By Brent Hubbard - AngelsWin.com Columnist
I want the Red Sox.
I’ve been saying it to myself for months now, but as the reality of a third straight division series against the AL Wild Card Boston Red Sox draws ever closer, I wonder if it is still true. Do I want the Red Sox?
Yep, still true — no hesitation here, despite the inevitable gushing over the Sox that’s bound to happen over the next week, including Vegas putting them as the favorite, though the Angels will likely win more games and start the series in Anaheim. All this and columnist after columnist will say things like: “The Angels aren’t built for the postseason” and “The Angels won’t win a game,” etc.
I’m writing this article to take aim at the Angels fans who hoped we (yes I said “we,” as in the context of fandom — I’m not a member of the team or anything) wouldn’t have to sit through another agonizing series against the perennial losers who have become the annoying winners and our postseason nemesis. Wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t have to face the Sox? Is there a way they can get around them?
I thought it would be different in 2008, after the gut-wrenching losses to the Sox in 2004 ALDS and the 2007 ALDS ….and 1986, as well, though that was in the ALCS.
It wasn’t. Next week, however, I believe it will.
There are those who blame the Angels 2008 postseason disappointment on the fact that they clinched too early, that they weren’t ready for the playoffs. They’d had an easy season, leading the league pretty much wire to wire, having the best record in baseball at the All-Star Break; winning the division with 20 games remaining.
They had made a great trade for power-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira. They watched Boston fail to clinch its division, watched the upstart Tampa Bay Rays instead crowned champions of the AL East. The Angels must have taken Boston lightly, especially after nearly sweeping the season series against them; at least to some degree.
John Lackey came out firing, but unfortunately so did Jon Lester. A two-run home run in the sixth by Jason Bay was the difference as the Sox took a one-run lead into the ninth, then tacked on a couple of insurance runs. The game was winnable for the Angels, but to no avail.
Bay played their nemesis in Game Two, as well; his three-run first-inning home run off Ervin Santana shocked the Angels into submission. Though not complete submission, because the Angels battled back, tying the game in the eighth before record setting closer Francisco Rodriguez lost the game in the ninth..
Back to Boston and facing an 0-2 deficit, the Angels won Game Three in Fenway Park in extra innings, but lost Game Four in the bottom of the ninth, when Scot Shields surrendered the walk-off run to give the Red Sox yet another series victory over the Angels.
Two gut wrenching losses, the other a game that the Angels could have come back to win, but didn’t after insurance runs in the ninth put the game out of reach. Each of the four games of this series were decided in the final inning.
And the Sox went on to the ALCS, leaving the 100 game winning Angels to wonder, “What happened?”
The year before, in 2007, the Angels got out to a great start and had a really successful season overall, clinching the division with more than a week to play, just as they did this year. And they got their collective butts kicked by Boston in a three game sweep, featuring a loss by Rodriguez in a tie game, and two dominating performances by Boston starting pitchers Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett. The Angels were banged up, injured and sick, and didn’t play well overall, looking completely overmatched. Clinching with a week or so left or with twenty games to go — it didn’t seem to matter.
What about if they clinched in the very last series of the season, snatching the division title and then hopefully going on a spectacular run through the playoffs? Shouldn’t clinching late keep you in premium form to play in the postseason? Well, the Angels did clinch in the final weekend in 2004, and the result was the same as in 2007, a three game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox. Ultimately, it would appear that when the Angels clinch doesn’t seem to have any effect on the result in the postseason; at least not when they play the Red Sox anyway.
The Angels have had success when they haven’t played the Red Sox, including the 2002 World Series Championship as the Wild Card and the 2005 run that would have likely ended in the same, had Josh Paul not dropped a third strike. What’s that? You say he didn’t drop the ball? It was in his mitt the entire time? So, the Angels could’ve left Chicago with a 2-0 lead, going back to Anaheim for three games, needing only two wins?
This year the Angels take on the Red Sox again, for the fourth postseason out of six for which the team has qualified since division series play began in 1995.
Boston is a bit banged up and doesn’t look to field the same type of club that it did in 2007 or 2008. Beckett is hurt (back spasms) and Lester was nearly knocked out for the season, if not his career, with a line shot to his knee against the Yankees last weekend. But both will probably be fine for the playoffs. Clay Bucholtz rounds out their likely three-man starting rotation for the ALDS. And their offense is fine.
Challenging? Yes. Unbeatable? Far from it. The Red Sox backed into the Wild Card after a successful August and early September, losing six consecutive games and winning just four of their last 12. They were facing the Royals and the Blue Jays in this streak, as well as the Yankees, true, but a 4-12 stretch is pretty bad.
I still want the Red Sox. I want the Angels to face them in this series and absolutely dominate them. But if the Rangers or Rays had surged in September and knocked the Wild Card from the Red Sox collective grip, surely the Angels would’ve been better off, surely they would have a better chance at the 2009 World Series title, right?
That argument has some merit, especially since the Angels recent postseason history has shown they win the ALDS when they don’t play the Sox, but lose it when they do. But it’s a new year and all of that history doesn’t mean a thing — except for satisfaction for all of us Angels fans when they clobber the Red Sox, then the Yankees, and then maybe the Dodgers, too, if they ever clinch their division: The perfect run to the perfect championship.