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10/08/2007 11:21:00 AM

ALDS: Angels-Red Sox Day 5

By Joe Lemire

Every Little League had one. He was the 12-year-old kid that was just a little bigger than everyone else, and he hit a ton. Everyone would always joke about his birth certificate.

No one could get him out, and he'd post positively absurd numbers like -- just picking some numbers out of a hat -- a .714 batting average and an .846 on-base percentage. He'd slug 1.571 and be good for two home runs in a three-game series.

Oh wait, that wasn't some overgrown prepubescent kid terrorizing Williamsport, Pa. That was David Ortiz.

Ortiz and Manny Ramirez strode to home plate 26 times in Boston's three-game sweep of Los Angeles, and they proceeded to first base on 19 of those occasions. Though, again, it's worth noting how slowly Ramirez made that trek the two times he launched the baseball more than 450 feet. It just wasn't fair for the Angels.

Now in that same Little League, there'd be that one team who was much too undisciplined. All the guys would be up there hacking at everything, and they were talented enough as athletes, that it would sometimes work. But, man, when they struggled, it got ugly.

That, all-too-obviously, was the Angels in this series. Manny and Papi alone walked four more times (11) than all the Angels combined (7). Los Angeles batted .192, scored just four runs in two innings (and scoring off Eric Gagne is almost an obligation) and had just 25 total bases, matching the sum of just Boston's 3-4-5 hitters.

It was thorough domination.

In defense of the Angels, they never gave up. Well, until the wheels fell off in seven-run eighth inning in which exactly nothing went their way. But, really, the Angels left it all on field in Game 2. Josh Beckett, the next great postseason starter, was untouchable in Game 1 and Curt Schilling, the current standard in great postseason pitching, was brilliant in Game 3. That's right, the man who has the best winning percentage (9-2, .818) among all pitchers with 10 playoff decisions, pitched Game 3 of this series. Game 3!

Even with Dice-K's mediocre effort in Game 2, the Sox starters sported a cool 0.53 ERA in the series.

This Red Sox team is built to go even deeper in the postseason. Beyond those three starters, they have Tim Wakefield, who's arguably the best No. 4 starter in the majors. Their bullpen, which was largely conserved this series, has great eighth- and ninth-inning relievers in Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, and "good enough" guys to get there, with Manny Delcarmen, Javier Lopez and Mike Timlin available.

The offense has the aforementioned big Dominican boppers in Manny and Papi, solid protection for them in Mike Lowell and hitters like J.D. Drew, Jason Varitek and Kevin Youkilis that can score runs anywhere in the lineup. Coco Crisp and Julio Lugo add long-lacking speed, and Jacoby Ellsbury is the perfect pinch runner/defensive replacement candidate.

Now the Sox have until Friday night to unwind at home and prepare for the winner of Yankees-Indians. In 2004, the Sox secretly craved the Yankees to end talk of all that curse nonsense. This year? Let's listen to Boston CEO Larry Lucchino:

"I really don't care one whit who it is, as long as we're there. That surprises me a little because in the past I've always felt you had to go through Yankee Stadium to validate your quest. I don't feel that way this year.

"Maybe it's a function of us being tested the way we've been the last few years -- we've had a lot of intense experiences with them -- but the train doesn't have to drive through the Bronx in order for us to get to the promised land."

Translation: Let's go, Tribe!

  • Bill Plaschke of the LA Times wastes no time in asking Angels owner Arte Moreno to sign a big bat this offseason, suggesting A-Rod and Torii Hunter by name.

  • T.J. Simers says the loss hangs on Scioscia's shoulders for not adjusting the game plan.

  • As Francisco Rodriguez put it, "this stinks," as the Angels did next to nothing right.

  • The Boston Herald's Michael Silverman writes that the Sox Look Heaven Sent.

  • The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy has lots to say about Schilling here and here.

  • More on the duo of Manny and Papi.

  • And, yes, Papelbon said "it's our job" to celebrate with beer and champagne after series wins.
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment
    10/06/2007 12:20:00 PM

    ALDS: 'Manny Being Papi'

    By Joe Lemire

    So many questions after Manny Ramirez’s walkoff home run:

    What happened first: The ball landing or Manny jogging to first?

