thursday night.
“I don’t care what happened in 2002,” catcher Bengie Molina said. “I wanted to win Game 1. And Game 2, too.”
Ironcially, the Red Sox were the last team to overcome an 0-2 deficit in the ALDS, doing it last year against Oakland. However, Boston lost the first two games on the road in that series.
The last AL team to come back from dropping the first two first-round games at home was the New York Yankees, who also did it against the A’s in 2001.
“We’re down two games, but we’ll go there and play our best and you never know what might happen,” Anaheim’s Chone Figgins said.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Angels - AL West champions. Red Sox - AL wild card.
PROJECTED LINEUPS: Angels: 2B Figgins (.296, 5 HRs, 60 RBIs, 34 SBs), 1B Darin Erstad (.295, 7, 69), RF Vladimir Guerrero (.337, 39, 126, 124 runs), CF Garret Anderson (.301, 14, 75), DH Troy Glaus (.251, 18, 42 in 207 ABs), LF Jeff DaVanon (.277, 7, 34, 18 SBs) or Adam Riggs (.194, 0, 3), SS David Eckstein (.276, 2, 35, 16 SBs), C Molina (.276, 10, 54), 2B Alfredo Amezaga (.161, 2, 11) or Dallas McPherson (.225, 3, 6). Red Sox: CF Johnny Damon (.304, 20 HRs, 94 RBIs, 123 runs, 19 SBs), 2B Mark Bellhorn (.264, 17, 82, 177 Ks), LF Manny Ramirez (.308, 43, 130), DH David Ortiz (.301, 41, 139), 1B Kevin Millar (.297, 18, 74) or Doug Mientkiewicz (.219, 1, 10 in 49 games after trade from Minnesota), RF Gabe Kapler (.272, 6, 33) or Trot Nixon (.315, 6, 23), C Jason Varitek (.296, 18, 73), SS Orlando Cabrera (.294, 6, 31 in 58 games after trade from Montreal), 3B Bill Mueller (.283, 12, 57).
ANGELS PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Escobar (11-12, 3.93). Escobar is 5-6 with a 5.12 ERA in 32 career appearances, including eight starts, against the Red Sox. He went 7-4 with a 3.91 ERA in 16 road starts this year.
RED SOX PROBABLE STARTING PITCHER: Arroyo (10-9, 4.03). Arroyo is 0-1 with a 9.72 ERA in two career starts against Anaheim. He was 3-5 with a 5.35 ERA in 15 appearances, including 13 starts, at Fenway this year.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Red Sox, 5-4.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Angels - OFs Guerrero and Anderson are a combined 1-for-16 in this series. Guerrero had a two-run single Wednesday night against RHP Martinez. … The Angels lost their only previous playoff series with Boston after holding a 3-1 lead in the 1986 ALCS. … Scioscia decided the Angels would fly to Boston on Thursday rather than after Wednesday night’s game. The move made sense, considering the game lasted 3 hours and 48 minutes, ending at 10:58 local time. Red Sox - RHP Arroyo did make three relief appearances in last year’s ALCS against the New York Yankees, allowing one earned run and two hits over 3 1-3 innings, striking out five and walking two. … OF Ramirez, who is likely battling Guerrero for AL MVP honors, is 3-for-8 with five RBIs in the series. … OF Damon is having a recurrence of migraine headaches that first bothered him after a collision in last year’s playoffs. He is not expected to miss any playing time.
REGULAR SEASON ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Angels - 47-34 on the road. Red Sox - 55-26 at home.