Angels show there’s no hex factor in 5-0 win over Boston
Don’t bring any talk of a “hex” by Torii Hunter’s locker. That was the center fielder’s stern message to reporters who dared to broach the topic of the Boston Red Sox’s playoff dominance of the Angels in the days leading up to the American League division series.
“I told you, I’m a different breed,” Hunter barked when asked if the Red Sox were in the Angels’ heads. “You might not want to ask me that question.”
Hunter couldn’t have hammered his point home any better Thursday night, driving a prodigious three-run home run to center field to snap a scoreless fifth-inning tie and propel the Angels to a 5-0 victory in Game 1 over their playoff nemesis at Angel Stadium.
Angels ace John Lackey delivered like the big-game pitcher he proclaims to be, allowing four hits over 7 1/3 masterful innings for his first postseason victory since Game 7 of the 2002 World Series, leaving to a thunderous standing ovation in the eighth.
The Angels snapped a five-game home playoff losing streak to the Red Sox, who won five games at Angel Stadium and went 9-1 in division series wins over the Angels in 2004, 2007 and 2008.
It was the Angels’ first postseason shutout.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is tonight.
“We don’t really care about that; we’ll let you guys worry about that,” Hunter said of the supposed hex. “We just go out there and play the game.
“Sometimes you read all that stuff and it can get into your head, but I stay away from it. You guys ask the questions, I try to do the best I can to explain to you guys that we really don’t give a damn.”
Lackey was tired of such talk, as well, practically snorting at the mention of a “hex” during a pre-series news conference. Then he did his part to snuff out such talk, giving up four hits, all singles, striking out four and walking one.
Lackey allowed only three runners to reach second before yielding to veteran left-hander Darren Oliver, who retired all five batters he faced.
Lackey pounded the zone with his fastball early, throwing strike one to his first eight batters, and he kept the Red Sox off-balance with his curve and sinking fastball to give the Angels their first division series Game 1 victory in six tries.
“That’s a long way to pitch against that lineup, to get us 22 outs like that,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “That’s a tremendous effort.”
Lackey, winless in his last six playoff starts, savored postseason victory for the first time since he was a rookie in 2002.
“It’s nice, for sure,” Lackey said, “but we’re definitely not toward any goal, for sure. We won one game, we’ve got to get to three.”
For four innings Thursday night, Lackey and the Angels were no closer to that goal. Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester matched Lackey with four zeros, overpowering the Angels with his 95-mph fastballs and cut-fastballs.
Then Erick Aybar, who hit .111 (2 for 18) in last year’s division series, opened the fifth with a double into the left-field corner and took third on Chone Figgins’ sacrifice bunt.
Bobby Abreu drew his third of four walks, and Hunter blasted his fourth playoff homer into the rock pile beyond the center-field wall for a 3-0 lead.
“He was pretty tough, man,” Hunter said of Lester. “I guess I was lucky or blessed that he threw a fastball down the middle and I was able to capitalize on the mistake.”
The homer snapped Lester’s 15-inning division series scoreless streak and provided a rare cushion for Lackey, who, in three previous division series starts against Boston, had received three runs of support while in the game.
Lackey pitched the sixth inning as if he wasn’t sure what to do with the windfall. Dustin Pedroia singled with two outs, and Lackey suddenly lost the strike zone, throwing seven straight balls, four to walk Victor Martinez and three to Kevin Youkilis.
But Lackey righted himself, throwing two called strikes. With the runners moving on a full-count pitch, Youkilis chopped a grounder to third, where Figgins fielded it on a short hop and tagged the bag for an inning-ending force out.
The Angels tacked on two runs in the seventh after Boston nearly escaped a bases-loaded jam when reliever Takashi Saito got Juan Rivera to bounce into a rare third-to-home-to-third double play.
But Kendry Morales hit a run-scoring single to left-center, and left fielder Jason Bay’s throw to third hit Rivera and caromed into foul territory, allowing Rivera to score for a 5-0 lead.
“One of these days,” said Morales, a relative newcomer to this October rivalry, “the story had to change.”