LA tosses pair of perfect games
ANAHEIM, Calif. - You don’t want to get too far ahead of the story here, but so far this thing is working out like a Mike Scioscia personal clinic entitled, “How To Play Winning Baseball.’’
You throw out a 6-foot-6-inch pitcher at the top of his game the first night, and you back him up with a three-run homer by the guy who can both talk and play at a very high level. Angels 5, Red Sox 0.
Then you throw out a 6-foot-7-inch pitcher at the top of his game, and you back him up with timely hitting and some of your trademark base running. Angels 4, Red Sox 1.
And you take a 2-0 series lead back to Boston. Very tidy.
There’s not much the Red Sox can say. They have been outpitched and outhit and the only encouraging thing is that the series returns to Fenway, where they enjoyed another typically outstanding year.
Jon Lester was a one-bad-pitch loser on Thursday. Last night, Josh Beckett was a one-bad-inning loser. Perhaps in years past, when the Red Sox were taking three series from the Angels while winning 9 of 10 games, those mound efforts would have been good enough. But people in Boston had better get it through their heads that these are not the same old roll-over-and-die Angels, at least not based on what we’ve seen in Games 1 and 2.
The Angels broke this one open with three runs in the seventh, the go-ahead RBI coming off the bat of second baseman Maicer Izturis and the crushing cherry-on-the-sundae blow being a two-run triple by shortstop Erick Aybar, who blasted Beckett’s 28th pitch of the inning, and 103d of the game, over the head of Jacoby Ellsbury, which is not all that easy to do.
Beckett had come into the seventh pitching a game that was just short of magnificent, allowing three hits and one run through six innings while keeping his pitch count to (for him) a minimum. The only problem was that Angels starter Jered Weaver was matching him.
Aficionados of pitching craftsmanship must have been in a near-euphoric state watching these two righthanders, one big and the other really big, go about their business as the game cruised through six innings tied at 1.
Beckett was dealing from the start, setting down the Angels on 12 pitches in the first inning and 11 in the second, and not allowing a hit until Aybar singled to left with two away in the third.
Weaver did him one better, zipping through the Red Sox’ order unscathed the first time around. But Ellsbury reached him for a leadoff triple over the head of center fielder Torii Hunter in the fourth (ending a personal 0-for-24 playoff drought) and Victor Martinez brought him home with a solid single to center, giving the Red Sox their first playoff run in 20 innings, dating to last year’s American League Championship Series with Tampa Bay. But there would be no crooked number, as Kevin Youkilis flied to center and David Ortiz struck out.
The idea in these matters, of course, is for the pitcher this gifted to show his thanks by throwing up a goose egg in the next half-inning. That was not going to happen, however, because, well, because the Angels were about to demonstrate they really know how to play this game.
To the uneducated eye, there may have been nothing special about the tying run constructed by the Orange County boys. But to those who love baseball, it was a little gem.
The resourceful Bobby Abreu started things off by taking a Beckett pitch on the outside part of the plate and not trying to do too much with it, poking it through the third base/shortstop hole for a single. Hunter then ripped a guaranteed line drive double down the left-field line, only to see the ball disappear into the glove of a lunging Mike Lowell, who on this particular play looked like an athletic 25-year-old, not a somewhat immobilized 35-year-old held together by bailing wire and adhesive tape, only able to play because of the wonders of modern medical science. A shocked and amazed Hunter, barely a step out of the batter’s box, threw up his hands in frustration.
Still, there was only one out and the next batter was Vladimir Guerrero, who, while no longer an MVP type, remains a dangerous man with a bat in his hands. Scioscia called for a hit-and-run, and it couldn’t have worked out better if Vladi had run with the ball and placed it on the grass in right. He simply slapped a chopper right where Dustin Pedroia would have been, and now the Angels had men on the corners with one out.
Abreu didn’t have to wait long. Kendry Morales hit the second pitch to fairly deep right for a tying sacrifice fly.
Beckett wasn’t what you might call unnerved by the experience. He set down the Angels in order on eight pitches in the fifth and 11 in the sixth.
In becoming the second Weaver brother to win a playoff game this week (Jeff got the W for the Dodgers in Game 1 vs. the Cardinals), Jered dazzled the Red Sox with both hard stuff and a numbing changeup that had Boston batters lurching all night long. Scioscia allowed him to stay out there for 111 pitches, removing him in favor of Methuselean southpaw Darren Oliver after striking out J.D. Drew to start the eighth. In an instant replay of John Lackey’s departure the night before, Weaver exited to a standing ovation, a job not just well done, but spectacularly well done.
The same can be said of every Angel who had a part in these first two victories. The Red Sox had better hope the Angels’ mojo ejects somewhere over the Rockies as they fly to Logan Airport today.