Under normal circumstances, a series between perennial American League playoff contenders would be called important. When the Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox face each other Friday night, the game’s importance will be put in perspective.
Less than 48 hours after the tragic death of rookie starting pitcher Nick Adenhart, the Angels return to the field to host the Red Sox, who have eliminated them from the last two postseasons.
Adenhart, 22, made his season debut Wednesday against Oakland, throwing six scoreless innings and leaving with a three-run lead in a game the Angels (1-2) ultimately lost 6-4. At about 12:30 a.m. local time and less than three hours after the game ended, Adenhart and two others were killed by a suspected drunk driver at an intersection in Fullerton, a suburb bordering Anaheim.
“It is a tragedy that will never be forgotten,” manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday at an Angel Stadium news conference.
It’s also the latest in a string of tragedies for a franchise that has often seemed star-crossed.
Earlier this week, a 27-year-old fan died after being assaulted at Angel Stadium on opening day.
Infielder Chico Ruiz and rookie pitcher Bruce Heinbechner were killed in car accidents in the early 1970s, as was shortstop Mike Miley in 1977. The following year, star outfielder Lyman Bostock was shot and killed during the offseason in Gary, Ind.
In 1989 - three years after giving up a home run to Boston’s Dave Henderson that kept the Angels from winning the AL pennant - reliever Donnie Moore shot his wife and then killed himself.
Henderson’s homer began a string of 11 consecutive postseason losses to the Red Sox for the Angels, including division series sweeps in 2004 and 2007. Los Angeles ended that drought in October with a win over the Red Sox in Game 3 of their ALDS, but still lost in four games.
In the wake of Adenhart’s death, though, the results of those games seem insignificant.
“It’s almost numbing. It’s just crushing,” Boston manager Terry Francona said. “As much as we care about baseball, it becomes secondary in a hurry.”
As they return to the field after Thursday’s scheduled series finale with Oakland was postponed, the Angels will hand the ball to Jered Weaver - the winning pitcher from Game 3 of last fall’s playoff series. The right-hander threw two innings of scoreless relief in that contest as Los Angeles won 5-4 in 12.
It was a positive ending to what had been a mediocre third major league season for Weaver, who went 11-10 with a career-worst 4.33 ERA. He also defeated the Red Sox once during the regular season, but is 1-2 with a 5.35 ERA in six career starts versus Boston.
He’ll be opposed by 42-year-old knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who opted to return for his 15th season with the Red Sox (1-2) after going 10-11 with a 4.13 ERA - his lowest since 2003 - last year. Wakefield did not face the Angels in the ALDS, though he lost to them 5-3 in Anaheim on July 20.
Wakefield has dropped his last four starts at Angel Stadium, where he has not won since 2002, posting a 9.78 ERA in those outings. Los Angeles slugger Vladimir Guerrero is 8-for-19 (.421) with five homers against him.
Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, meanwhile, has had great success against Weaver, going 8-for-17 (.471) with three homers in their matchups including postseason.
After beating the Angels last season, the Red Sox lost the AL championship in seven games to Tampa Bay. They won Tuesday’s season opener against the Rays at Fenway Park but dropped the final two games of the series, including a 4-3 defeat Thursday.
“They’re a good team,” Francona said. “We’d like to think we are. It will be a long, interesting season.”
First baseman Kevin Youkilis went 3-for-4 in his third straight multihit game. He’s 8-for-12 in 2009, and a .310 career hitter at Angel Stadium.