09/15/09 11:22 PM ET
Lackey, Angels endure 'familiar' result
Dice-K shines in return as Sox win possible playoff preview
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
That was the exclusive domain of Daisuke Matsuzaka, David Ortiz and their Red Sox pals on a September night that felt like too many October nights of seasons past to the tourists from Southern California.
Making an impressive return to the mound after missing almost three months, Dice-K outdueled John Lackey to deliver a 4-1 happy ending for New England's team at the Angels' expense.
"It felt familiar," Lackey said, needing no elaboration.
The Red Sox have sent the Angels into winter hibernation three of the past five seasons, including the past two. Boston has won nine of 10 postseason games against manager Mike Scioscia's troupe since 2004.
Lackey was quick to point out his team has some work to do in order to arrange another potential October rendezvous with the outfit run by manager Terry Francona.
Lurking in Texas are the Rangers, capable of heating up and making the Angels perspire over these final 18 games. The Rangers lost to the A's on Tuesday night, remaining six games back.
"To even get to the playoffs," Lackey said, "we've got to play better baseball now. I'm not even thinking about [the postseason]. We've got to get there first. You can't give great teams that many opportunities."
Lackey (10-8) matched Dice-K (2-5) zero for zero through five innings before Alex Gonzalez's line-drive single off the big wall in left got the Red Sox started leading off the sixth.
When Jacoby Ellsbury bunted toward the first-base line for what was ruled a single after Kendry Morales couldn't get a grip and make a play, the Sox had two on, none out.
Lackey then pounced on Dustin Pedroia's bunt and had a force play at third. But his off-balance throw skipped past Chone Figgins for an error, enabling Gonzalez to score with Ellsbury taking third and Pedroia second.
After J.D. Drew tapped out and Jason Bay walked, David Ortiz lined a curveball in front of left fielder Juan Rivera, who was unable to make the running catch at his shoetops. It fell for an RBI single and a two-run lead for Dice-K. Lackey struck out Mike Lowell and Casey Kotchman to limit the damage.
"Mine should have been an out," Lackey said. "I screwed it up. He [Morales] fielded it clean. All he had to do was throw to first. Give [Ellsbury] a hit? Be serious.
"We gave them a couple runs that inning. I thought I had an easy play; I just screwed it up. I had plenty of time. I went to a knee, kind of pushed off it. I just didn't make a good throw."
Quality defense has been an Angels resource for most of the season, but it was not in evidence on this occasion.
Meanwhile, the offense continued a September slide. After averaging 7.1 runs per game in July and 6.2 in August, the Angels have produced 45 runs in 14 games this month, averaging 3.2.
Going 8-6 during this stretch underscores the quality of the work delivered by Lackey and his friends on the mound.
"We've got to figure out a way to score some runs against these guys, to be honest," Lackey said. "We've lost 3-2. ... We've got to face some great pitchers."
Lackey fell one out shy of his fourth consecutive start reaching at least eight innings, yielding three runs (two earned) on eight hits while striking out six and walking three.
Matsuzaka, making his first start since June 19 after recovering from shoulder issues, departed after walking Morales leading off the seventh. Ramon Ramirez set down the Angels in order, and Billy Wagner and Daniel Bard took care of the eighth.
Torii Hunter's single and Erick Aybar's two-out double produced a ninth-inning run against Jonathan Papelbon, averting a shutout. The game ended with Aybar caught between second and third on Howard Kendrick's slow roller that looked like trouble for third baseman Mike Lowell.
"The guys over there, for the numbers that were put up tonight, they take some vicious swings," Francona said of the Angels. "I thought [Matsuzaka] was terrific. It looked like he had some life on his fastball without effort. He threw a real good cutter. He had three walks, and two of them he had guys 0-2. It's a huge shot in the arm for us."
Scioscia resisted the notion that his club might be dealing with mental fatigue.
"We just couldn't get much going," Scioscia said. "He [Matsuzaka] pitched a good ballgame. His stuff looked fine."
Matsuzaka carried a no-hitter into the fifth when Morales banged a single to right leading off. Aybar singled Morales to third with one out, but Jeff Mathis and Figgins struck out, leaving two runners in scoring position.
After Figgins walked leading off the game, Dice-K turned away the next three hitters, quickly finding his groove.
"He looked the same to me," Figgins said. "He's not going to give in to the zone. He made some pitches. Torii lined out [leaving Bobby Abreu stranded after a double in the sixth] and I struck out. We had a couple chances."
The Angels, who lead the season series 4-3, send Joe Saunders out against Paul Byrd on Wednesday night. The previous six games were all played in Anaheim.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.