For all their success over what is now almost two decades, tonight will be the first time since 1990 that the Red Sox will open a first-round playoff series at home.
It is their first AL East title since 1995, but even that year they were forced to hit the road for a pair in Cleveland against the juggernaut Indians. Wild cards in ’05, ’04, ’03, ’99, and ’98, they opened October in Chicago, Anaheim, Oakland, Cleveland, and Cleveland again, respectively.
Tonight, the playoffs kick off at Fenway Park for the first time since Dave Stewart and the Oakland A’s soared past the Sox and Roger Clemens, 9-1, in Game 1 of the ALCS, a series later marked infamous by the aforementioned Clemens’ loon job on the mound in Oakland just days later. “Ster-oids” chants rained down from the right field stands toward Jose Canseco. Wade Boggs accounted for Boston’s only run with a homer. And the Red Sox extended their postseason losing streak to seven.
Which seems like it was longer ago? That game, or the last time Boston and Anaheim-Los Angeles met in the playoffs?
It was of course just three years ago, but by now it has almost become the forgotten series on the path to the World Series party. That pivotal evening in St. Louis and the final four games of an historic comeback in the ALCS are still at the forefront of our minds. But nobody wrote any books on the ALDS that year. There isn’t any collection of DVDs to pop in one night and remember the 3-0 sweep of the Angels. David Ortiz’s Game 3 home run is what we recall, as well as Curt Schilling limping off the mound in Game 1 if only because it set up a story line for the ages in the coming weeks.
Other than some tense moments in the clincher following Vladimir Guerrero’s grand slam, it was all too easy for Boston. And if postseason predictions mean anything, many people expect that history is due to repeat itself.
Who they're picking
Our roundup of how writers around the country are picking the Red Sox-Angels playoff series:
The Boston Globe: Red Sox across the board.
The Sporting News: Only Ryan Fagan and Kyle Veltrop go with the Angels of the seven-man panel. Reasons Veltrop, “This one has all the makings of a classic. Here's a hunch that Vlad will have one more big hit than Big Papi.”
Dan Connolly, Baltimore Sun: Red Sox in four. “The only way the Angels win this is if their ballyhooed bullpen, which has been a big disappointment, bounces back. It certainly is capable. Ultimately, the Red Sox, who won the season series 6-4, still are the most balanced team standing.”
ESPN.com: Only Jim Caple of ESPN’s 10-man panel picks the Angels.
Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated: Red Sox in four. “Schilling is 27-8 in Fenway as a Boston starter and, with his 8-2 postseason record, would have been a logical choice to start a Game 5. Instead, he'll pitch in Anaheim in Game 3 on 11 days of rest. Hmm. Could it be the Sox already are looking ahead to the Yankees? Or do the Sox simply believe Matsuzaka is better equipped to make that second start in this series?”
Jim Baker, Baseball Prospectus: Red Sox in four. “The obvious pick is the Red Sox, given their 12-game spread in expected wins. Boston also has a slight edge in offensive prowess, Boston’s defense is vastly superior, and their pitching, while close, is slightly better as well. After the outcome of the 2006 playoffs, we should all be a bit shy about putting ourselves out there with predictions, but that’s part of the fun, one supposes.”
Ken Rosenthal, Foxsports.com: Red Sox in four. “I probably would pick the Red Sox even if the Angels were whole. Good as the Angels are, their various physical and performance concerns make this an easy call.”
Mark Whicker, Orange County Register: Red Sox in four. “Some baseball people swear by the Angels’ chances. They do have an uncanny way of fighting through problems. A Game 5 in Fenway would be a major problem, as is Gary Matthews Jr.’s absence, and winning the series in four means beating Beckett or Matsuzaka twice. It seems a little much.”
Troy E. Renck, Denver Post: Red Sox in five.
Bill Madden, New York Daily News: Red Sox in four.
Paul White, USA Today: Angels in five. “When the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, Ramirez and Ortiz combined to bat .374 in the postseason, including .458 in the Division Series against the Angels. But Ramirez had just one extra-base hit, a double, in the six games since his return and his 20 homers this year are his fewest since he played 91 games in 1994. He didn't hit a homer in 43 plate appearances against the Angels this season.”
Our picks: Cubs over Diamondbacks in five: Eric Byrnes is available as an analyst for Fox’s goat and Bartman obsessions.
Rockies over Phillies in five: They might want to start stocking celebratory cigars in the same humidor that stores the baseballs at Coors Field.
Yankees over Indians in four: C.C. and Fausto conjure memories of Glavine and Smoltz.
Red Sox over Angels in three: You think David Ortiz will have something to do with it?