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It's Scott Kazmir's turn to experience Angels-Red Sox playoff rivalry

Left-hander will start Game 3 of the American League division series with a chance to finish off Boston.

October 11, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | ON THE ANGELS

BOSTON — Scott Kazmir is new to this whole Angels-Boston Red Sox playoff rivalry, which, until this October, had been as one-sided as Larry Holmes versus Randall "Tex" Cobb.

But as the good folks in Kazmir's hometown of Houston like to say, this ain't his first rodeo.

The 25-year-old left-hander has made only six starts for the Angels since his Aug. 28 trade from Tampa Bay, but he is well-versed in the potential pitfalls of playoff baseball in Boston.

The Angels have a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five American League division series and can put the Red Sox -- and their own playoff demons of 1986, 2004, 2007 and 2008 -- away with a victory in Game 3 on today in Fenway Park.

As Kazmir knows too well, one victory for the Red Sox, who have twice come back from 0-2 deficits to win division series and had one memorable comeback from an 0-3 AL Championship Series hole to the New York Yankees in 2004, and the momentum of the series quickly shifts.

"With any team in playoffs, anything can happen, and it can snowball real quick," Kazmir said. "When you have them on the ropes, you have to finish them.

"You can't give them a chance to get back into the game, especially the Red Sox, because they just don't waste at-bats. A couple of walks, a hit, and they're one swing away from getting back into the game."

Recent history suggests as much.

Kazmir threw six shutout innings in Fenway Park in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series last October and left with a 7-0 lead. Nine more outs, and the Rays would vanquish the Red Sox and move on to the World Series.

Then Boston scored four runs in the seventh inning, three on a David Ortiz home run, and three in the eighth, two on J.D. Drew's home run. Drew's walk-off single in the ninth gave Boston an 8-7 win and completed the second-greatest comeback in postseason history.

The Red Sox went on to win Game 6 in Tampa Bay to force a Game 7, which the Rays won, but Kazmir doesn't want to experience that sinking Game 5 feeling again.

"That was crazy," Kazmir said. "The worst part was, I was in the clubhouse icing my arm and watching the game, and they were putting all the plastic up, getting the podium ready for the trophy presentation.

"The next thing you know, they start coming back, getting closer. It's a four-run game, and they start taking all the stuff down. That was tough to see."

In Kazmir, the Angels might have just the pitcher to prevent such doom. Kazmir has an 8-7 career record and 3.59 earned-run average in 23 games against the Red Sox and is 6-4 with a 3.05 ERA in 13 games in Fenway Park.

Armed with a 94-mph fastball, a slider and changeup, Kazmir has thrived in one of baseball's most hostile environments, especially against left-handed pitchers.

"I like the atmosphere -- I love being on the big stage," Kazmir said. "I really get amped up for games like that, where you have a crowd all over you, and you're in a territory you're not really comfortable in."

He'll have tough acts to follow. John Lackey threw 7 1/3 four-hit innings in the Angels' 5-0 Game 1 victory Thursday, and Jered Weaver gave up one run and two hits in 7 1/3 innings of Friday's 4-1 Game 2 victory.

A big key for the right-handers was containing Boston's top two hitters, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, who are a combined three for 16 in the first two games.

But both have had success against Kazmir -- Pedroia is 15 for 29 (.517) against him and Ellsbury is six for 20 (.300). Victor Martinez (.455) and Mike Lowell (four home runs) also hit Kazmir well.

"You see how Weaver and Lackey pitched those guys -- they really attacked the zone and used every one of their pitches," Kazmir said. "You kind of see who chases a little bit more. You get a good idea for all the hitters."

The Red Sox, who will send 25-year-old right-hander Clay Buchholz to the mound for his first playoff start, hope Kazmir's numbers are offset by another statistic: Boston was 56-25 in Fenway Park this season, the second-best home record in baseball.

"It's a quirky ballpark, and our hitters are certainly more comfortable here," Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said. "And then our fans become involved. You get around the seventh inning, somebody throws ball one, and all of a sudden the place starts shaking. So, there are a lot of things that are helpful for us here."

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mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

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