Angels' chances hinge on offense
Halos' lack of timely hitting has Sox in command for Game 3
BOSTON -- Transforming adversity into opportunity is the Angels' new mission statement, as they navigate dire straits on the Atlantic Seaboard after going down twice on the shores of the Pacific.
"Let's shock the world," said catcher Mike Napoli, alighting on the scene of the American League Division Series that resumes on Sunday at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox own a 2-0 chokehold entering a Game 3 that matches Angels southpaw Joe Saunders against Boston's Mr. October, Josh Beckett.
Since the three-tiered playoff format arrived in 1995, only four of the 35 teams to trail a series, 2-0, have gone on to win a series. Only the 2001 Yankees, rocking the A's, made it happen after dropping the first two at home.
"It's something that, if you do it, people will be talking about it for a long time," Napoli said. "No one thinks we're going to do it but us. Everyone in this clubhouse thinks we can do it, and that's all that really matters to us."
One more unhappy ending would ground the Angels until mid-February, when they'll gather, in an unforeseen form, in Arizona to begin plotting their 2009 campaign.
The Red Sox's 7-5 triumph in Game 2 at Angel Stadium, courtesy of J.D. Drew's two-run homer in the ninth inning off Francisco Rodriguez, was the Angels' harshest setback during a relatively smooth ride to a franchise-record 100 wins.
"I haven't experienced a tough loss yet with these guys -- until now," first baseman Mark Teixeira, acquired from the Braves on July 29, said. "This one hurt.
"We did a lot of things right -- working counts, getting on base, making things happen -- but we still have to hit better with runners in scoring position. We left too many guys on the last two nights."
ALDS 2-0 leads
Teixeira has been a mega-force in the No. 3 spot in manager Mike Scioscia's batting order. The men hitting right behind him -- Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter -- have flourished in concert with Teixeira.
Hunter, who aggravated his left knee in Game 2 while reacting to an umpire's call, was primed to get back to work as the Angels checked into Fenway Park on Saturday night for a late workout.
"We did a little treatment, and we're going easy on it tonight," Hunter said. "Trust me -- I'll be out there. I wouldn't miss this."
Scioscia plans no lineup changes from Game 2, other than having Napoli catch Saunders. Juan Rivera will be in right field, and Garret Anderson will play left and bat second. Napoli or Rivera figure to bat sixth, with Howie Kendrick struggling to relax and find his pure stroke.
The heart of the batting order is where the Red Sox manhandled the Angels in their 2007 ALDS sweep, but Teixeira, Guerrero and Hunter have held their own with Boston's big boppers.
Combined, they're batting .609 (14-for-23) with a .654 on-base percentage. Teixeira has scored half the team's six runs, and Hunter has driven in half of them.
GAME 3: JUST THE FACTS
|Angels starter: LHP Joe Saunders|
|2008: 17-7, 3.41 ERA|
|2008 on road: 10-3, 2.55 ERA|
|2008 vs. Red Sox: 2-0, 3.38 ERA|
|Career vs. Red Sox: 4-0, 2.75 ERA|
|Career postseason: no appearances|
|Red Sox starter: RHP Josh Beckett|
|2008: 12-10, 4.03 ERA|
|2008 at home: 5-5, 5.65 ERA|
|2008 vs. Angels: 0-2, 7.43 ERA|
|Career vs. Angels: 2-2, 3.99 ERA|
|Career postseason: 6-2, 1.73 ERA (nine starts, one relief appearance)|
|Red Sox lead series, 2-0. Boston has beaten the Halos a record 11 consecutive times in the postseason, dating back to Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series.|
|Game 2: Red Sox 7, Angels 5|
|Did You Know? The Red Sox are 30-15 over the past six postseasons, good for a Major League-best .667 postseason winning percentage over that time.|
All 14 of those hits by the big three have been singles. The Angels have endured 66 consecutive homerless postseason innings since Orlando Cabrera unloaded in Game 3 of the 2005 AL Championship Series against the White Sox and Jon Garland, the man for whom Cabrera was traded last offseason.
Anderson almost ended the drought with a drive in the sixth inning that sent Drew to the wall for a leaping grab.
"I've played here for 14 years and seen a lot of balls like that come up short," Anderson said. "I hit it on the right spot, but I got under it a little too much."
Napoli, torrid down the stretch, batted .453 in September with six homers in 53 at-bats and led the AL in ratio of at-bats per home run -- 20 in 227 at-bats -- for the season. Napoli was hitless, striking out three times, in Game 1 but contributed a bases-loaded walk in a Game 2 comeback obscured by Drew's blast.
"I was a little too amped in the first game," Napoli said. "I've calmed myself down, tried to control that extra adrenaline. I felt good [in Game 2]. I was seeing the ball well. I just need to relax and do what I've been doing.
"We came back and did a lot of things right. That's why it was frustrating not to get the win. We scrapped away and were right there. Now, we have to take it on the field in their place."
That famous place, Fenway, has been uncommonly kind to the Angels this year -- in stark contrast to seasons past, when it was a shop of horrors.
The Angels were 5-1 on the Red Sox's grounds this season. In their most recent visit, with Teixeira making his Halos debut, the Angels wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Red Sox on July 30. Saunders outdueled Beckett in that 9-2 romp, with Anderson (homer, four hits, four RBIs) and Hunter (homer) igniting the offense.
If the Angels are looking for silver linings and omens, that's not a bad place to start.
Beckett overpowered the Angels in Game 1 of the 2007 ALDS at Fenway. If that Beckett shows up, overcoming recent issues with a muscle strain in his side, Saunders will have to be on top of his game.
The Angels lefty, having passed a kidney stone three days earlier, excelled in the regular-season finale. Back in All-Star form, Saunders shut out the heavy-handed Rangers on two hits and no walks across six innings, recording a career-high nine strikeouts.
Napoli had a homer among three hits, driving in four runs in that game.
"Joe's real confident," Napoli said. "I always feel good with him out there."
It always starts with the man on the mound, but the Angels know they'll have to clean up other parts of their game behind Saunders if they intend to inflict shock waves across Red Sox Nation.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.