As playoff loss sinks in, Angels start to take stock
BOSTON -- The day after hanging a curve that Jed Lowrie smacked into right field to give the Boston Red Sox an American League division series-clinching walk-off win Monday night in Fenway Park, reliever Scot Shields cleaned out his Angel Stadium locker, straining to look ahead because it hurt to look back.
“It’s still fresh, it’s going to take a while,” Shields said. “We can’t hang our heads too low because we played our butts off. They came out and played a little better than us.
“But you know what? We have a good team. We expect to win, and we’re going to come back fighting next year. We should still be playing right now. Everybody in this clubhouse is already itching to get back [on the field].”
Don’t expect them all to be on the same field when the Angels convene for spring training in February.
The Angels will make a strong push to re-sign free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira, but there is no guarantee the high-priced slugger will return.
The Angels will not meet Francisco Rodriguez’s desires for a five-year, $75-million deal, and the record-setting closer is expected to leave as a free agent.
There is a good chance veteran outfielder Garret Anderson has played his last game as an Angel, and it’s doubtful pitcher Jon Garland will be retained, as owner Arte Moreno sheds payroll to make a possible run at free-agent left-hander CC Sabathia.
“I hope to see a lot of the same guys around,” pitcher Jered Weaver said. “But the way the business works, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s going to be an interesting off-season.”
The Angels had all the ingredients for a World Series run -- pitching, power, speed, defense -- which is why several players, especially ace John Lackey, were livid after losing to Boston.
“We lost to a team that is not better than us,” Lackey said.
That may be true -- the Angels were 8-1 against Boston in the regular season -- but the Red Sox played better in this series.
Lackey had a 2.63 earned-run average in two playoff starts but was out-pitched by Boston’s Jon Lester, who did not give up an earned run or allow a leadoff batter to reach base in 14 playoff innings.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who threw five scoreless innings and had one win and one save, out-pitched Rodriguez, who gave up a game-winning two-run home run to J.D. Drew in Game 2.
The Angels were eight for 40 (.200) with runners in scoring position and left 43 runners on base; the Red Sox were 10 for 37 (.270) with runners in scoring position and left 36 runners on base.
Boston was cleaner defensively, and though Teixeira made several spectacular plays, the Angels allowed Jacoby Ellsbury’s second-inning popup in Game 3 to drop for a three-run single.
The Red Sox were smarter on the bases; Vladimir Guerrero was thrown out trying to go from first base to third base on a bloop hit in Game 1, and Torii Hunter was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in Game 3.
“We kind of gave that series away,” Weaver said. “I feel like the better team didn’t win, and we’re obviously kicking ourselves for some of the mistakes we made. We just didn’t really play Angel baseball the way we know how.”
Mike Scioscia managed the way he knows how, clinging to his little-ball approach, and it backfired on him.
The Angels rallied on Hunter’s two-out, two-run single in the eighth inning to tie the score, 2-2, Monday night and Kendry Morales led off the ninth with a double.
Howie Kendrick bunted pinch-runner Reggie Willits to third and reliever Manny Delcarmen’s first two pitches to Erick Aybar were up and in, a good indication the Red Sox were anticipating a squeeze.
“We were kind of preparing for it, what would happen if that happened,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said.
Willits broke for home on the 2-and-0 pitch and Aybar whiffed on his bunt try. Catcher Jason Varitek chased Willits back to third and tagged him before the bag.
The ball squirted out of Varitek’s glove when he hit the ground, but umpire Tim Welke ruled that the tag came well before the ball was jarred loose.
“I feel he had to have control of the ball,” Scioscia said. “It depends on what they consider control. Tim felt the tag was made and the out recorded before he lost the ball.
“But it’s like, the guy slides into the bag, you put a tag on him, and if the infielder drops the ball, there is a gray area. He felt he had control of the ball.”
Aybar grounded out to end the inning and the Red Sox won in the bottom of the ninth.
The Angels will have all winter to think about what might have been, and if they’re to challenge in 2009, their young players, especially the ones who looked overmatched, like Kendrick and Aybar, will have to learn from this experience.
“For me, it was a rough one,” said Kendrick, who hit .118 with seven strikeouts. “You look back at situations like, ‘Man, if I would have gotten the job done there, it might have been different.’ But you can’t really think about it now. It’s over and done with.”
Another reason the Red Sox won is that they performed better under pressure.
“I have to say, their guys have been there before, and they seemed a little more cool and calm under that pressure, whereas at times I tried to do too much instead of relaxing and playing the game,” Kendrick said.
“We’ll gain experience every year we make the postseason. We’ll learn how to play in those situations regarding what pitchers are going to do and understanding how the game is played.”
Ben Bolch reported from Anaheim
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Angels free agents
* 1B Mark Teixeira: Seeking a 10-year, $200-million deal; Angels will make strong effort to retain him.
* P Francisco Rodriguez: Seeking a five-year, $75-million deal; Angels won’t meet that price but could offer less. Closer will probably walk.
* OF Vladimir Guerrero: Team is expected to exercise $15-million option for 2009.
* OF Garret Anderson: Team will probably buy out $14-million option for 2009 for $3 million. Slim chance he could return on renegotiated deal.
* P John Lackey: Team is expected to exercise $9-million option for 2009.
* P Jon Garland: Made $12 million in 2008; would have to accept far less to return to Anaheim.
* OF Juan Rivera: Strong finish should earn him a deal in the two-year, $10-million range. Good chance he’ll return.
* P Darren Oliver: Veteran left-hander may retire but had such a good year, Angels will probably re-sign him.
-- Mike DiGiovanna