BOSTON -- Even had they allowed themselves to dream, the Red Sox never would have dared to think they could come back to Boston just a victory away from winning the American League division series.
Yet that's exactly where they find themselves heading into tonight's game at Fenway Park, where the Angels have won only once in the postseason -- and that win came 22 years ago.
"We had talked about, 'Let's at least get a split [in Anaheim]. Get back to Boston at least 1-1,' " first baseman Sean Casey said. "So to be up 2-0 going back to Boston is huge for us."
Before this season 35 teams have won the first two games of a best-of-five division series and just five of those teams wound up losing the series.
And on the seven occasions the Red Sox have won the first two games of a postseason series, they have failed to win once.
But if this series has proven anything, it's that postseason series don't always follow form.
The heavily favored Angels, after all, came into the playoffs rested and ready, with the home-field advantage and the best record in baseball. The Red Sox, conversely, didn't even win their own division and it was questionable whether three of their starters -- outfielder J.D. Drew, third baseman Mike Lowell and pitcher Josh Beckett -- would be healthy enough to play.
Yet now it's Boston that has a chance to clinch at Fenway Park, where they have the second-best home record in the majors.
"It's kind of been our M.O., I guess," said outfielder Jason Bay, who is hitting .556 with two home runs and five runs batted in in his playoff debut. "We've had guys banged up, everybody telling us that we shouldn't be doing what we're doing. And we just get different guys stepping up every night."
Not joshing around
The Red Sox are counting on Beckett to step up tonight. But even his catcher, Jason Varitek, isn't sure how realistic those expectations are.
"We don't know what we're getting," Varitek said of Beckett, who hasn't pitched in nearly two weeks while nursing a strained side muscle.
His manager isn't harboring many doubts, though, pointing to a postseason track record that has seen Beckett help two teams to World Series titles.
"The stage or the size of the game, he doesn't shrink from that," Terry Francona said of Beckett, who has an earned-run average of 0.56 in two previous division series starts, including a four-hit shutout of the Angels last October in Fenway. "I think he looks forward to the challenge. He has pitched some unbelievable games, not just in the postseason. But when you get to the postseason he has been some kind of pitcher."
Lowell, who watched Beckett become the 2003 World Series' most valuable player with the Florida Marlins, agreed.
"If there was any better way to script it to finish off the series it would be with him on the mound," said Lowell, who figures to test the torn labrum in his right hip by playing tonight after missing Friday's game.
The Red Sox charter flight didn't land in Boston until 8:45 Saturday morning, so the team's afternoon workout was optional. But of the regulars, only designated hitter David Ortiz and center fielder Coco Crisp were no-shows.
The team was on the field for about an hour and a half and despite the lack of sleep the players seemed loose. At one point backup catcher David Ross even slid into second, jokingly trying to break up a double play as some teammates took infield.
And while the weather likely won't be a factor tonight, it will be different from what the teams enjoyed in Southern California, with the forecast for tonight's first pitch calling for temperatures in the mid-50s.