Angels hit empty early
Their roster ravaged by injuries, their lineup lacking in power, the Angels emerged from a grueling six-month regular season with an American League West title, only to endure the most gut-wrenching and empty playoff feeling there is:
Three and out.
The Boston Red Sox swept the Angels out of the American League division series, blowing open a tight game with a seven-run eighth inning Sunday en route to a series-clinching 9-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 45,262 in Angel Stadium, many of whom headed for the exits a full inning before it ended.
Veteran right-hander Curt Schilling, his transition from power pitcher to master craftsman complete, kept the Angels guessing for seven shutout innings, and David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez each crushed fourth-inning home runs against Jered Weaver to lead the Red Sox to the AL Championship Series against Cleveland or New York.
Boston, which swept the Angels in the 2004 division series, has won nine consecutive postseason games against the Angels, dating to Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, and the Angels have lost seven consecutive playoff games, dating to Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS against the White Sox.
While champagne corks popped in the visiting clubhouse Sunday, the loudest sound in the Angels clubhouse was the screech of packing tape, as players boxed up their belongings, exchanged hugs and began heading home for the winter.
“This stinks,” Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez said. “I know once again we let a lot of people down. We failed. That’s part of baseball. Either you make it all the way or you fall short.”
The Angels didn’t exactly fall short. If this best-of-five series was a 100-meter dash, they barely got out of the blocks.
The Angels were outscored, 19-4, in three games, they scored in only two of 27 innings and held a lead for all of three innings. They hit .192 (19 for 99) with a .250 on-base percentage and .253 slugging percentage.
They did not hit a home run, and middle-of-the-order hitters Vladimir Guerrero and Garret Anderson failed to drive in a run. They were two for 22 with runners in scoring position.
In their last eight playoff games, the Angels have scored 14 runs, an average of 1.8 runs a game.
The Angels ran away with the AL West with a little-ball attack that featured aggressive baserunning and clutch hitting, but against the Red Sox, they simply came up little.
“We didn’t have any offense, whatsoever,” shortstop Orlando Cabrera said. “The Red Sox did pitch good, but I didn’t see anything great.”
As a result, these final three games somewhat obscured what the Angels accomplished in the first 162.
“We’re not happy -- we fully felt we were going to play better and didn’t,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Still, to get to this point with what our roster was dealt with is a terrific accomplishment.
“It doesn’t make us feel any better when we wake up [today]. But I don’t think the whole season is a disaster because of what happened in this series. Our expectations were higher than what we achieved.”
The Angels didn’t let injuries torpedo their season -- when a starter went down, a reserve or minor leaguer usually filled in capably -- but they strained not to use injuries as an excuse against the Red Sox.
Center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. did not play because of left knee tendinitis, Anderson was hindered by an infected right eye, which forced him out of Sunday’s game after two innings, and first baseman Casey Kotchman spent Sunday in a hospital because of severe flu-like symptoms.
Guerrero (left shoulder contusion), Chone Figgins (sore left wrist) and Maicer Izturis (tight left quadriceps) all played with minor injuries.
“We needed everybody healthy and playing well to have a shot,” pitcher John Lackey said. “To not be healthy and not be playing well was a bad combination.”
Never was this more apparent than in the third inning Sunday, when the Angels put runners on first and third with two out and Guerrero coming up. One problem: On deck in the cleanup spot, instead of Anderson, was Reggie Willits, the gritty little outfielder who has no home runs in 475 major league at-bats.
Schilling pitched around Guerrero, walking him on four pitches to load the bases, and Willits popped out to catcher Jason Varitek to end the inning.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable with the matchup,” said Schilling, who has given up six home runs to Guerrero. “Given the score and the situation and knowing Garret was not hitting next, we decided to take a little different approach.”
Weaver, who escaped a second-and-third, none-out jam in the second inning, gave up home runs to Ortiz and Ramirez to lead off the fourth, and the score remained 2-0 in the seventh, when Izturis led off with a double and took third on Howie Kendrick’s grounder to second.
But Juan Rivera popped out to first, shattering his bat when he slammed it to the ground in frustration, and Mike Napoli struck out to end the inning.
Angels reliever Scot Shields walked Julio Lugo to open the eighth and was replaced by Justin Speier, who was rocked for four runs and three hits, including run-scoring doubles by Dustin Pedroia and Mike Lowell.
Left-hander Darren Oliver gave up J.D. Drew’s run-scoring fielder’s choice, Varitek’s run-scoring double and Coco Crisp’s two-run single that made it 9-0.
The Angels scored a consolation run in the ninth on Kendrick’s sacrifice fly.
“We got hit by some injuries at the wrong time, some guys weren’t swinging the bats like they can at the wrong time -- that’s baseball,” Scioscia said. “You’re not going to make excuses.
“They’re not going to let us call in a month when everybody is healthy and say, hey, let’s play this series again. They beat us. It wasn’t because of our health. Those guys went out there and beat us, and that’s the bottom line.”
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A Boston issue
Longest current postseason winning streaks against one team:
*--* G Team Opponent Years 9 Yankees Rangers 1996, 1998, 1999 9 Red Sox ANGELS 1986, 2004, 2007 8 Yankees Cubs 1932, 1938 8 Yankees Braves 1996, 1999 7 Athletics Giants 1913, 1989 *--*
Note: The Red Sox streak is since they lost Game 4 of the 1986 ALCS.
Source: Boston Red Sox