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The Angels' energy is all positive

They break through to take a 1-0 series lead over the Boston Red Sox.

October 09, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

You could hear it all over the ballpark, in the dugout and in the owner's suite, in the box seats and in the bleachers.

It was the sound of a franchise exhaling.

First the pause, then the applause. First the hush, then the roar.

The ball soared high into the night sky, carrying the hopes and fears of a franchise. Could it possibly travel far enough to extinguish all that bad karma?

The ball was going ... going ... gone! The nagging worry about what spell the Boston boys had in mind for the Angels this year was going ... going ... gone!

Torii Hunter delivered more than a home run. He delivered an elixir for all that ailed the Angels.

The Angels lead the Boston Red Sox in an October series. How about that?

Hunter hit the home run that gave the Angels their first three runs on Thursday, all the runs they would need. He broke a scoreless tie in the fifth inning, and the Angels handed their October nemesis a 5-0 defeat in Game 1 of the American League division series.

He was surrounded by joy as he circled the bases, enveloped in hugs when he got back to the dugout.

It is hard to relax when you are constantly reminded that the number of times you have beaten the Red Sox in the playoffs is zero. It is hard to loosen up when you are constantly looking up at the scoreboard and seeing the number zero, inning after inning after what-can-possibly-go-wrong-this-time inning.

It is hard for your fans to believe when they see that zero, again and again. You had to be there Thursday night, to feel the anticipation building with each scoreless inning, to hear the release of noise that followed the home run, to enjoy the roar that was the soundtrack of the rest of the evening.

"That was the loudest I've heard this crowd," Hunter said. "When you're out-louding the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankee crowds, that's impressive."

So were all of the streaks that Hunter terminated, with one swing.

Jon Lester, the Boston starter, had pitched 18 consecutive postseason innings against the Angels without giving up an earned run. Gone, with one swing.

The Angels had played 59 consecutive postseason innings against Boston without a three-run inning. Gone, with one swing.

The Angels had played 115 consecutive postseason innings against Boston without a three-run lead. Gone, with one swing.

John Lackey had pitched 40 consecutive postseason innings without a three-run lead. You might remember the last time Lackey had a three-run lead in October: Garret Anderson gave it to him, with one swing, the three-run double that was the game-winning hit of the World Series.

Seven years ago.

Thanks, Torii.

"You can't relax," Lackey said. "But it's nice to know, in the back of your mind, you've got a few runs."

Said Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher: "There's a little more room for error. Not every pitch has to be precision, like the game is on the line and it's a 0-0 game."

The Angels did not exhale as loudly as their fans did with that 3-0 lead. They did, however, quietly relish this new and wonderful thing, this three-run lead against Boston.

"We've been so close so many times without getting over the hump against these guys," Chone Figgins said. "With a couple runs and Lackey on the mound and the way our defense was playing, it was going to be tough for them to come back."

There were good spirits all over the Southland on Thursday night, magical signs that we might get that Freeway Series after all.

That energy seemed to be transmitted instantly, from Dodger Stadium to Angel Stadium. At the very moment that Mark Loretta got the bloop hit that transformed Dodger Stadium into Bedlam City, Mike Lowell was being booed at Angel Stadium during pregame introductions of the Boston players.

The thunder sticks were back too. We had flashbacks to Kirk Gibson at Dodger Stadium, and to Scott Spiezio at Angel Stadium. We had an L.A. sweep of a playoff doubleheader.

If the Red Sox lose tonight, before another rowdy crowd, they'll be one game from elimination, at the hands of the Angels. Might be a hex or something.


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