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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

Must-hit game for Angels

After their eighth consecutive postseason loss, they know they can't afford to go down 0-2 to the Red Sox.

October 03, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Torii Hunter walked into the Angels' clubhouse Thursday, put his keys and wallet in his locker, and by the time he turned around he was surrounded by a pack of reporters.

"What happened?" the center fielder said. "Did someone die?"

No, but the Angels' playoff hopes are on life support after Wednesday night's 4-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the American League division series.

It's a best-of-five series, so Game 2 tonight in Anaheim, where Angels right-hander Ervin Santana will oppose Boston right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, is not an elimination game.

But with the series shifting to Fenway Park, where the Angels have had little success, playoffs or otherwise, for Game 3 Sunday, it sure feels like one.

"It's a must-win," Hunter said of Game 2. "You don't want to go to Boston down, 0-2."

To earn a split and end Boston's 10-game playoff win streak against them, the Angels must do what they have done so rarely in recent Octobers -- deliver some big hits.

Since beating the Chicago White Sox in Game 1 of the 2005 AL Championship Series, the Angels have lost eight consecutive playoff games, scoring 13 runs and hitting .188 with one home run in those games.

They had nine hits Wednesday night, but all were singles, only one coming in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"We got some guys on base, we got a lot of hits, but we didn't get the big hit," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We have to come up with the big hit to score runs."

Teixeira had two hits in his playoff debut, and it didn't take long for the switch-hitter to realize that postseason at-bats are different than regular-season at-bats.

"When you play 162 games, you're going to get 600 plate appearances, and your mind can wander every now and then, that's the reality," Teixeira said.

"In the playoffs your mind can't wander. Every pitch is big, every at-bat is big. You don't want to put too much pressure on yourself, but you have to lock in and get that big hit when you need it."

There is a fine line between relaxing at the plate and playing with a sense of urgency, and the Angels seem to go back and forth across it, being aggressive when they should be more selective and letting some pitches go by.

"You want to come through in the clutch," Teixeira said, "but at the same time, you can't be scared. You can't be out there playing to not fail."

It would help if leadoff batter Chone Figgins got on base. The speedy third baseman went hitless in five-at bats with three strikeouts Wednesday night.

A few clutch hits would help too. Howie Kendrick grounded out with the bases loaded in the first inning and two on in the third and wasn't pleased with his approach.

"Being an aggressive hitter, I don't want to get myself in trouble," Kendrick said. "With runners in scoring position, I was trying to do a little too much and not taking what the pitcher was giving me.

"With guys on base, you have the advantage, the pitcher has to make his pitch. He has to throw you a strike, and I think being patient and letting him work a little bit is going to be huge for us."

Especially against Matsuzaka, who led the league with 94 walks and has a tendency to nibble.

"Hopefully, we're going to make him throw some pitches, but the key is when you get into those hitting counts, you've got to take advantage of any ball you get a chance to square up," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "Otherwise, you're just giving the advantage right back to the pitcher."

Mickey Hatcher knows something about rising to the occasion. The Angels' batting instructor was a career .280 hitter but batted .368 with two homers and five runs batted in for the Dodgers in the 1988 World Series.

"Every at-bat is intense, there's so much energy flowing you could run through a brick wall, but you've got to control that energy the right way," Hatcher said. "You feed on the excitement, you control the excitement, that's what we've got to do."

Scioscia said "there's not one magic pill where you say every hitter has to do this," and Hatcher, when asked what it would take for the Angels to snap their playoff hitting slump, acknowledged there is no blanket approach.

"If I had the answers," Hatcher said, "we'd never lose games."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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