Same old story in Anaheim

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Los Angeles Angels spent a lot of money and added a few good players so this wouldn't happen anymore.

They made the sledgehammer move of the summer when they brought in Mark Teixeira, they won 100 games and they showed up in the playoffs with an empty trainer's room.

And they still don't hit in October.

The other team still makes one more pitch, still takes the better swing, still finds a way in all the places the Angels don't.

More often than not lately, that's the Boston Red Sox.

Mike Scioscia gets pushed around, John Lackey gets out-pitched, Vladimir Guerrero gets out-hit, Rally Monkey gets caged.

Must be October.

Typically, and where the Red Sox have been concerned, the Angels lose because they're the second-best team on the field.

Not this time.

Jon Lester was every bit Josh Beckett from the left side, certainly as this Game 1 advanced into the middle innings. Jason Bay was every bit Manny Ramirez, certainly when he turned on a Lackey fastball in the sixth inning, wounding all of Lackey's work over the first five. And the Red Sox were every bit what they've become this decade, certainly as the Angel Stadium crowd wandered into a muggy SoCal night, wondering if its ballclub again had spent itself in the regular season.

End to end, one to 25, and with the possibility of three games at home, the Angels, this time, are the better team. They have played too many postseason games to be wilting in October. They've had too many big at-bats to let hitters' counts slide, as they did in the first five innings Wednesday night, when Lester still was debating if he should feature his fastball (or one of its many variations) or his breaking ball. They go first to third too often to have the potential tying run thrown out by 20 feet at third base in the eighth inning, when the game still was there for them, when they had a rookie pitcher (Justin Masterson) in some trouble.

But, in what has become an October tradition, Angels hitters had one hit in five at-bats with runners in scoring position against Lester (and were 1 for 7 overall), and they made the bad decision when the important decision was to be made. Carrying the potential tying run from first base on a blooper down the right-field line, Guerrero first made a bad read and then drew a bad conclusion, meaning there would be no at-bats for the Angels with runners at first and third and one out.

"I saw the ball drop, and I thought it was farther than it was," said Guerrero, whose October malfunctions typically have come in the batter's box, not the basepaths. "I was very upset with myself."

An hour later, Lackey curled his lip and narrowed his eyes at a game that ended in a 4-1 loss and Jonathan Papelbon – not Francisco Rodriguez – shaking his fists.

The Angels just had lost their eighth consecutive playoff game, four of those to the Red Sox. They've lost seven in a row to the Red Sox this decade, 10 in a row dating to the days of Dave Henderson and Donnie Moore.

Lackey lost Game 1 to Beckett a year ago, that at Fenway Park. Prior to that game, he'd lubed his elbow with a Cortisone injection and grinded through six innings, allowing four runs, losing 4-0. He was better Wednesday. The offense was about the same. It scored an unearned run in the third. The rest was a case of being overmatched, overaggressive, overpowered.

"It's unfortunate," Lackey all but snapped. "You gotta give Lester a lot of credit, but we gotta find a way to score some runs. It's pretty frustrating."

He stayed on the theme. When it was (idealistically) suggested the Angels simply were unlucky, Lackey practically blanched.

"You gotta make your own luck," he said. "We've got too much talent in this room to rely on luck. We've got some good athletes in this room. Luck shouldn't be a part of it."

Hits should. Long hits. Clutch hits. They had nine hits against Lester and Co., all of them singles. None of them, as it turned out, important enough to alter another postseason loss.

"You gotta find a way to score some runs in the postseason," Lackey said, "because you face good pitching every night."

Now they're one more soft offensive game from going to Boston the same way they came back to Anaheim last season, down two games to none, having to beat three more good pitchers, this time playing back from the role as favorites.

"The bottom line, John pitched well," Scioscia said. "If he made five mistakes with pitches tonight, that was a lot. On the offensive side, we didn't do enough."

Nope, Chone Figgins, from the leadoff spot, not only didn't get on base but also he struck out three times and didn't otherwise get the ball out of the infield. The bottom four starters in the lineup – Howie Kendrick, Mike Napoli, Gary Matthews Jr. and Erick Aybar – also failed to reach the outfield grass and also didn't have a hit between them.

Again, it was the Red Sox who waited out the hittable fastball and didn't miss it. It was the Red Sox who pushed the game on the basepaths. It was the Red Sox who put the important pitch on a bat handle, not the barrel.

Then it must be October. And those must be the Angels.

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