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Dan Shaughnessy

Tables turned, a start to forget

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / October 9, 2009

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Angels hate the Red Sox.

You would, too, if you had to listen to what the Angels have heard for the last couple of weeks.

The Sox are in your head. You will choke in the playoffs against Boston. They beat you with Manny Ramírez and Curt Schilling and now they will beat you with Jon Lester and Jason Bay. Veteran Angels righthander John Lackey said the only way to stop the taunting was to beat Boston. And so he did.

On the strength of Lackey’s 7 1/3 innings of four-hit ball and Torii Hunter’s monstrous three-run homer off Lester, the Halos finally got the rally monkey off their backs with a 5-0 victory over the Red Sox in Game 1 of their American League Division Series last night.

Beating the Halos in October had become a New England tradition, like picking apples at one of those yuppie-magnet orchards along Route 2. Three times in the last five years, the Sox eliminated the Angels with ease in the first round. Nine wins in 10 games. Dominance not seen since Muhammad Ali pummeled Chuck Wepner in Cleveland in 1975. In 94 innings of ALDS play against the Sox, the Angels led for a grand total of 7 1/2 innings.

Finally, the Angels stopped the madness. For one game, at least. And it was spokesperson Hunter who delivered the crushing blow.

“We don’t really care about that,’’ said Hunter, when asked about the “hex’’ vs. Boston. “Sometimes you read all that stuff and it gets in your head. I tried to explain to you guys that we really don’t give a damn.’’

Hunter is as nice a guy as you will find in a big league clubhouse. Quick with a joke or to light up your smoke, he’s not afraid to speak the truth. When the Angels spit the bit in a September game at Fenway, Hunter was the one who called out his teammates. While those around him were crying about bad calls and buzzard’s luck, Hunter declared that it was time for his teammates to show some (rhymes with and means the same thing as) “guts.’’ They won the next night, scoring the winning run in the ninth.

And they won last night. Thanks to Lackey and a stake-driving, bun-toasting, heat-seeking missile by Hunter.

The Red Sox had not played a game that mattered in more than two weeks. It showed. Boston made three errors and managed only four hits. David Ortiz struck out three times.

“We gave them some extra opportunities,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona, who suffered a bout of food poisoning earlier in the day.

Lester, who has now lost three straight postseason decisions, was looking a little shaky when he took the mound with the score 0-0 in the fifth.

He walked three in the first four innings and got out of a bases-loaded jam (fanning Vlad Guerrero, who has one RBI in his last 18 playoff games) in the third.

Leading off the fifth, Erick Aybar cracked a double down the left-field line. After Aybar was sacrificed to third, Bobby Abreu walked. It was one of four walks on the night for Abreu, the man who brought plate approach and discipline to the Angel lineup.

Enter Hunter. The center fielder crushed an 0-and-1 pitch, driving it halfway up the Disney-theme-park rock formation beyond the fence in left-center.

“He is one of the toughest lefties in the game,’’ said Hunter. “I guess I was just lucky or blessed that he threw a fastball down the middle and I was able to capitalize on that mistake.’’

That was the ballgame. Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver said that the magic formula for winning ballgames was good pitching and three-run homers, and the Angels had both in Game 1.

Lester left after six, triggering a jailbreak of sorts against Sox relievers Ramon Ramirez and Takashi Saito.

The Angels led 5-0 after seven, but Lackey wasn’t ready to turn the game over to his bullpen just yet. The righty hadn’t won a postseason game since his rookie year, winning Game 7 of the 2002 World Series. After getting one out, the big galoot gave the ball to Darren Oliver, a man once traded to Boston for Jurassic Carl Everett.

Lackey threw 114 pitches. And he did what no Angel has done against the Red Sox in October in this century. He put them ahead in the series. He stopped the negativity for one fine day. He put some doubt into the Red Sox and their Nation.

“We won one game, we’ve got to get three,’’ said Lackey. “That’s what really matters.’’

Josh Beckett - Boston’s Mr. October in 2007 - gets the ball tonight. Not to be an I-told-you-so, but some of us wanted Beckett to pitch Game 1.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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