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MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYOFFS

To protect and serve

Angels are counting on Teixeira as the missing piece of the puzzle

September 30, 2008|Mike DiGiovanna | Times Staff Writer

Six seasons, 904 games, 203 home runs, 676 runs batted in and 566 runs into a distinguished big league career, Mark Teixeira will finally get his first taste of playoff baseball Wednesday night when the Angels open the American League division series against the Boston Red Sox.

Whether it is bitter or sweet could hinge on how the Angels' first baseman and No. 3 hitter handles the pressures of October baseball and of being a marked man, the player the Angels acquired at the July trade deadline to get them to the World Series.

"I'm going to be excited, anxious, and because of that, I'm going to try to relax at the plate," Teixeira said. "This isn't like football and other sports where energy and intensity sometimes translates into victory. If you go out and run around like a madman, you're going to swing at bad pitches, and you're not going to be successful."

The Angels don't necessarily need Teixeira to replicate Carlos Beltran's 2004 postseason run after a midseason trade from Kansas City to Houston -- Beltran batted .435 (20 for 46) with eight homers and 14 RBIs in 12 playoff games for the Astros that year.

But to end Boston's October stranglehold on them -- the Red Sox have a nine-game playoff win streak over the Angels dating to 1986 -- Teixeira will need to drive in some runs and get on base so Boston can't pitch totally around cleanup batter Vladimir Guerrero.

"I'm not going to go out there and hit four home runs a game," said Teixeira, who will be a free agent this winter. "I'm not going to do anything outside of what I always do, which is work counts, have good at-bats, swing at good pitches, get on base, drive in runs, play solid defense.

"You don't want to go out there and press."

If Teixeira handles October the way he did August and September, the Angels have to like their chances.

In 54 games for the Angels after his July 29 trade from Atlanta, Teixeira hit .358 with a .449 on-base percentage, 13 home runs and 43 RBIs. Adding his four months with the Braves, Teixeira hit .308 with a .410 on-base percentage, 33 homers and 121 RBIs.

The switch-hitter is the just the type of slugger the Angels envisioned when they appeared one big bat away from contending for a World Series in the last three years, but he is hardly the focal point of a lineup Manager Mike Scioscia called his deepest ever.

Guerrero seems to have rebounded enough from a mid-September knee injury to be a factor, hitting .400 (10 for 25) with three homers in his last eight games and .303 with 27 homers and 91 RBIs on the season.

Garret Anderson (.293, 15 homers, 84 RBIs) and Torii Hunter (.278, 21 homers, 78 RBIs) had solid seasons, and middle infielders Howie Kendrick (.306) and Erick Aybar (.277) appear sound after missing much of September because of hamstring strains.

Catcher Mike Napoli hit .453 with six homers and 16 RBIs in 18 September games, and outfielder Juan Rivera, who hit .268 with 12 homers and 42 RBIs from July 2 on, appears recovered from a hip injury that sidelined him for seven games in September.

Even Gary Matthews Jr., who lost his job to Rivera, appears to have managed his sore left knee enough to contribute -- he batted .318 in September and .285 from the right side on the season.

"We're healthy, and it's a good thing," Teixeira said. "We're right where we want to be. There's no excuses. We're going to go out there with our full squad and try to win this thing."

Red Sox Manager Terry Francona wishes he could say the same. Third baseman Mike Lowell (hip injury) and right fielder J.D. Drew (back injury) are questionable for the division series.

Ace Josh Beckett, who is 6-2 with a 1.73 earned-run average in 10 playoff games and led Boston to the 2007 World Series title, was pushed from Game 1 to Game 3 because of an injury to his side that could sideline the right-hander for the series.

While Francona scrambles to fill his lineup card, Scioscia's Game 1 problem will be deciding which bats to put in his lineup.

With three players for two spots, whom does he choose to face Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester in Game 1 -- the left-handed Anderson, a career .291 hitter against lefties who is three for seven against Lester; Matthews, who is three for six with two homers against Lester; or Rivera, who is two for five against Lester?

"No doubt, right now, we're deeper than we've ever been," Scioscia said. "Our expectations are to play much better than we did the last few times against Boston."

Scioscia was referring to division series sweeps at the hands of the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007, not the Angels' 8-1 record against Boston this season, which, combined with Boston's injuries, make the Angels favorites in the eyes of many.

"I know it's not going to be easy, but honestly, I think we have a tremendous chance," said closer Francisco Rodriguez, who set a major league record with 62 saves this season but is 0-2 with a 7.20 ERA in three career playoff games against the Red Sox.

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