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Back onstage

October 07, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

There will be much speculation during this division series about whether the Boston Red Sox, because of their 9-1 postseason record against the Angels since 2004, are in the Angels' heads.

But when Game 3 rolls around Sunday, the Angels may turn that question around. Is Scott Kazmir in the Red Sox's heads?

Kazmir, the left-hander the Angels acquired from Tampa Bay for three minor leaguers Aug. 28, has an 8-7 record and 3.59 earned-run average in 23 career starts against Boston.

Even more impressive, Kazmir is 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA in Fenway Park, which, with its towering but extremely reachable Green Monster of a left-field wall, is not the most hospitable place for left-handed pitchers.

Last October, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series in Boston, Kazmir gave up two hits over six shutout innings, but the Rays blew a 7-0 lead and lost to the Red Sox, 8-7.

"I kind of like that stage; I really do," Kazmir said of pitching in Fenway, which has some of the game's most knowledgeable and passionate fans. "The crowd is on top of you, just all over you. I get pumped up and rise to the occasion."

Kazmir, 25, won both of his starts for Tampa Bay in Boston this season, giving up one run and five hits in six innings of a 7-2 victory in April and three runs and eight hits in five innings of a 14-5 win in May.

One of the best games of Kazmir's 5 1/2 -year big league career came against the Red Sox, a two-hit shutout in which he struck out 10 in a 3-0 victory at Tampa Bay on July 3, 2006.

"He was lights out," said Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher, Kazmir's pitching coach at Tampa Bay in 2006. "He rose to the occasion. He liked being on center stage. Any time he pitched against Boston or New York, it seemed like our game was elevated."

Maybe it was a coincidence or just good timing, but the Angels' rotation has elevated its game since Kazmir's arrival.

Inconsistent and slowed by injuries for most of the summer, Angels starters logged a 2.50 ERA over their last 33 games and allowed two earned runs or less in 27 of the last 37 games. Angels starters went six innings or more in 23 of the last 31 games.

John Lackey was on a roll in August, and Ervin Santana finally found a groove after struggling because of elbow problems for most of the season. Joe Saunders recovered from his shoulder injury in late August, and Jered Weaver remained solid.

Kazmir, who features a 94-mph fastball, slider and changeup, pushed struggling rookies Sean O'Sullivan and Trevor Bell out of the rotation and was 2-2 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts for the Angels, who pulled away from Texas to win their fifth AL West title in six years.

"The emotional lift that a team gets when you get a guy of his caliber is big," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's pitched well in some big games for us. Getting Scott gave our rotation a boost and helped solidify some roles in the bullpen."

-- Mike DiGiovanna

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