Curt Schilling will try to lead the Red Sox to a sweep of the Angels on Sunday as the teams square off in Anaheim in Game 3 of their AL division series.
The Red Sox won the first two games of the series in Boston. Slugger Manny Ramirez hit a walk-off three-run homer off closer Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning of Friday’s 6-3 win, putting his team in position for a potential sweep as the series heads to the West Coast.
Boston has won eight consecutive postseason games against the Angels, beginning in the 1986 AL championship series when it came back from a 3-1 deficit. The Red Sox swept the Angels in the first round of the 2004 playoffs on their way to ending an 86-year championship drought.
“The only real devastating loss in the series is when you lose that third ballgame, so we’re still alive,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia said.
Now, the Angels must find a way to get to Schilling, who is 8-2 with a 2.06 ERA in 15 career postseason starts. The 40-year-old right-hander was co-MVP of the 2001 World Series with Arizona and helped Boston win the 2004 Series despite a detached tendon in his right ankle - a condition that resulted in his famous “bloody sock.”
“We’ve got the big daddy, Curt Schilling going,” said closer Jonathan Papelbon, who got the last four outs in Friday’s win. “And I think anybody would love to have him going for us to seal the deal, and I know he’ll be ready to go.”
Schilling (9-8, 3.87 ERA) had a sub-par regular season but was on the disabled list from June 19-Aug. 6 with tendinitis in his right shoulder. In nine starts after returning from the DL, Schilling went 3-4 with a 3.34 ERA as he threw in the high 80s instead of the low 90s while reinventing himself as more of a crafty pitcher.
“I just feel better about what I’m doing out there,” Schilling told the Red Sox’s official Web site. “I’m more confident in what I’m doing. I’ve said it time and time again: I’ve changed physically as a pitcher.”
Schilling has not pitched since Sept. 25 at home against Oakland. He flew to the West Coast ahead of the rest of the team on Friday, along with Josh Beckett, who threw a four-hitter in Boston’s 4-0 Game 1 win and would go in the fourth game if necessary.
“I really don’t have any qualms about it or I wouldn’t have done it,” Francona said of Schilling’s long layoff.
Schilling is 6-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 12 career appearances - seven starts - against the Angels, including 2-1 with a 4.05 ERA in three starts this season. Schilling’s only postseason outing against the Angels came in Game 1 of the ’04 ALDS, when he allowed three runs in 6 2-3 innings of a 9-3 win in Anaheim.
Schilling has faced Jered Weaver (13-7, 3.91), who pitches for Los Angeles in Game 3, twice already this season.
On Aug. 6 in Anaheim, in his return from the DL, Schilling allowed four runs in six innings of a 4-2 loss, while Weaver yielded two runs in six innings without getting a decision. Schilling gave up five runs in six innings of a 10-5 win over the Angels at Fenway Park on Aug. 18, while Weaver allowed six runs in 4 1-3 innings.
Weaver is making his first postseason appearance. He has never defeated Boston, going 0-2 with a 4.70 ERA in four career starts.
However, Weaver is carrying some momentum into the playoffs, as he went 5-1 with a 3.21 ERA in his final seven starts.
“I don’t think he has to change his approach much,” Scioscia told the Angels’ team site. “He’s always mentally prepared and focused and ready to challenge hitters. That’s important when you’re gonna be in this situation.”
While Weaver has had trouble with Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who is 5-for-10 with two homers lifetime against him, Ramirez is 0-for-6 with four strikeouts.
Ramirez had just 20 homers and 88 RBIs this season - his lowest totals since he was a part-time player in 1994 - as he struggled with injuries. He missed almost a month at the end of the regular season, but came back for the last week and went 7-for-18 (.389).
Ramirez hit just .216 with no homers in 10 games against the Angels during the regular season, but he’s 2-for-6 with three walks in this series. Friday’s homer was his 21st in the postseason, one behind Bernie Williams’ career record.
“I haven’t been right all year,” Ramirez, the MVP of the 2004 World Series, said in his first interview of the season. “When you don’t feel good and you still get hits, that’s how you know you’re a bad man.”
Before Ramirez’s homer, Scioscia chose to intentionally walk Ortiz, who had reached base in 20 of his previous 24 plate appearances and hit a 10th-inning homer to eliminate the Angels in the ’04 ALDS. Ortiz walked four times Friday, setting a record for the first round of the playoffs, and his six ALDS intentional walks are also a record.
“It was a great swing (by Ramirez), but part of the reason he got a chance to swing is David is such a good hitter, such a clutch hitter,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “That’s why you want to have as many good hitters as you can, so they can’t pitch around people.”
The Angels are hoping Saturday’s off day will give them time to heal. Already without regular center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. for the series, the Angels took right fielder Vladimir Guerrero out in the eighth inning with a bruise on his left shoulder suffered when he was hit by a pitch in the seventh. Left fielder Garret Anderson is playing with a swollen right eye from conjunctivitis.
None of the Angels have more than two hits in the series, but the team is hoping the move to Anaheim will help. Los Angeles went 54-27 at Angel Stadium, the best home record in baseball.
“You try to stay as short in focus as you can in a series, bat-to-bat, and you try to scratch and claw your way back into a series,” Scioscia said. “It can be done. It can turn in a hurry.”