The Angels didn’t have October nemesis Manny Ramirez, who hit .381 with three home runs and 11 runs batted in against them in six playoff games, to contend with Wednesday night, and they still couldn’t keep the Boston Red Sox at Bay.
Left fielder Jason Bay, who went from Pittsburgh to Boston in the three-way trade that sent Ramirez to the Dodgers on July 31, crushed a two-run home run against John Lackey in the sixth inning to thrust the Red Sox toward a 4-1 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of the American League division series.
Jon Lester survived early control problems to throw seven strong innings, giving up one unearned run and six hits, and Boston scored a pair of insurance runs against Scot Shields in the ninth inning to earn at least a split of the first two games at Angel Stadium and put the Angels in a virtual must-win situation in Game 2 on Friday night.
“You can’t say it’s one game and move on, because these things can end real quick,” Lackey said, alluding to division series sweeps at the hands of the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007. “We have to play with a sense of urgency and get it going.”
Closer Jonathan Papelbon struck out three of four batters in the ninth inning, helping to extend the Angels’ string of playoff futility against the Red Sox to 10 games, dating to Game 5 of the 1986 AL Championship Series.
“There’s no mystique about it,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said of Boston’s playoff stranglehold on them. “You’ve got to play good baseball.”
The 100-win Angels, who were 8-1 against the Red Sox this season, played some ugly baseball Wednesday, the loss made more unsightly by a seventh-inning line drive that sailed over the glove of right fielder Gary Matthews Jr. for a three-base error and Vladimir Guerrero’s base-running gaffe in the eighth inning.
The Angels were down, 2-1, when Guerrero reached on a one-out single against Justin Masterson. Torii Hunter followed with a bloop single over the head of first baseman Kevin Youkilis.
Guerrero held between first base and second base until the ball dropped but made an ill-advised dash for third base. Youkilis, after diving for Hunter’s hit, recovered quickly, grabbing the ball and making a one-hop throw to third baseman Mike Lowell for the out. Howie Kendrick grounded into a fielder’s choice for the final out.
“I was very surprised,” Hunter said. “It was a bloop, and he didn’t know whether they would catch it. I didn’t think he would go first to third like that. Vladdy thought he could make it.”
How crucial was Guerrero’s mistake?
“You never know what that inning is going to become, but you know, Vlad is aggressive,” Scioscia said. “It was a tough read, and it was behind him, and I think he thought the ball was a little farther out than it was. Give Youkilis credit. He maintained his composure and made a good throw.”
Guerrero, who had two hits, was remorseful.
“I’m very upset with myself,” he said through an interpreter. “I look to come back for the second game and keep my head up.”
Lackey cruised through five innings, giving up no runs and three hits and throwing first-pitch strikes to 16 of the first 20 batters he faced, a blueprint for attacking the patient and selective Red Sox, who led the league in walks (646) and on-base percentage (.358).
But a one-out walk to Youkilis got him into trouble in the sixth inning. Lackey, who gave up 26 home runs this season, struck out J.D. Drew for the second out.
The right-hander then got an 0-and-1 fastball up to Bay, who, after striking out in his first two at-bats in his first playoff game, drove it far over the left-field wall for a two-run home run and a 2-1 lead.
“He tried to get a fastball by Jason,” Boston Manager Terry Francona said. “Fortunately for us, he didn’t. Until then, we hadn’t done much of anything.”
Leadoff batter Jacoby Ellsbury had a busy night for the Red Sox, reaching base five times, three by hits, and making a diving catch of Mark Teixeira’s bloop to shallow center field in the eighth inning.
Ellsbury and David Ortiz also had run-scoring singles in the ninth inning to give Boston a 4-1 lead.
The Angels scored in the third inning on Hunter’s single, which came after rookie Jed Lowrie, who did not commit an error in 49 regular-season games at shortstop, booted Guerrero’s grounder for an error.
“I think it’s very important any time you can get a win in somebody else’s ballpark,” Lester said. “I think it’s a huge win and momentum for us, a confidence boost.”
It was a game the Angels, who out-hit the Red Sox, 9-8, but went one for seven with runners in scoring position, would like to forget.
“We need to have amnesia,” Hunter said. “We need to keep battling and fighting and not let it deflate you.”