Vlad's gaffe was latest of Halos' playoff woes

Mark KriegelCorrespondent IOctober 2, 2008

ANAHEIM, Ca. - When the press finally gained access to the Angels' clubhouse, Vladimir Guerrero was sitting in a lounge chair, his knees encased in ice, a timer on the small table in front of him. Guerrero, who'll one day be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, could not have looked more forlorn.

I'm not sure I ever saw a guy in a room full of people look so alone. He stared straight ahead, acknowledging no one, nothing. If only his wounded feelings could be numbed like his aching joints, you'd feel better about the Angels' chances here. But looking at the timer, you wondered how long the damage to his confidence would last.

It's only a game, of course, the first of the 2008 Division Series against Boston. But it's more of the same for the Angels, who have been swept in their last two playoff series against the Red Sox. What's more, Wednesday night will be remembered as a wasted opportunity for the home team. Boston's Jon Lester pitched brilliantly, getting stronger as the game got longer.

But the play of the night, the one that epitomized the Angels' postseason woes, was Guerrero's baserunning blunder.

Already famously unsuccessful in October, Guerrero returns with a postseason batting average of .183, exactly 140 points lower than he's hit in 12 big league seasons. By the eighth inning, however, he was 2-for-4. Having just smashed a single to left off Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson, he represented the tying run. The score was 2-1. Then Torii Hunter blooped an accidental hit into shallow right field, just beyond the grasp of Kevin Youkilis.

Guerrero took off, looked back to see the ball drop, then took off again on his gimpy knees. His was quite a trot, slow and oblivious. Guerrero took no notice of the third base coach signaling him to stop. He didn't know what was going on until the ball reached third, about 20 feet ahead of him.

"I was very surprised," said Hunter. "I didn't think he would be going from first to third." You could feel the stadium deflating. The fans had no expectation that their team would come back. The next batter, Howie Kendrick, grounded out to end the inning. The Red Sox scored two more in the ninth.

"I think the mood did change," said Hunter, when asked about the effect of Guerrero's mistake. "But you've got to keep battling, keep fighting, not let it deflate you. Thank God we got a day off tomorrow to get it out of our system. That's something I've learned playing in the postseason. You've got to have amnesia."

Hunter arrived in Anaheim as a free agent, a .300 hitter in five playoff series. He is one of the players, along with Mark Teixeira, who's supposed to change the franchise's fortunes. But you wonder, after Wednesday night, if they'll be enough.

The Angels — the only 100-win team in baseball — managed a total of one unearned run. In other words, they've picked up right where they left off in last year's division series when they scored four runs in three games against Boston.

Guerrero would explain himself thusly: "I saw the ball drop and I thought it was farther than it was. I did not have a chance to look at the third base coach. If I had seen that, I would have stopped. I'm very upset with myself."

He wasn't the only one. "You got to give Jon Lester a lot of credit," said John Lackey, who allowed only a two-run homer to Jason Bay in the sixth. "But we've got to find a way to score some runs. It's pretty frustrating."

For the record, the pitch to Bay was a two-seam fastball, away. But from Lackey's perspective, the pitch wasn't the issue: "When things like that are costing you games you've got to look at the bigger picture ..."

The bigger picture? No offense, bonehead plays. "The fact that we're talking about one pitch, let's be honest ... you've got to make your own luck. We've got too much talent ..."

Too much talent to waste. This is supposed to be the year for the Angels. Not only did they add Hunter and Teixeira, but Boston's loss is supposed to be their gain. Curt Schilling, no slouch in October, is gone. Josh Beckett, the best big-game pitcher in baseball, is injured.

As it happened, Lackey lasted 6.2 innings. He was good. Lester was better, though, striking out four of the last six batters he faced.

A year ago, Lester was best known as a cancer survivor, having just undergone treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He didn't even pitch in the Division Series. Now he's riding a two-game postseason winning streak, a run that began when he started the clinching game of the 2007 World Series.

"It's a huge win for us," said Lester, who spoke of the "momentum" and the "confidence boost" it provided.

The Angels clinched their playoff spot Sept. 10. It seems long ago. Now you wonder, in this second season, what has happened to their confidence? Is it, like Vladimir Guerrero's, something that's been put on ice?

This article originally published on FOXSports.com.

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