    Shouldn’t the Angels have walked Manny too? This season’s stats aside, wouldn’t they have rather faced Mike Lowell?

    Was that really Manny’s first walkoff homer in his seven seasons in Boston?

    Better yet, did Manny really speak to reporters after the game?

    Wait, did I misread that or did Manny, who’s demanded so many trades I’ve lost count, really say, " This is the greatest town ever"???

    The seemingly bipolar Ramirez, who earlier in the game badly misplayed one ball in left field and nearly over-ran an easy fly ball later on, became Mr. Personality after the game, speaking to reporters for the first time all season. After intentionally walking David Ortiz – never a bad decision – the Angels decided to challenge Manny with men at first and second with two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a tie game.

    That, however, was a very bad decision.

    Closer Francisco Rodriguez grooved a 1-0 fastball, which Manny dutifully sent soaring into the Boston sky. And then he stood at home plate and watched. And watched. If Manny gets buzzed by a fastball tomorrow afternoon in Game 3, that’s why.

    While many hitters have trouble readjusting to pitching after taking time off, Manny seems to be unbothered by the constraints of mere mortals. After sitting out four weeks near the end of the season, he returns to the lineup, plays six games, bats .389 (7-of-18) and shows he’s lost nothing.

    Though Manny won the 2004 World Series MVP -- an award that should have gone to Keith Foulke -- some have regarded as him as not being very clutch. I had always maintained, in 2004 when Big Papi produced his walkoff heroics, that it was a shame that we may never know how clutch Manny Ramirez is. With Manny batting behind Ortiz, the game was always over before he had a chance to bat. For all we knew, Manny was even more clutch, he just never had the opportunity to prove it.

    Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after the game that with the two of them you have to "pick your poison" and it didn’t help that Ortiz has always hit the Angels hard and received incredible respect last night. He reached base in all five plate appearances, lacing a single and adding four walks.

    If I were Scioscia, I’d have pitched to Lowell. Sure, intentionally walking Ramirez would have moved the winning run 90 feet closer to home, but with two outs, the speedy Julio Lugo would have scored from second anyway. Admittedly, Lowell has been Boston’s unsung hero this season -- well, as unsung as anyone who bats .324 with 21 HR and 120 RBIs can be -- but you take your chances there. Alex Cora said it best to Tom Verducci: "You have one of the best clutch hitters in the game, and a Hall of Famer hitting behind him."

    Now the Angels, who have scored in only one inning this series, driving home three in the top of the third last night, have to mount a furious comeback and win three straight. There’s no better place to start than Edison Field, where they had the majors’ best home record at 54-27, an incredible .667 winning percentage. Of course, it bears mentioning that the Sox had the majors’ best road record, at 45-36.

    Game 3 will showcase Jered Weaver, making his first career postseason appearance, against Curt Schilling, a many-time October hero with a lifetime 7-2 record and 2.06 ERA in the playoffs.

    The Angels might just need a miracle.

    It’s cliché because it’s true: that homer was just Manny Being Manny, writes Bob Ryan of the Globe. Or, as Boston Dirt Dogs says, That’s Just Manny Being Papi. Jack Curry of the NY Times reminds everyone that Manny is "a dangerous, dangerous man."

    Sure, Manny grabbed the headlines, but Boston’s bullpen was as important, allowing no runs and just three baserunners in 4.1 innings. And, apparently, the relievers have nicknamed themselves "The Pirates" with Mike Timlin as the Admiral.

    The anti-Steve Bartman is 17-year-old Danny Vinik, a son of Sox limited owner Jeffrey Vinik. He’s a second baseman for his high school and will never make a bigger catch.

    ESPN.com’s Howard Bryant says the Angels made the right moves, despite the loss.

    LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke writes that the Angels picked a bad time for an identity crisis.

    Scioscia is confused by the schedule and why the Indians-Yankees played the earlier game yesterday.

    Garret Anderson’s eye looks worse, but his vision is getting better.

    The O.C. Register’s Mark Whicker says the Angels just can’t seem to win at Fenway, no matter the odds.

