History vs. Sox means nothing to Angels
Hunter wipes slate clean as ALDS with nemesis looms
ANAHEIM -- Torii Hunter doesn't believe in ghosts."I don't want to hear about the history and any so-called Red Sox jinxes and hexes," the Angels' center fielder and emotional leader said. "I wasn't here for any of that. I know we can play with those guys, and that's the way every guy on this team feels." The Angels are going to the postseason for the third year in a row and ninth time in franchise history, and you know who is coming to see them. It could only be the difficult, dangerous, supremely confident and inhospitable Red Sox, right? "We think we're prepared for the postseason," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I think our starting pitching lines up pretty well." With the Halos' 5-2 victory over the Rangers on Tuesday night, Boston was handed the American League Wild Card berth and an AL Division Series showdown with the best of the West for the third year in a row. No one has to remind the Angels how the other two turned out. The Angels have won three consecutive AL West titles and five in six seasons, but they've won only one postseason series in five tries since their first World Series championship magically arrived in 2002, Scioscia's third year at the helm. That one series triumph came in 2005 at the expense of the Yankees, who could be waiting in the AL Championship Series with their Major League-best record. "You never know what might happen," Bobby Abreu, the ex-Yankees outfielder, said when asked if he'd like to see his old friends in October. "I like this team, how these guys play the game. It's been a great year here, the support I've gotten from everybody. "I've really enjoyed playing here and helping the young guys. If I help them, they can help me get the ring I want so bad." Unlike their pleasurable experiences against the Bronx Bombers, the Angels' October history with the Red Sox is decidedly and unhappily one-sided -- and troubling in no small measure to Angels fans. Boston has knocked out Scioscia's troupe three times in the past five seasons, sweeping the Angels in 2004 and '07 and sending them packing in four games last season. For longtime fans, there also is the harrowing memory of 1986. The Angels were poised to make their first World Series trip before the Red Sox rallied, improbably and dramatically, in Game 5 in Anaheim to send it back to Boston for a pair of wrenching defeats for Halos enthusiasts. If you're keeping score -- and why would you unless you're a Red Sox fan? -- it's 13 postseason wins for Boston, four for the Angels on the grand stage of October. The Angels are itching, as Hunter said, to make some history of their own, of a positive kind. All they need to do, with home-field advantage, is win all their games in Angel Stadium. If they do that, it won't matter what happens in Fenway Park, where the horrors never seem to cease for the Angels. They lashed out in a variety of directions after a 9-8 loss in Boston's famous yard on Sept. 16 during their most recent visit, feeling they'd had it stolen by several critical balls and strikes calls going to the Red Sox. But the Angels rebounded the following night with a 4-3 win that, psychologically, might have been the most important of their season. "We showed the dog I've been looking for in that game," Hunter said. "We came back and played good, smart baseball and beat a great pitcher, Josh Beckett. I think we really showed something, rebounding like that." Beckett was forced out of his start at home on Monday night with upper back pain. The Red Sox indicated it wasn't serious, but it certainly has to be cause for some concern, if not alarm. The Angels expect to see Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, who pitched superbly against them in a win on Sept. 15 after missing almost three months. Lester, recovering from a line drive off the right knee by the Yankees' Melky Cabrera on Friday night, is scheduled to return to the mound on Thursday. The southpaw could be manager Terry Francona's choice to open the ALDS at Angel Stadium. Switch-hitting Maicer Izturis figures to play second base against the right-handers, with Howard Kendrick starting against Lester. "We'd love to go in there and beat those guys," Kendrick said. "We'll have two games at home, so hopefully we can get those and head into Boston." John Lackey, the voice of experience, emphasized that the past has nothing to do with today. "It's a new year," the right-handed ace said. "We both have lots of new players. You can't let one year carry over to the next." No matter who's on the mound, or where the game is played, Hunter wants his buddies to play with fire and passion, from the heart -- and without fear of failure. "Play the same way you have all season," Hunter said. "Play the game, have fun. Don't change a thing because it's the Red Sox or the Yankees. Play nervous, you're going to make mistakes." Play free of burdens, the man is saying, and it might just set you free.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.