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Angels want a new mind-set against Red Sox

'If we play scared, on our heels, it's not going to be a good series,' pitcher Joe Saunders says. Since 2004, Red Sox are 9-1 against the Angels in postseason play.

October 08, 2009|Mike DiGiovanna

It begins with an attitude. If the Angels are to shake Boston's playoff stranglehold on them, they can't go into this American League division series thinking they can beat the Red Sox.

They have to take the field for Game 1 of the best-of-five series tonight knowing they can beat them.

"If we're comfortable, confident, and play the way we're capable of playing, we'll be tough to beat," Angels pitcher Joe Saunders said. "If we play scared, on our heels, and waiting for bad things to happen, it's not going to be a good series. We can't beat ourselves."

The Red Sox are 9-1 in the postseason against the Angels since 2004, sweeping them in the 2004 and 2007 division series and eliminating them in the 2008 division series three games to one.

Of the 94 postseason innings the teams have played in that span, the Angels have held the lead for 7 1/2 of them, a run of dominance that has to be in the Angels' heads, no matter what lengths they go to downplay it.

Boston was the superior club in 2004, dismantling the Angels en route to winning its first World Series title in 86 years, and the Angels were so racked by injuries and illness at the end of 2007, they could barely put up a fight.

But last October's loss still stings because the Angels led the major leagues with 100 wins, were 8-1 against Boston, and finally had a championship-caliber offense, with the July addition of Mark Teixeira, to match their strong pitching and defense.

And still, the Angels "lost to a team that's not better than us," as pitcher John Lackey growled, because they failed to deliver enough in the clutch, messed up a few defensive plays, threw a few too many fat pitches, ran into outs on the basepaths and botched a crucial suicide squeeze.

"You can't play the game saying to yourself, 'Don't hit it to me,' or, 'I really hope I get this guy out,' or, 'I hope this guy throws a ball so I can walk,' " Saunders said.

"You have to say, 'I hope this guy throws a strike and I'm going to kill it,' or, 'This guy's going to hit it to me and I'm going to turn a sick double play,' or, 'I'm going to throw this ball right where I want to for strike three.' If you don't think like that, you won't go far."

Center fielder Torii Hunter saw those doubts creeping into the Angels in September, when they lost the first two games of a three-game series in Fenway Park in uncharacteristic fashion.

First baseman Kendry Morales bobbled a bunt, and Lackey's throwing error on a bunt allowed Boston to break a scoreless tie in the sixth inning of the first game, and the Angels were one for 11 with runners in scoring position.

Misplays by shortstop Erick Aybar and second baseman Howie Kendrick helped fuel Boston's five-run sixth inning in the second game, and the Angels melted down in the ninth inning in the face of two disputed umpiring calls that went Boston's way.

Alex Gonzalez capped a two-run rally with a run-scoring single to give the Red Sox a 9-8 walk-off win.

"Don't change anything because it's the Red Sox," Hunter fumed after that loss. "If you play nervous, you're going to make mistakes. Show some [guts]!"

The next night, the Angels scored three runs against Josh Beckett, took the lead with a ninth-inning run against Billy Wagner and got shutdown relief from Kevin Jepsen and Brian Fuentes in a 4-3 victory that went a long way toward healing their bruised psyche.

It was exactly the kind of game the Angels needed to prove to themselves they can win in Fenway, the raucous relic of a park where the Angels suffered walk-off losses in each of their three division series matchups with the Red Sox.

"Let's be honest. We're going to have to go through there to get to where we want to go, so we have to prepare for it," outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. said. "If you play a certain way during the season in a certain place, you can get accustomed to it.

"Success breeds confidence. It was important for us to play well as a team there, especially for some of the guys in this clubhouse who weren't sure."

Matthews didn't name names; he didn't have to. Kendrick batted .118 with seven strikeouts and looked unsure of himself at times in the field in last year's division series.

Aybar batted .111 and whiffed on the squeeze play that would have given the Angels a one-run lead in the eighth inning of Game 4, which Boston won on Jed Lowrie's walk-off single.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself in the postseason, and I was a little over-aggressive," said Kendrick, who bounced back from a June demotion to triple A to bat .291 this season.

"This year, I think I've progressed as a hitter and a player, especially after struggling. I understand the game better. That doesn't guarantee I'll be successful, but feel I have the tools to have the quality at-bats that will help the team win."

Aybar has progressed to where he could win a Gold Glove to go with his .312 average. The Angels also have an attractive middle-infield option in switch-hitting Maicer Izturis, who sat out last year's division series because of injury.

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