Heading into this postseason, this year’s Los Angeles Angels team appeared unlikely to meet the same fate as its predecessors. As it turns out, that fate is already on the verge of being sealed.
The defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox look to win their 12th straight playoff game over the Angels and sweep this best-of-five AL division series, which shifts to Fenway Park for Game 3 on Sunday.
Boston’s trip to Los Angeles could not have gone any better. After beating Angels staff ace John Lackey 4-1 in Wednesday’s series opener, the Red Sox turned back a rally to win Game 2 7-5 on Friday.
Los Angeles scored once in the seventh inning and once more in the eighth to tie the score, but in the top of the ninth J.D. Drew hit a two-run homer off closer Francisco Rodriguez, who had set a major league record with 62 saves in the regular season.
“This was huge,” said Drew, who played in only two of the last 38 games of the regular season because of a lingering back problem, but is 3-for-9 in this series.
“We were in a spot: tie ballgame. They had seemingly had the momentum.”
Instead, Boston has all the momentum, as it returns home one win away from advancing to its second straight AL championship series and fourth in six years.
Los Angeles was a major league-best 50-31 on the road during the regular season, including a 5-1 mark at Boston - but regular-season trends have had little bearing on this series. The Angels won a club-record and major league-best 100 games, including their final eight meetings with the Red Sox, but have not carried that success into October.
Since trailing 3-1 in the 1986 ALCS, Boston has won 11 straight playoff games against Los Angeles, including first-round sweeps in 2004 and 2007 en route to World Series championships. On Friday, the Red Sox set a record for most postseason victories in a row over one opponent.
“What happened in ’04 or 1986 does not matter to us,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “We set out to win (Friday’s) game. It was difficult, but we did it. Now we’ll go prepare for the next game.”
Francona will now give the ball to an ailing Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03 ERA), who has usually been a sure thing in past postseasons.
Beckett was originally scheduled to start Game 1, but he strained the oblique muscle in his side during a bullpen session on Sept. 26. He threw a side session on Thursday, and has been cleared to pitch Sunday.
“He’s ready to go,” Francona told the Red Sox’s official Web site. “We tried to be a little bit patient, which is not easy. But I think for his piece of mind and his ability to go out and try to be better than the team we’re playing, this was the correct way to do it.”
After winning 20 games last season, 2008 has been a frustrating year for Beckett.
The right-hander had two stints on the 15-day disabled list - from March 19 to April 6 (back spasms) and Aug. 18 to Sept. 5 (right elbow inflammation) - and finished with his fewest wins since totaling nine for Florida in 2004. He also had no luck against the Angels, recording a 7.43 ERA while losing two starts against them.
Beckett, though, has always managed to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. He posted a 1.20 ERA in winning all four of his postseason starts last year, including a four-hitter in Boston’s 4-0 win over the Angels in Game 1 of the ALDS. Beckett, who was also named MVP of the 2003 World Series for the Marlins, is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA in 10 career postseason games.
Regardless of Beckett’s readiness, the Angels have a daunting task. Only one team - the 2001 New York Yankees - has rallied to win a division series after losing the first two games at home.
“There is a challenge in front of us and the only way to meet it is going to be pitch by pitch, inning by inning on Sunday,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We played well in their park all year, and we have to do it now.”
Los Angeles starter Joe Saunders (17-7, 3.41) makes his first career postseason appearance after a stellar regular season.
The left-hander led the Angels in victories, finished seventh in the AL in ERA, and went 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA over his final four starts.
Saunders has also had no trouble against Boston, going 4-0 with a 2.89 ERA in six career starts versus the Red Sox, including two wins in three starts during 2008.
Los Angeles has been unable to get a big hit in this series, going 4-for-21 (.190) with runners in scoring position and leaving 20 runners on base.
“We’ve always been good about turning the page on any game during the season and not taking whatever happened in the previous game into the next one,” said Garret Anderson, who is 8-for-17 (.471) with a homer and two doubles lifetime against Beckett. “Obviously, you have history against you when you’re down 2-0. That’s how hard it is, and it’s factual, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”