For Angels, October comes with a jolt
Contrasting personalities respond to playoffs in different ways
ANAHEIM -- Joe Saunders, the Angels' starter for Game 3 of the American League Division Series, realizes that his team's 8-1 record against the Red Sox during the regular season this year is as irrelevant now as Boston's nine-game postseason winning streak against his franchise.
But that doesn't mean last October's abysmal three-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox can't provide a little motivational fuel for the AL West champs.
"We're going to go out and have something to prove," Saunders said in anticipation of John Lackey's first pitch to Jacoby Ellsbury on Wednesday night in Game 1 at Angel Stadium. "We'll be playing with a chip on our shoulder for what happened last year."
Torii Hunter wasn't part of that Angels team, but he's central to the club's collective attitude now, bringing passion, humor and toughness to the clubhouse and the field on a daily basis.
The stakes of October provide all the incentive Hunter needs. Postseason baseball takes him back to Octobers on high school football fields when he was a quarterback in Pine Bluff, Ark., hurling himself into the action.
"The adrenaline is unbelievable," said Hunter, embarking on his fifth postseason journey, having spent the previous four with the Twins. "It's totally different [than the regular season]. You know how close you are to a World Series. You get that extra boost of energy, focus.
"I played football. I know what that intensity feels like. In the postseason, that energy you get, it makes you feel like you want to go out and hit a free safety.
"It's like a Friday night football game -- Friday night lights. Game day. Just like that."
Angels manager Mike Sciosica played alongside Kirk Gibson, who embodied that football mentality perhaps more than any player in the past few generations. Scioscia saw what that mind-set can do with his magical 1988 Dodgers.
"Our guys are focused and prepared," Scioscia said. "I don't know if it's fair to compare guys to Gibson, [Darin] Erstad and [David] Eckstein. Garret [Anderson], [Mark Teixeira], Vlad [Guerrero], Torii ... those guys get after it. It's going to manifest itself in different ways.
"Sometimes, that chip on your shoulder -- a football mentality -- takes guys out of their game. Hopefully, they're going to bring their game on the field. Win or lose on merit, and you can live with that."
Anderson knows what works for him -- "staying calm," he said.
"I know it frustrates people in the media when I tell them it's another game, but it has to be," Anderson said. "Why should it be any different?"
For years in the Angels' clubhouse, Tim Salmon occupied the corner locker next to Anderson's that now belongs to Teixeira.
"We were oil and water, completely different," Anderson said, grinning. "Fish could enjoy the moment when it happened. I couldn't enjoy it until it's over. I put it behind me and moved on. Ersty had that intensity; [Troy] Glaus was more like me.
"Everyone's different. You have to know what works for you and stick with it. I never minimize what anybody needs to do to play. Whatever it takes to get it done, go with it."
Gary Matthews Jr. thinks cultural differences shape players' attitudes -- and positions also come into play.
"Tex, being from the East Coast, [Baltimore], he's all business," Matthews said of Teixeira, a former teammate on the Rangers. "A lot of people on the East Coast are kind of serious. West Coast guys are a little more laid back and joke around.
"Tex is probably the most private individual in our clubhouse. Once you get to know him, he likes to laugh and have a good time. But he's very serious about the game.
"Every player's different. Whatever makes you feel sharp and ready, that's what you go with. I'm taking the same approach I always take. I've got a calm personality; it helps me stay on an even keel."
Starting pitchers, Matthews feels, often bring a different attitude to the park on their work days. You don't want to get close to some starters before they head to the mound because they're so engrossed in their mental preparation.
"They've got one day a week to be out there, and pitchers kind of have that chip on their shoulder," Matthews said. "Players want to see the pitcher come in with an attitude that day. It shows the rest of the team they're focused and ready to go.
"Some are a little more vocal. [John Lackey] can be. Joe has a swagger on his day. When he walks in, you can see it's his day. [Ervin] Santana has more of a quiet confidence. He likes to put his music on. He's more studious."
Hunter changed the temperature of the clubhouse from the moment he arrived.
"Torii's got a big personality," Matthews said. "Every day he comes in, you expect to hear him talk it up. Torii's definitely brought an atmosphere of joking around -- maybe everything that didn't exist before Torii came is here now."
There's a time to laugh and joke, and there's a time to hurl your whole being into a game with high stakes. That time has arrived.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.