In simplistic terms, it is but four letters, two syllables that allow vowels to do all the work. Yet when the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin summons them in his lede today, following last night’s Game 1 win by the Red Sox, they carry with them such deep significance that there can be no better way to sum up what has to be classified as an overall feeling of impending doom in the shadow of Space Mountain.
Uh oh, indeed. Also acceptable would have been any expletive form of “^%$#,” “**$#,” or “*&^%$#(*^&^&$#$#$^&%$,” but admittedly, that makes less appealing copy.
After last night’s 10th straight playoff loss to the Red Sox, dating back to Dave Henderson’s home run in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, the Angels have to be feeling an annual case of déjà vu, like a 4-year-old who keeps running into the cement wall, no matter how many times you tell him not to, no matter the size of the purple welt growing on his forehead.
It’s amazing. Every year, heading into October, everybody spouts their opinion on how teams match up based on how the regular season just finished. Yet, we soon forget the vastly different nature of playoff baseball, when it doesn’t matter one lick if the Angels finished the season 8-1 against Boston, or if Jon Lester struggled in an April start. Here is where numbers in the game can play tricks on us, forcing us to make conclusions that have no bearing on baseball following the equinox.
Instead, perhaps these are the numbers regarding the Angels that we should have concentrated on heading into the ALDS, courtesy of Shaikin: “Seven consecutive playoff losses overall, 57 postseason innings without a home run, 78 postseason innings without a lead of more than one run. And, for Lackey, the ace, five consecutive postseason starts in a row without a victory.”
Egads. When did Mike Scioscia invite Bobby Cox into the Angels dugout?
As far as Lackey is concerned, last night’s loss doesn’t exactly go up there in the ’04 Kevin Brown category of worst postseason starts ever, but it’s accurate to note that for all this team’s regular season success this decade, the man has not picked up a postseason victory since his Game 7 World Series win over the Giants in 2002.
He may be an ace, but isn’t it obvious by now that there are different levels of that term? For every Josh Beckett, Curt Schilling, Andy Pettitte, and now, Lester, there is a Lackey, Tom Glavine, or Ryan (Dice-K) Dempster, guys who excel at their craft from April to September, only to arrive at October, pitch admirably, yet not quite good enough to win. (Based on what he's done this season, we're keeping the jury open on CC Sabathia for now, with a short leash.)
These are the guys you have the utmost faith in getting the job done, a list topped by Beckett and Schilling, not coincidentally the two primary reasons why we're no longer talking about curses and having cookie-crumbling séances on Yawkey Way. Roger Clemens had exactly zero postseason wins for Boston from 1988-1995, a situation often blamed on offensive ineptitude. There is no way of knowing, short of summoning some plutonium and the pitcher’s willingness to time travel, but put Beckett on those same mounds, and you just assume the outcome would be different.
Some aces pitch well in the postseason. Others win.
It is just quite that simple.
In case you haven’t noticed, the Red Sox now have two of these guys in Beckett and Lester, who turned in his own Pettitte-y performance last night, without, you know, Mitchell Report-related stuff. Six hits, one run, and most importantly, one walk. The plan worked perfectly, as the lefty made it into the seventh inning, handing the ball off to Justin Masterson and Jonathan Papelbon.
Game. That's now eight straight postseason wins for Boston.
If Daisuke Matsuzaka can repeat such a performance Friday night, the series will be considered all over, even for the most cautious baseball historian, heading back to Fenway Park. And before you roll your eyes at such a possibility, not to mention the prospect of a Saturday morning bedtime sometime around 4 a.m., consider that Matsuzaka could be facing the perfect team tomorrow night, an aggressive-swinging group with a patience wearing thin as the innings tick away.
Of course, last October, he couldn’t even make it out of the fifth inning against the Angels, so it's sort of up in the air what to expect from the righty. Like that’s anything new by now.
But even if the Angels can break a 22-year-old drought tomorrow night, they have to come to Boston to face Beckett in all probability Sunday, and then, perhaps most damning of all, another Lester-Lackey matchup come Monday.
Who you like in that one?
Oh, and then there’s this, once again, courtesy of Shaikin: “The Angels have played 49 postseason games. They never have pitched a shutout.”
Never. Now, while that might not exactly be the most telling stat there is out there to define how a team fares in the postseason, with Beckett and Lester looming large in this series, it may be the best way for the Angels to steal a game from Boston. Imagine being Joe Saunders or Lackey, facing Beckett and Lester, respectively, and feeling he had to pitch a shutout in order to win.
That’s pressure. And it’s all on LA now.