Jon Lester and John Lackey engaged in a pretty sharp pitchers' duel into the bottom of the fifth inning of Game One last night in Anaheim, CA.
It was at that point Lester left a fastball out over the middle of the plate that LA center fielder Torii Hunter clobbered—sending it into the rock garden in center field at Angel Stadium. The three-run home run put the Angels on top, and Lackey (along with former Red Sox reliever Darren Oliver) made it stand as LA beat the Red Sox, 5-0, to take the first game of the ALDS.
Red Sox hitters apparently left their bats in Boston when they made their cross-country trip aboard their chartered plane. They managed only four singles off Lackey while getting shut out in the postseason for the first time since 1995 (in Game Two of the ALDS against Cleveland).
The shutout was the first in the Angels' postseason history (53 games).
While it is never good to lose the first game of ANY playoff series, let alone the shortened ALDS, it should be noted that the Angels have never gone on to win a postseason series in which they won Game One, losing all three previous series in which they did so.
Lackey and Lester both breezed through the first two innings of their outing, with the only baserunner being Angels OF Bobby Abreu, who drew a one-out walk in the first inning.
Things got interesting in both halves of the third inning. With two out in the top of the inning, Sox SS Alex Gonzalez got the first hit of the ballgame, a single to left-center field. The inning appeared to be over when Jacoby Ellsbury bounced back to the mound, but after TBS went to commercial home plate umpire Joe West called catcher’s interference on LA backstop Jeff Mathis—putting runners at first and second bases. The scoring opportunity was wasted when Dustin Pedroia lined out to right field to end the inning.
The Angels left the bases loaded in the bottom of the inning. Mathis singled. Abreu and Torii Hunter drew two-out walks to load the bases, but Lester re-grouped and struck out Vladimir Guerrero to end the threat and keep the game scoreless.
The first (of three) umpiring gaffe of the ballgame occurred in the fourth inning. LA 2B Howie Kendrick grounded a ball up the middle that Gonzalez speared with a nice slide… his throw went a little wide of the first base bag and caused Kevin Youkilis to come off the bag, snare the ball, and swipe a tag on Kendrick. First base ump C.B. Bucknor called Kendrick safe, but he was CLEARLY out.
Nonetheless, Lester retired the side to keep the game scoreless.
The Angels finally jumped on top in the bottom of the fifth inning, when Lester surrendered three of the four hits he would allow in his six-inning effort. The southpaw got ahead of the No.9 hitter, Erick Aybar, but couldn’t put him away, eventually surrendering a double down the third-base line.
After a Chone Figgins sac bunt, Abreu walked for the third time to set the stage for Hunter, who may have single-handedly exorcised the demons of Angels past. Later in the frame, Juan Rivera laced a two-out double, but Lester avoided further damage when Gonzalez made a diving catch of a line drive off the bat of 1B Kendry Morales. (NOTE: Hunter can be seen flipping his bat after hitting the home run in the game photo accompanying this article)
The Red Sox had a fleeting chance to get back into the game in the next half-inning. With two out, Pedroia dumped a single into right field and Victor Martinez drew a walk. Youkilis then ran the count to 3-0 and should have drawn a walk on the fourth pitch, but West called the pitch a strike (the tv indicated it was clearly outside and should have been called a ball). Two pitches later, Youk chopped a ball down the third base line that Figgins snagged and tagged (third base) to record the final out of the inning.
In the bottom of the inning, Bucknor AGAIN blew a call at first base…and again the beneficiary was Kendrick, who he called safe after a Mike Lowell throw pulled Youkilis off the bag. It was obvious that Youkili came down with his foot on the bag…and from Bucknor’s vantage point it is inconceivable he missed the call.
But he did. With two out, Figgins drove a ball deep into the right-center field gap that Ellsbury laid out for to record the final out.
The Angels added to their lead in the seventh inning. Ramon Ramirez relieved Lester and immediately walked Abreu and then hit Hunter. Guerrero then hit a comebacker that deflected off the pitcher’s glove…Ramirez was unable to make a clean pick-up and Vlad was safe at first.
Takashi Saito was brought into the game with no one out and retired Rivera on a 5-2-5 double play to put the Sox on the precipice of escaping…but Morales singled to left to drive in Guerrero. When Jason Bay’s throw to third base deflected off Rivera, he scored as well. Howie Kendrick followed with a single into right field, but J.D. Drew’s throw home cut down Morales at the plate—thanks to an outstanding block of home plate by Martinez—to keep the score 5-zip.
(NOTE: a third egregious umpiring mistake was made by 3B ump Greg Golson on the 5-2-5 double play…he called Hunter out at third base on the play when he was clearly safe.)
Daniel Bard pitched a scoreless eighth inning in his postseason debut, whiffing two of the three batters he faced. Oliver replaced Lackey, who had been outstanding over seven-and-a-third innings pitched, and retired all five batters he faced to finish the shutout.
The Red Sox made three errors in the ballgame (throwing errors by Gonzalez, Lowell, and Bay). After the game, Bay observed: “I think by and large we’re a pretty good offensive team, and Lackey shut us down with four singles…Four singles and three errors isn’t going to win too many ballgames, so you tip your hat a little bit. But I think we can be better.”
The Sox don’t have to wait long to get their chance—Game Two is tonight. Josh Beckett will face off against right-hander Jered Weaver.
The Olde Towne Team remains undaunted…they have been down this road before and have regularly come from behind to extend the series. As Dustin Pedroia said: “We’ve been here before. We’ve lost the first game (and recovered). You don’t win one and series over. That’s not how it goes.’’
Jacoby Ellsbury added: “If we can get a win tonight and go back to Boston with a split, we’ll be satisfied with that.”
Lester walked four batters in the game…he did that only once in 32 regular season starts.
After the game, Francona announced that Victor Martinez will be behind the plate again tonight to catch Josh Beckett. Jason Varitek has caught Beckett in 83 of his 90 starts since the start of the 2007 season.
The Sox ace has performed much better when he throws to Varitek, but apparently Tito wants the offense provided by Martinez…Weaver is 2-0, 0.66 against the Sox this season.