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It's sort of deja vu for Angels at Boston

September 16, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

BOSTON — A bunt? Again?

It is a house of horrors for the Angels, this place, this time of year. The Angels returned to Fenway Park on Tuesday for the first time since a botched bunt ended their season here last October, just in time for another botched bunt.

Or two, depending on whom you asked.

John Lackey started. He pitched well. He did not win. He called out his offense.

Same story in the last game here, last year. Erick Aybar blew the bunt, Lackey spewed fire, the Angels packed up for the winter. The Angels ought to try a rewrite before they return here in three weeks, for another shot at vanquishing their playoff demons.

Boston Red Sox 4, Angels 1.

"Pretty much, it felt familiar," Lackey said.

No score into the fifth inning last time. No score into the sixth inning this time. The Red Sox had not even gotten a runner to second base.

Runner on first, none out in the sixth. Jacoby Ellsbury drops a sweet bunt toward first base. The ball threatens to roll foul but never does. Kendry Morales, the first baseman, finally grabs the ball, then drops it and holds onto it rather than trying desperately to throw out the speedy Ellsbury.

"Kendry was in and busting it," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. "He had to try to make a little quick transfer and lost control. That was a nice bunt."

Ellsbury was credited with a single, with no error on Morales.

"He fielded it clean," Lackey said. "All he had to do was throw to first.

"Give him a hit? Let's be serious."

And then Lackey pointed the finger back at himself.

"I admit I screwed mine up," he said. "Mine should have been an out as well."

With runners on first and second and none out, Dustin Pedroia bunts as well. This bunt is not a good one, right back at Lackey.

Lackey falls to his knees. He slings the ball toward third base, but the throw sails past Chone Figgins and into left field. One run scores, another one soon does, and that's the ballgame.

"I had him easy," Lackey said. "I just didn't make a good throw."

Scioscia did not fault Lackey for throwing even after he fell.

"We're talking about a 45-foot flip," Scioscia said. "I'm sure he can make that from the ground."

Nothing comes easy to the Angels here. In their last 27 innings at Fenway, they have scored five runs.

Lackey threw two of those games against the Red Sox, with nothing but frustration to show for it.

"They're a great team, and you can't give great teams that many opportunities," he said. "They're going to do enough damage on their own."

He stood before his locker here last October, on another night when a very good start was not good enough.

The story was much the same this time. So was his solution.

"We've got to figure out a way to score more runs against these guys," he said. "Let's be honest."

It would be more diplomatic, perhaps, if Lackey would say he ought to pitch better rather than saying his hitters ought to hit better.

Frankly, he is right. If the Angels have to outpitch Boston in the first round of the playoffs, they probably aren't going to see the second round.

Daisuke Matsuzaka had not pitched in three months because of a shoulder that Boston Manager Terry Francona said still is not at full strength.

Matsuzaka took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. He pitched six innings in all, without giving up a run.

He could start a playoff game against the Angels. The fourth game.

The Red Sox split the eighth inning between Billy Wagner and his 95-mph fastball and rookie Daniel Bard and his 99-mph fastball. Then came closer Jonathan Papelbon, who has not blown a save in two months.

"The young guy throwing 99? That's sick," Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said.

"Their bullpen is pretty good. I'd take it. Every team will take that."

The Angels would take it. It's three weeks to playoff time, and they don't know who gets the ball with a one-run lead and three outs to go.

The Angels would have you believe none of this matters, at least not yet. Scioscia cut off his pregame interview session when too many questions veered toward October.

Nothing clinched yet. But the Texas Rangers trail the Angels by six games in the American League West, and they trail the Red Sox by 5 1/2 games in the wild-card race.

It'll be the Angels and the Red Sox one more time, so here's one more statistic for you: Since June 6, David Ortiz leads the league in home runs.

He hit one Tuesday night, far into center field, deep into the night. It was just one more reason why Lackey wore his only smile when he grabbed a bottle of beer in the visiting clubhouse.

"That's the only good thing about this place," he said.


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