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Boy, Did the Angels Blow It

After watching the Angels squander Game 1 of the ALDS tonight, I've come to one conclusion: There's got to be a curse brewing. In an immediate sense, the loss puts all the pressure on the Angels coming into Friday's Game 2. But it also pushed the Angels postseason losing streak to the Red Sox to 10 games, dating back to Oct. 11, 1986. That was the fourth game of the ALCS. Dave Henderson, Donnie Moore. Yes, that ALCS.

Consider how it all went down on Wednesday.

The box score will show that Red Sox starter Jon Lester had a better night than John Lackey. But in reality, that wasn't case, which is why the Angels should have won this game.

Yes, Lester pitched a good game and he looked he got stronger toward the end. And yes, Lester was darned impressive when it counted, shutting down L.A. in the sixth, after the Red Sox took a one-run lead. But despite falling behind constantly to hitters, especially early in the game, the Angels bailed Lester out with impatience at the plate in critical situations.


Howie Kendrick, with the bases juiced, hit into a force play because he swung at a pitch that would have cut him down at the knees. Earlier in the inning, Vlad Guerrero flied out, also chasing when he could have waited for Lester to get himself into trouble. Those two instances stick out in my mind, though I'm sure you could find more.

Later, Guerrero hurt the Angels again, this time getting thrown out while trying to go from first to third on a blooper. Not smart. "I slid down, the ball hopped right up to me so it wasn't that bad," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, who threw Guerrero out from short right field. Yep, that bad.

Again, not to take away from Lester's performance, which came was even more impressive because it came in place of the injured Josh Beckett. But Lackey did more things to win, even though he was not rewarded for it. Lackey spent the entire night pounding the strike zone, but took the loss because he made one mistake to Jason Bay. Lackey caught another crummy break when he was chased out of the game in the seventh.

With two out, Angels right fielder Gary Matthews Jr. apparently lost Jacoby Ellsbury's fly ball in the lights, allowing Ellsbury a three-base error. Lackey walked the next batter and he was gone for left-hander Darren Oliver, who went on to retire left-hander David Ortiz.

"John pitched a great game and I think it was important to give a different look in there..." Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.

Still, Lackey didn't look too happy leaving the game. Perhaps the most telling moment was when Lackey arrived at the top step of the dugout. Despite a strong performance (he threw 92 pitches in 6 2/3) his teammates thought it best to leave Lackey alone. Moments later, he fired his glove into the dugout wall.

You know what? It's hard to blame him.

By Marc Carig  |  October 2, 2008; 3:06 AM ET
Categories:  Angels , Red Sox  
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Comments

"But despite falling behind constantly to hitters, especially early in the game, the Angels bailed Lester out with impatience at the plate in critical situations."

Marc - so you are surprised that a team that hacks away was impatient at the plate and that a very good pitcher took advantage of it?

"Later, Guerrero hurt the Angels again, this time getting thrown out while trying to go from first to third on a blooper. "

I'm trying to remember - was it Boz that praised the Angels go go base running, putting pressure on the defense by going 1st to 3d? What was Guerrero still doing in the game when one run could tie it? Why no pinch runner?

Part of the reason the Angels lost has to do with what made them successful over the past few years and, in particular, this year. Aggressiveness at the plate and on the base paths.

You might be right that Lester nibbled a lot and was not as dominant as Lackey most of the night, but don't forget he was nibbling to batters who do not like to walk. That's just smart pitching. His command was awful in the first three innings, but he was bailed out by a team that takes an aggressive approach instead of the "walk is as good as a hit, wait for my pitch" mind set.

Lackey is one of my favorite pitchers and an elite right hander, but, as the announcers said last night, he averages more than a homer a game. When he misses in the zone to a patient hitter, he can be hit. He went away from the breaking balls that had worked the first two times against Bay when there was no indication Bay had adjusted.

Of course, the Angels can win 3 in row now, and it would not be a shock. Their offense has been effective enough all year, and if Aybar and Figgins start getting on base, there is no stopping LAA from scoring. Hunter / Kendrick / Napoli / Matthews gives them a very long batting order. Their starting pitching is capable of winning 1-0 games, and Dice-K is so walk-prone that even the Angels may start taking free passes. The Red Sox set up guys are not lock-down, and Papelbon has looked more hittable this year than last. The Angels have the best record this year, rather than the Red Sox, due to their dominance head-to-head in the regular season. But if they have fatal flaws,* they were displayed last night in a game they should have won.

* Given the hubris in this note, I should know something about fatal flaws.

Posted by: PTBNL | October 2, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

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