Thursday, October 4, 2007

Beckett Dominates Halo Hitters; ALDS To Begin Sunday
By Adam Dodge - Angelswin Senior Writer

It had been four years since Josh Beckett last pitched in the post-season. The 2003 World Series Most Valuable Player, who allowed just two earned runs in his two starts and 16.1 innings to the New York Yankees in that series, continued his October dominance on Wednesday night. Beckett held the Angels to just four singles in a complete game shutout as the Boston Red Sox took a 1-0 series lead in front of their home fans, winning game one 4-0.

Beckett’s shutout also marked the fifth consecutive post-season game in which the opposing pitcher has tossed a complete game against the Angels.

John Lackey was just 1-4 in seven starts at Fenway Park in his career and was not sharp on Wednesday, especially early. Lackey fell behind Kevin Youkilis in the first and grooved a 2-1 fastball. Youkilis didn’t miss it, homering over the green monster in left center field. For the next couple of innings, Lackey fell in love with his curveball, and made two mistakes in the third. Youkilis doubled on a hanger in front of David Ortiz, who hammered another into the right field seats. After a walk to Manny Ramirez and a wild pitch, Lackey gave up an RBI single to Mike Lowell on yet another curveball, albeit a better one than those to Youkilis and Ortiz. When Lackey rediscovered his fastball he settled in nicely and gave the Angels three scoreless innings.

But the offense could not respond. Beckett, after a lead-off single to Chone Figgins in the first, retired 19 straight Angels. It’s hard to fault the Angel hitters as Beckett lived on the corners with a 97MPH fastball, changing eye levels and mixing in sharp breaking balls and devastating change-ups. He certainly proved to everyone that he is worthy of being 2007’s American League Cy Young winner.

To get through these Red Sox, the Angels will likely have to face Beckett again.

Also working against the Angels is recent history. The team has lost seven straight post-season games to the Red Sox dating back to 1986 and has not played well at Fenway Park in the Mike Scioscia era. The team will have to win at least one game in Fenway if they are to advance to the ALCS.

And they will.

That’s right, Angel fans, be ready to celebrate as the Angels have the pitching edge for the rest of the series.

Kelvim Escobar takes the hill on Friday night against Daisuke Matsuzaka. Escobar’s 3.40 ERA is a full run lower than Dice-K’s. He also has a winning record in his career at Fenway, and has been at his best on five or more days of rest, which will be the scenario tomorrow night.

Offensively, it’s simple. Angel hitters must step up. Though their collective performance on Wednesday night was reminiscent of the “attack” they put on the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 ALCS, this is not the same team. Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera are better now than they were then. Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson are healthier, and the rest of the 2007 Angels are much more productive than the role players of the 2005 team.

It will be the first time that the Angels will have seen Matsuzaka. The team was 26-20 in such games this season.

Expecting a carryover or hangover by the Angels on Friday is as ridiculous as thinking the Red Sox will ride the “momentum” of a game one win. First, the Angels were dominated by arguably the best pitcher in the American League. They didn’t blow opportunities or squander the game away late. They were beaten – a much easier pill to swallow. Secondly, the existence of momentum as it relates to the expected outcome of one baseball game based on the results of another is debatable in its own right. If momentum in this context does exist, it certainly will be less of a factor on Friday night as the teams have Thursday off.

The Red Sox did what they were supposed to. They won game one at home on the shoulders of a great pitching performance by their ace. Nothing shocking about that. Mike Scioscia and the Angels traveled to Boston with one goal in mind – to earn a split.

And they’ve got the right guy on the mound to get it done.

After the Angels ride the shoulders of their own ace to victory on Friday night, get out to the stadium on Sunday for the START of the ALDS – a best of three series, with the Angels having the home field advantage so many believe is crucial.
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