    Never understated, the Globe’s Dan Shaugnessy invokes a 2004 reference in his third sentence.

    Not to be overlooked was Dice-K’s decidedly mediocre performance.

    Baseball-Reference has detailed info about the recent series between LA and Boston.

    While diving for a ball in the second inning, second baseman Dustin Pedroia said his shoulder popped out, but that it popped back in and he had no pain after the game.


    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment
    10/05/2007 10:35:00 AM

    ALDS: The Mystery of Dice-K

    By Joe Lemire

    And on the second day, they rested.

    Say what you want about the longer playoff series -– and I already have -– but it certainly helps build suspense, at the cost of momentum.

    A start like tonight's is why the Red Sox went to such great efforts to sign Daisuke Matsuzaka. There's the added pressure that Boston thinks so highly of him that it pushed October hero Curt Schilling back to Game 3.

    The Angels aren't sure what to make of Matsuzaka, whom they have not faced, though typically pitchers with a unique delivery and a large arsenal of pitchers do well against a team the first time through.

    As Angels manager Mike Scioscia says, "I think when you first face a pitcher there's probably a slight advantage to the pitcher just in picking up release points, picking up the spin on the ball, picking up where the ball is breaking -— is it a late break or more of a slurve -- what his arm speed is like."

    A quick look at the numbers proves that's been the case against Dice-K this season. He started against 16 different opponents during the regular season, and counting just the first start against each, these were his numbers:

    9-6 record, 108 innings, 116 strikeouts, 94 hits, 42 walks, 9 HR, 3.17 ERA, 1.26 WHIP.

    He also threw his one complete game of the season, a one-run gem against Detroit, in his first start against the Tigers.

    Now take a look at all his other appearances, all of which were at least his second start against an opponent (he pitched against the Blue Jays, Mariners and Yankees four times each):

    6-6 record, 96.2 innings, 85 strikeouts, 103 hits, 38 walks, 16 HR, 5.77 ERA, 1.46 WHIP.

    Breaking it down further, while his BB/9 ratio stayed roughly the same (3.50 in first starts against 3.54 in other starts), there is a noticeable discrepancy in other ratios. Dice-K's K/BB is 2.76 in a first start, versus 2.24 in later starts, and his K/9 is 9.67 in first starts, vs. 7.91 in later starts. As Dice-K kept a steady walk ratio while seeing his WHIP increase dramatically, clearly opponents are racking up far more hits (and homers) with each at bat.

    Obviously these numbers can only show a correlation, not prove a causation, of success. But there's also a lot more accumulated video on Dice-K floating around in October than there was in April.

    The number-crunching poster, SouthPaw21, at Sons of Sam Horn did a great job compiling Boston's career numbers against LA's starter, Kelvim Escobar. Particularly take note of Manny's and Papi's poor numbers.

    But those are regular-season numbers. In his last playoff start against Boston, the L.A. Times revisits Escobar's poor 2004 ALDS Game 3.

    While watching Game 1 at Foley's, one of New York's great baseball bars, I got into a conversation with the gentleman next to me about the AL's best defensive outfielders. I said Ichiro, then Coco Crisp, then Torii Hunter. He said Hunter, then Ichiro, and then he might be willing to consider Coco. However you rank them, there's no denying that Coco has played a great CF for the Sox this year.

    The Herald's Rob Bradford compares Dice-K of this year to Josh Beckett of last year and profiles the enigmatic Manny.


    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment
    10/04/2007 10:25:00 AM

    ALDS: Halos were History

    By Joe Lemire

    It's officially October: David Ortiz has homered.

    The Big Fella hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the third inning, giving the Red Sox unnecessary insurance runs on a night that belonged entirely to Josh Beckett. SI's Tom Verducci details just how historically brilliant the start was. Allowing a leadoff single gave Red Sox fans pause, but he escaped without any damage that inning, retiring 19 consecutive batters. He was, undeniably, the storyline of Game 1.

