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JACKIE MACMULLAN

California dreamin'? It's a reality

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The blueprint was followed down to almost every nuance, every wrinkle, every desired contour.

Think about it. In your perfect Red Sox postseason dream, ace pitcher Curt Schilling dominates the Anaheim Angels deep into the ballgame. Boston's hitting hombres, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, jump on Anaheim's starting pitching early, rendering moot the daunting bullpen combination of setup man Francisco Rodriguez and closer Troy Percival.

Since it's your dream, why not fantasize that Boston's own middle relief, a source of some concern in recent weeks, protects Schilling's lead as if it were their World Series share?

And while you're at it, doze off with visions of an insurance run being bunted home in the eighth, and a pair of dazzling defensive plays that simply were not possible a couple of months ago.

OK, you can wake up now. All those dreams came true yesterday in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Angels, the same Angels who were the hottest team in baseball just two days ago.

"It's a huge, huge win, and I'll tell you why," said center fielder Johnny Damon. "Now we won't go back to Fenway with our backs against the wall."

The Sox dropped Games 1 and 2 last year against Oakland as the wild-card entry, and though they were able to pull out the series in dramatic fashion -- is there any other way when it comes to this star-crossed franchise? -- all of the core group from 2003 agreed it was preferable to draw first blood.

Credit Schilling for setting the tone. Anaheim's monster hitter Vladimir Guerrero looked like a September callup instead of an MVP candidate. Guerrero flied out three times (twice on first pitches) and struck out swinging against Schilling, then fanned again in the ninth to end the game against reliever Mike Timlin.

Nobody is banking on Guerrero looking so hapless tonight ("He don't care what happens before, he just keeps on coming at you," reports his friend, Ortiz), but having the opponent's slugger dissected on the late-night cable shows sure beats having your own bashers called into question.

"Schilling set the table for that," Timlin said. "He threw everything hard away or soft away. Most of this season, we've been pitching [Guerrero] hard in, and I don't think he expected us to pitch him away like we did."

The Yankees may be Pedro Martinez's daddy, but Guerrero should be calling Schilling "uncle" after yesterday's 9-3 thrashing.

Schilling's work enabled the bullpen to work out some postseason jitters with a comfortable cushion. Alan Embree retired his lone batter, Adam Riggs, and Timlin knocked down the final six Angels, striking out the side in the ninth.

In between, Ramirez and Kevin Millar hit home runs, Orlando Cabrera made two sparkling plays at shortstop that further ushered Mia Hamm's husband into the recesses of our minds, and Doug Mientkiewicz bunted -- that's right, bunted -- home an insurance run in the eighth.

What else could you possibly want?

"Everything went according to plan for us," said Damon. "We got big hits by Manny and David to get us loose, which helped a lot. Of all people not to be relaxed, I definitely wasn't. I had trouble getting comfortable until those guys broke it open a bit."

The Sox wrestled away the home-field advantage on the first try. If Martinez can regain his command tonight and submit a vintage performance, the locals could well come home with a very comfortable blueprint on the board.

"Things scripted really well for us," said Timlin, "but you know they'll want to change that script. It's not like they'll roll over."

No matter. The blueprint called for at least one win in Anaheim. That work already has been done.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.

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