Angels lacking answers
ANAHEIM, Calif. - I am having a moment with John Lackey.
Lackey has just made his last regular-season start of 2009, and he has been coy about which game he will pitch against the Red Sox. Standing in front of his locker while his teammates pack and dress for a final weekend in Oakland, the big righty handles all questions professionally, occasionally smiling and making a joke. But there’s an edge to the proceedings because there’s a guy from Boston in the group.
And he knows. He knows that I know that he knows. He knows that, deep down, the Angels are incredibly frustrated by the Red Sox. He knows that I know the Sox think they can beat the Angels just by showing up.
Shoot yourself in the foot? Lackey knows that the Angels have blown toes off their feet in the playoffs against Boston. They have run themselves out of innings, thrown stupid pitches, and made ridiculous errors. They have lost nine playoff games in 10 tries against the Sox since 2004. And Lackey has seen it all.
So it’s awkward to ask the questions. But that’s what we do.
“Does it tick you off the way Boston has dominated you?’’ I start.
“I really got nothing to say to that,’’ he says, shaking his head. “What else can I say, you know?’’
I do know. I know the Angels are a ball of frustration when it comes to the Red Sox. They hate the Red Sox. They hate coming to Fenway Park, just as the Magic Johnson/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Lakers hated coming to Old Boston Garden.
But there is not much these Angels can say about the situation, so they suffer in silence. They take it. They listen to all of us say that the Red Sox are inside their Halos. Baseball scouts and talking heads from coast to coast are telling America that it’s going to happen again. Another beat-down in Beantown for the nice guys from California.
From now until the series starts, the Angels will remind us that these are not the same guys who lost in 2004.
“Torii [Hunter] wasn’t here,’’ says Lackey. “Bobby [Abreu] wasn’t here. It’s a different year. They’ve got different people. We’ve got different people. You can’t read too much into it. It’s just a different year.’’
This is the mantra of all sports teams with uncomfortable history. You tell people that what happened before has nothing to do with what happens next. You are neither responsible nor accountable for the sins of those who came before you.
This is how it was in Boston when the local baseball team was dogged by 8 1/2 decades of frustration and near-miss. Bill Buckner spit and said he had nothing to do with Bucky Dent. Then the ground ball slipped between Buckner’s legs and a new generation of Sox stars was presumed to fail in the name of Buckner.
This is where the Angels are as they prepare for another run at the Red Sox. And much as they’d like to say they are “all new,’’ a lot of these Angels are responsible for recent failures against Boston. Lackey is one. His eyes have seen the gory of the last three series against the Sox. He lost games to Boston in the Division Series in ’07 and ’08. Chone Figgins? He hit .143 and made two errors in three games against the Sox in 2004. Vlad Guerrero hit .167 in ’04. Scot Shields had an ERA of 6.00 in ’04. And Mike Scioscia was the manager.
Those guys all saw David Ortiz hit the walkoff shot to end the sweep in ’04. And a bunch of today’s Angels were there two years ago when they were swept in three games by an aggregate score of 19-4. The Angels hit .192 in that series. Curt Schilling beat them with a high school fastball.
Most of them were there last year when the Sox did it to them again.
“Last year we played well,’’ says Scioscia. “Boston just played better. But we all felt better about the game we brought on the field. We executed better in key situations. In ’07 and ’04, we just played terrible baseball. We know we’re better than that. We have played good baseball in the playoffs, but against Boston we haven’t played the way we can play.’’
How to keep his players from getting too tight against the Sox?
“We haven’t always done that,’’ says the manager. “At times, some guys try to do too much. Some guys maybe think they have to expand their game. It’s good to get the guys to understand they just have to play the same way they played during the regular season. We’ve got to play baseball better than we have in previous meetings with those guys.’’
“We should have played a lot better than we did last year,’’ adds Hunter. “I don’t think it’s anything mental. It might be with some guys, but I doubt it. I don’t think it’s anything mental at all. You won’t hear any players saying that they’ve got our number. You might hear it from media and fans, but you won’t hear it from us.’’
Lackey just rolls his eyes.
“We’re tired of answering these questions,’’ he acknowledges. “But until we win, it’s still going to be there.’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.