    But, as dominant as he was, it was just one game. And Daisuke Matsuzaka, who seems inextricably linked to the $103 million the Red Sox paid to get him, must worry far more about another figure that comes with considerable baggage: 6.10. That was his ERA in the 10 starts prior to his final one of the regular season, against the Twins. During that time, his season ERA jumped from 3.75 to 4.40.

    Sure, the Angels haven't faced him before, which, manager Mike Scioscia says gives Dice-K an edge, particularly since his pitching repertoire is so expansive and his delivery fairly unique.

    Los Angeles counters with Kelvim Escobar, who went 18-7 and maintained a sub-3.00 ERA for most of the season until he was waylaid by some late-season shoulder woes. He's in a similar position as Dice-K: struggled down the stretch before rebounding in his final start. If his shoulder is fine -- and he says it is -- then he's a threat to beat Boston, a team that he hasn't faced this season. (He's 6-7 lifetime, with a 4.64 ERA against the Sox.)

    If the Angels sneak out a win tomorrow night, they are clearly in the driver's seat, with homefield advantage over the final three games of the series. As good as Curt Schilling has been in his postseason past, he's not the sure thing he used to be. It was especially curious that he skipped his final start entirely, rather than pitching even three or four innings on Sunday.

    The press this morning seems to be burying the Angels, already prohibitive underdogs, but Escobar can change all that.

    A few other Angels notes:

  • Maicer Izturis might have been the lightest hitting corner infielder and No. 5 hitter in any postseason lineup. That's brutal.

  • In the ever-so-small-silver-lining-department, Ervin Santana undoubtedly made one of his two best road appearances of the season: two innings of shutout ball in which he showed a nasty slider. He displayed the form, in fact, that he had in other commanding road appearance, which incidentally came against the Red Sox at Fenway on August 17 (6.1 innings, one run, four hits, no walks and five whiffs in a no-decision).

  • As the L.A. Times reports, banged-up Vladimir Guerrero, who managed two of the Angels' four hits last night, might try to play right field tomorrow. Chone Figgins might move from right to center, allowing either Kendry Morales or Juan Rivera to DH against Dice-K. With Garrett Anderson still bothered by an infection in his right eye, Reggie Willits, in center in the opener, may stay in the lineup in left field. But a lineup shift may be good for that offense.

  • Also worth noting is that the game was played in a crisp 2 hours, 27 minutes -- unheard for a) a playoff game and b) any game involving the Red Sox. The final pitch was thrown a few minutes after 9 o'clock, with the Cubs-Diamondbacks game not starting until 10. I'm guessing TBS never envisioned a full hour studio show between games.

  • Other flotsam from Wednesday night:

  • The Globe's Bob Ryan declares Beckett to be a bonafide ace. So too says the Herald's Steve Buckley.

  • The Angels were reminded of their 2005 ALCS Game 1 loss to Chicago, in which they batted .175 during the five-game series.

  • John Lackey was hammered but unfazed despite his continued struggles against Boston. And he showed a No. 1 starter's moxie after the game, reminding everyone, "I've had too much success to ever think [negatively]. I've won a Game 7. I've been given the ball for a reason. I'm not going to think like that. I'll be back and this team will be back. It's the first one to three. We're not through after one game."

  • Former Red Sox fan favorite Gabe Kapler is blogging the postseason for boston.com. Kapler has an, um, interesting candor. Sample comment: "When Kevin Youkilis made contact with that John Lackey fastball in the first inning, I bet he immediately felt an intense euphoria. The feeling is kind of like throwing up after feeling nauseous for a while. It's relief. Intense relief!"

  • The Angels' small ball? Ineffective without base runners.
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment
    10/03/2007 08:50:00 AM

    ALDS: Angels vs. Red Sox, Game 1

    By Joe Lemire

    I think Bud Selig gave the AL's best team the option of two different length series just to give fans, bloggers and sportswriters something new to argue about. The starting rotation, 25-man postseason roster and use of the bullpen ought to have been enough of a debate, but now we get to second-guess the choice of schedule, too.

    At first glance it seemed that the Red Sox, who earned that choice, had already put themselves at a disadvantage. Tim Wakefield is probably the best No. 4 starter in baseball and in the short series, played over eight days, rather than the long series, played over nine, the fourth guy pitches Game 4. (In the long series, there's enough rest for the Game 1 starter to go in Game 4 and the Game 2 guy to pitch Game 5.)

