This time around, the results could be different.
An Angels club which dominated its season series with Boston en route to the best record in baseball looks to carry that success into October when it opens its AL division series at home against the defending World Series champion Red Sox on Wednesday night.
Historically, Boston has controlled the rivalry between these teams. Beginning with a rally from a 3-1 series deficit to win three straight games and stun the Angels in the 1986 AL championship series, the Red Sox have taken nine consecutive postseason games from Los Angeles. That run includes division series sweeps in 2004 and 2007, in which Boston outscored the Angels 44-16.
Each ALDS sweep began a World Series championship run for the Red Sox.
Sweeping Los Angeles again doesn’t appear likely after the Angels took the last eight meetings from Boston in this year’s nine-game season series. They averaged nearly seven runs over the nine meetings while batting .305 with 15 homers - at least one in each game. On the mound, the Angels limited Boston’s potent lineup to three runs or fewer in each of the last seven matchups.
All that success befitted a Los Angeles club which was the best in the majors all season. The Angels went 100-62, achieving the 100-win plateau for the first time in franchise history - the 2002 World Series championship team finished with 99 - and capturing the AL West title by a 21 1/2-game margin.
New acquisitions Torii Hunter, who hit 21 home runs and stole 19 bases after signing as a free agent last offseason, and Mark Teixeira - batting .358 with 13 homers in 54 games since arriving from Atlanta at the trade deadline - have strengthened the Angels’ lineup.
“We’re a different team than in years past,” reliever Scot Shields, who has been with the club since 2001, said after Los Angeles beat the Red Sox 6-2 on July 29 at Fenway Park. “We have the total package.”
John Lackey (12-5, 3.75 ERA) earned the win in that contest, taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning before Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia singled with one out. Perhaps no Angel was more emblematic than Lackey of the team’s newfound dominance of the Red Sox. The right-hander, who including postseason had been 1-7 with a 6.24 ERA in 12 starts versus Boston through 2007, limited the Red Sox to five runs and seven hits over 16 innings to beat them both times he faced them in 2008.
Lackey’s last outing of the regular season was also his worst. He gave up 10 runs and 12 hits in 2 2-3 innings of last Friday’s 12-1 loss to Texas, but manager Mike Scioscia didn’t seem worried.
“It wasn’t what we were looking for,” Scioscia told the Angels’ official Web site, “but he’ll get it going. John will turn the page, and we’ll turn the page.”
The Red Sox (95-67) have endured an unusual and often trying 2008. Sluggers David Ortiz, Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew and ace Josh Beckett all spent time on the disabled list, and the club dealt disgruntled superstar Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. Nonetheless, the reigning champions won the AL wild card - and only one fewer game than in 2007 - to reach their fifth postseason in six years.
“Considering everything we went through and having our record almost the same as last year is encouraging,” Lowell said. “Being a wild card, I don’t think is as disappointing as if we had won 85 games.
“I don’t think anyone cares whether you won the year before or not on how they’re going to approach you. They want to beat you and eliminate you so they can move on.”
Lowell, who had two DL stints this season due to thumb and oblique injuries, is currently hampered by a sore right hip. The third baseman is hoping to be able to play in Game 1.
Drew was limited by a strained lower back to two games in September but also could play Wednesday after getting three at-bats in Sunday’s regular season-ending doubleheader against the New York Yankees.
Beckett, though, will not pitch Game 1 as the Red Sox originally hoped. The right-hander, who is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA in the postseason and threw a four-hitter to beat Lackey in last year’s ALDS opener, has been pushed back to Sunday’s Game 3 due to an injured side muscle.
Even without Beckett the situation isn’t dire for the Red Sox, who have the luxury of falling back on Jon Lester (16-6, 3.21) - winner of the 2007 World Series clincher against Colorado and arguably the staff ace for much of this season.
The left-handed cancer survivor, whose 2008 was highlighted by a no-hitter May 19 against Kansas City, is 15-4 with a 2.95 ERA since the start of May and gave up one run or fewer in five of his last six outings.
Lester is 1-1 with a 7.78 ERA in four career starts versus the Angels.
“You want Josh Beckett to go for you,” Boston infielder Kevin Youkilis said, “but to start up with Jon Lester and Dice-K isn’t too bad either.”
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