Off to Bad Starts

Times Staff Writer

The foundation on which this Angel season was built -- sturdy starting pitching, door-slamming relief, airtight defense, an opportunistic offense -- crumbled in two innings Tuesday, leaving the team’s World Series hopes on shakier ground.

The Boston Red Sox, taking advantage of a throwing error by Chone Figgins and home runs by Kevin Millar and Manny Ramirez, fashioned a seven-run fourth inning and smoked the Angels, 9-3, in Game 1 of the American League division series in front of a subdued crowd of 44,608 in Angel Stadium.

Not only did the rally suck the air right out of those noise sticks, it put the Angels in a position of having to beat Red Sox right-hander Pedro Martinez tonight or face the daunting task of traveling to Fenway Park, where the Angels were swept in a three-game series five weeks ago, in a 2-0 hole in the best-of-five series.


All of which has the Angels thinking: What’s the big deal?

The Angels lost Game 1 of the 2002 division series in Yankee Stadium and won the series in four games. They lost Game 1 of the AL championship series that October in Minnesota’s Metrodome and won the series in five games. They lost Game 1 of the 2002 World Series at home to San Francisco and beat the Giants in seven games for their first championship.

“We like to make things hard,” said Angel first baseman Darin Erstad, whose seventh-inning home run was one of the few Angel highlights. “You know you’ve been through this before, that anything is possible. This doesn’t mean the series is over. You can feed off what happened in 2002 and know better times are ahead. But it makes [tonight’s game] important, definitely.”

The Angels don’t believe the road ahead is any more difficult than it was in 2002, even though after losing on the road in the first two rounds two years ago, they had the comfort of knowing they’d be home for at least two games in the division series and three in the league championship series.

This time, they’ll be on the road for Games 3 and 4, in a park where the Red Sox have gone 55-26; where they pasted Angel pitchers for 26 runs on 44 hits in a three-game sweep Aug. 31-Sept. 2, and where they feed off the energy of their rabid fans.

The Angels’ counterpoint: They went 47-34 on the road this season and 28-13 in their final 41 road games. They choose to ignore that Martinez is 9-1 with a 2.12 earned-run average against them.

“Obviously, you’d like to win the first game, but we’re not dead,” said Angel starter Jarrod Washburn, who gave up a two-run homer to Millar in the fourth. “There’s no cause for alarm. Everyone in here knows that because of what happened in 2002. And we played great on the road this season. It doesn’t matter where we play. I just know we have to play better than we did today.”


That’s not asking for too much.

Washburn lasted only 3 1/3 innings, giving up seven runs -- three earned -- and five hits and walking three, not the kind of start to match the likes of Red Sox ace Curt Schilling. He gave up three runs -- two earned -- on nine hits in 6 2/3 solid but unspectacular innings to improve his postseason record to 6-1.

Reliever Scot Shields, called on to prevent a three-run deficit from expanding in the fourth, put a little too much on a change-up to Ramirez, who ripped it for a three-run homer.

The Angels blew a chance to tie the game in the second when Troy Glaus led off with a double and Jeff DaVanon failed to advance him to third, one of the staples of Manager Mike Scioscia’s run-manufacturing offense.

And Figgins, who has shifted between second and third for the last three weeks but started at third Tuesday, misplayed Ramirez’s first-inning chopper into a double, contributing to Boston’s first run, and committed the key error in the fourth, enabling the Red Sox to widen the margin.

Figgins probably will return to second, his best defensive position, in Game 2 tonight, with Dallas McPherson starting at third.

The Angels are confident Figgins will bounce back.

“Figgy’s very mentally strong, [his confidence] is not even an issue,” Erstad said. “He plays hard, he plays with no fear. Things happen -- that’s the way it is. He’ll come back [tonight] and play well.”


After Millar’s homer in the fourth, the Red Sox loaded the bases with one out, and leadoff batter Johnny Damon tapped a grounder to third. Figgins, knowing he couldn’t get the double play if he went to second, tried for the force at home, but his throw sailed wide of catcher Bengie Molina and to the backstop, as two runs scored.

Scioscia summoned Shields, who struck 109 in 105 1/3 innings this season, and the reliable right-hander whiffed Mark Bellhorn for the second out.

With first base open, the Angels had a choice: pitch to the right-handed Ramirez, who had 43 homers and 130 runs batted in this season, or the left-handed Ortiz, who had 41 homers and 139 RBIs.

Talk about a no-win situation. The Angels chose Ramirez, who blasted a 1-1 change-up over the wall in center for a three-run homer and an 8-0 lead. The seven runs -- five of which were unearned -- were the most the Red Sox have scored in an inning and the most the Angels have given up in an inning in postseason play.

“This one left a pretty bitter taste in my mouth,” said Washburn, who will start Game 5 if the series goes that far. “Hopefully, I’ll get another shot at them. Hopefully, we follow the same road we did in 2002.”