    It seemed to make no sense: Wakefield would have had the edge over Joe Saunders (or even Ervin Santana), and taking the short series would turned the Indians-Yankees series into the long version, That would have given C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona -- the Tribe's only two starters of note -- the ability to pitch four of the possible five divisional series games. Sure, Cleveland had the better regular-season record, but let's be honest, the Sox, should they advance, would much rather face the Indians than the Yankees.

    My first suspicion when Boston announced its intention for the long series was that Curt Schilling was hurt. After all, he completely skipped his meaningless Sunday start, rather than pitch even a token three or four innings, as he probably did in a simulated session on the side anyway.

    Or that Boston made its choice to preserve the bullpen a little more. Jonathan Papelbon, coming off shoulder problems last year, as was brilliantly detailed by Tom Verducci in the magazine this week, looked mortal in consecutive appearances against the Yankees and Blue Jays in mid-September -- and he looked hysterical while dancing after the Sox clinched the AL East -- but those were the only three earned runs he gave up in the month, and he was coming off a zero earned run month in August. Of course, Hideki Okajima sitting out most of the month with a tired arm might have been the most predictable storyline in baseball, after the way his arm was abused in the early season. Terry Francona was like a child with a new toy, the way he wouldn't put down the left arm he used repeatedly to signal Okajima in from the bullpen.

    Then came the news yesterday: Wakefield won't pitch at all in the ALDS because of persistant back pain. In some ways that's not the worst news for the Sox, as the speedy Angels likely would have run rampant against Wakefield's glacial delivery. Even knowing this, I maintain that the Sox would have lost less by starting Jon Lester in Game 4 than the Indians do by having to start Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd. In other words, the Sox could have hurt the Yankees a lot more than helped themselves with their choice of schedules. Additionally, had that plan worked, the Indians wouldn't have been able to start Carmona in Game 1 of the ALCS as they will be able to do now, should they beat the Yankees.
    I know you can’t look past a first-round opponent, but Dice-K, save his two-run, eight-inning gem in his final start against the Twins, has been eminently mortal of late. Saunders won both his starts against Boston but was hit hard in one of them.
    That's just how life is for the Sox: always failing to make the obvious call in the postseason. Isn't that right, Mr. Little?

  • Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera, he of the 2004 Sox World Series team, knows what postseason baseball in Boston is like. Meanwhile, Red Sox reliever Brendan Donnelly wishes he could pitch against his old team.

  • Here's a behind-the-scenes look at Manny Ramirez's pregame routine and an early scouting report of the Angels put together by the Boston Herald's Rob Bradford, who writes a must-read blog favored by Dustin Pedroia. It's chock full of analysis and stats. I mean, where else can you read that the Sox only hit nine home runs in Wednesday home games this year, third-fewest in the AL?

  • Jon Lackey has been a workhorse for the Angels.

  • Los Angeles has succeeded with unproven players this year. This one dates back to July 1, but in case you missed it, here's a great NY Times feature written by new SI hire Lee Jenkins on the Angels' Reggie Willits living in a batting cage.

  • As Kevin Baxter writes in the L.A. Times, Vladimir Guerrero is a "a God-fearing, Bible-toting mama's boy."

  • Deadspin asked local writers to write a series called "Where my team stands": Red Sox and Angels.

  • The Boston Globe revisits the trade with the Marlins from November 2005 that netted Beckett and Mike Lowell. Sure, the Sox gave up last year's NL Rookie of the Year, Hanley Ramirez, and a guy who threw a no-hitter, Anibal Sanchez, but it was a mutually beneficial deal in which Boston landed Beckett and Mike Lowell.

  • O.C. Register columnist Randy Youngman evaluates the best and worst moves in the career of Angels G.M. Bill Stoneman.

  • And, just for the heck of it, is a story and picture of a smiling Big Papi behind a grill. (Ever the salesman, note that he's holding a Vitamin Water.)
  • Labels:

    posted by SI.com | View comments | Add a comment
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