Ace in their face
BOSTON -- The Angels know depth. They used every ounce of their big league roster and then some to win the American League West title during a season in which 11 regulars went on the disabled list, six for return visits.
Wednesday night, they discovered depths, as in a playoff low they haven’t experienced since, well, the last time they reached the playoffs.
The Angels opened the 2007 American League division series in Fenway Park, and the 2005 AL championship series broke out.
They managed a mere four singles in nine innings off Boston ace Josh Beckett in a 4-0 Game 1 loss to the Red Sox that was reminiscent of the 2005 ALCS, when the Angels batted .175 and scored 11 runs against the Chicago White Sox, collecting no more than seven hits in each of the five games.
“Every game is magnified in a short series, and the story tonight was our batter’s box offense -- it wasn’t there,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Beckett pitched a terrific game, but we have to have more happen in the box and more on the bases. That’s what we’re going to focus on.
“No one is looking back to 2005 or 2004 or 2002, it’s where we are now. We have a team that can contend in this series and further, but obviously, tonight wasn’t our finest game. We have to start pressuring them and doing the things this club can do.”
Beckett wouldn’t let them do much of anything Wednesday night. He barely let them breathe, smothering the Angels with a blizzard of strikes and retiring 19 consecutive batters after Chone Figgins’ leadoff single in the first, matching the third-longest string of batters retired in postseason history.
Beckett, mixing his 96-mph fastball with his curve and changeup, threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of 31 hitters, including 17 in a row from the second through seventh innings. He struck out eight, walked none, and of his 108 pitches, 83 were strikes. Only one Angels runner reached third; two reached second.
“It wasn’t just strike one, it was strike one and strike two,” Angels first baseman Casey Kotchman said. “He was ahead most of the night and commanded three pitches in the strike zone. He was on with everything.”
Perhaps Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, whose two-run home run off Angels starter John Lackey gave Boston a 3-0 lead in the third, put it best: “Even on TV,” Ortiz said, “he looked filthy.”
The Angels offense looks stale, stagnant. They clinched the division Sept. 23, and while they rested many regulars over the final week of the season, their bats went into hibernation. They hit .206 and scored 10 runs in their final five games, going two for 22 with runners in scoring position.
Wednesday night, all the Angels mustered were a pair of singles by Vladimir Guerrero, and singles by Figgins (ending an 0-for-22 skid) and Howie Kendrick. They were hitless with three runners in scoring position, failing to plate Figgins after he reached second with one out in the first.
Beckett was excellent, but Scioscia thinks the Angels could have been better.
“There’s a fine line between trying to work counts, and when you get a good pitch, putting it in play hard,” Scioscia said. “Early on, we were trying to work counts, and [Beckett] was coming right after us. We started getting more aggressive the second and third time around, fouling pitches off that weren’t put in play hard, and he was able to get in counts and put guys away. We just didn’t have it in the batter’s box.”
As a result, there will be a few new guys in the box for Game 2 Friday night. Scioscia said Guerrero, relegated to DH since early September because of an elbow injury, probably would return to right field, and Figgins, who started in right Wednesday, probably would replace Reggie Willits in center.
That would enable Scioscia to add Kendry Morales or Juan Rivera to the lineup as a DH against Daisuke Matsuzaka. There’s a chance Willits would replace left fielder Garret Anderson, who is suffering from an infection in his right eye.
“We’re going to look at some changes,” Scioscia said. “Our offense is based on the first or second guy of an inning getting on base, and we weren’t able to do that tonight. But you can’t single out one guy.”
Lackey rebounded from a rocky start -- he gave up four runs and eight hits, including Kevin Youkilis’ solo home run in the first, in the first three innings -- to blank the Red Sox for the next three innings, but the right-hander needed to be near perfect to match Beckett.
He wasn’t, and as a result, the Angels lost their seventh consecutive postseason game to the Red Sox, they fell to 14-23 in Fenway Park since 2000, including two playoff losses, and are down, 1-0, in the series to a team that seems to be picking up steam.
“It’s big,” Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp said. “To get the first of anything is big. The first hit. The first run. So to get the first win is important.”