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Bill Shaikin / ON BASEBALL

It took a while, but Angels found a way to beat Red Sox

October 06, 2008|Bill Shaikin

BOSTON -- This was not a victory. This was an exorcism.

The streaks are dead. The Angels are alive.

The Angels can beat the Boston Red Sox in the playoffs.

They can hit a home run in the playoffs, and even get a lead.

They departed Anaheim left for dead, but they left Fenway Park after 1 a.m. this morning with a pulse, and with at least one more game in their season.

Now the Angels play their ace. If John Lackey can lift the Angels to victory tonight, he can force the series back to Anaheim for the decisive Game 5.

This could be his time. This should be his time.

It has been five years, and five starts, since Lackey last won in October -- Game 7, 2002 World Series, as a rookie.

This is his time to earn another star, to join Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens on the Texas Pitchers' Ring of Honor.

The task will not be an easy one, but the burden is his to shoulder. This is the time of year that can distinguish a very good pitcher from an elite pitcher.

The mission is clear, and the bullpen is exhausted.

In his last start here, Lackey took a no-hitter into the ninth inning.

"I think I'll be confident going in," Lackey said. "The regular season starts don't have much to do with tomorrow. You've got to go out and execute pitches and keep performing."

The Angels refused to surrender on Sunday. They blew two leads, wore out their bullpen, botched a pop fly and a fly ball that accounted for all the Boston runs.

No matter, and no defeat. Jered Weaver, in his first major league relief appearance, pitched two innings for the victory.

Erick Aybar, hitless in 13 at-bats in the series, singled home the winning run in the 12th inning.

Mike Napoli hit the Angels' first postseason home run in 69 innings, and then he hit another.

So the Angels can take the field tonight with one game at the front of their minds rather than history in the back of their minds, no longer burdened by all those pesky questions about how they have not beaten the Red Sox in a postseason game in 22 years.

The Red Sox go with Jon Lester, and what a calendar year it has been for him. He beat the Colorado Rockies to clinch last year's World Series championship, beat the Angels in this year's playoff opener and threw a no-hitter in between.

"I just have to worry about my pitches," Lester said. "I can't worry about us going back to L.A., or the bullpen situation."

The Angels go with Lackey. They talk a lot about how he does not get the respect that the top pitchers on the East Coast do, but nothing would talk louder than a victory tonight.

The cliche is that momentum is the next day's starting pitcher. The Angels' next starting pitcher said he'll start with plenty of momentum.

"I think the confidence level has got to be high right now," Lackey said. "Any time you go into a game like that, extra inning games, a lot of times that carries over."

Napoli hit two home runs off Josh Beckett, another star among Texas pitching heroes. As Sunday night turned into Monday morning, Napoli's homers were left for the season highlight reel.

"Hopefully, about a month from now," Scioscia said, "we'll talk about that 3-2 breaking ball that Nap hit off one of the toughest pitchers ever in a playoff environment."

Scioscia called his shot more than nine hours before the Angels won.

In a pregame news conference, a reporter noted that the Chicago Cubs, the team with the best record in the National League, had been eliminated from the playoffs. The Angels, the team with the best record in the American League, faced elimination Sunday night, but Scioscia sternly cut off the line of questioning.

"We're not getting eliminated tonight, so I'm not going to answer that question," Scioscia said.

The reporter tried to soften his question, but Scioscia wasn't buying it. "We're not getting eliminated tonight," he said.

And then he walked out of the news conference, eventually. He tried the door adjacent to the stage, as directed, but the door was locked. He tried again, but the door would not open.

Finally, he had enough. He walked all the way to the other side of the room, where he found an open door. This isn't an easy series, for the Angels or their manager, but they hung in there long enough to find the door that leads to Game 5.

Lackey gets the ball tonight, and the chance to open that door. Might as well just knock the darn thing down.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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