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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Road to World Series goes through Boston for Angels

It remains to be seen whether the Angels can defeat the Red Sox in October.

September 18, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN | ON BASEBALL

David Ortiz sat alone at his locker, against the back wall of the home clubhouse. This was three hours before game time Thursday, and all was calm.

With the Boston Red Sox, anyway. The Angels had left the field screaming and cursing the previous night, furious at the umpires, mad at one another.

Ortiz was astonished to hear that Torii Hunter had called out his teammates, had used the emotionally loaded verb "choked" to describe the Angels' play.

Ortiz leaned back in his chair, dispensing the patience and wisdom borne of two World Series titles.

"This is just a regular-season game," Ortiz said. "Why are they going so crazy?"

That is easy to say with a ring or two on your finger. The Red Sox were not staring their demons in the face, in the other dugout.

The Angels were. That made for an emotionally compelling but ultimately meaningless 4-3 victory in Boston on Thursday.

The Angels could have swept the Red Sox here this week, or gotten swept. The October story line would be the same either way: Can the Angels beat the Red Sox in the playoffs?

It would be nice to paint Thursday's victory in a lovely shade of redemption. It would be nice to say confidence once again wore a halo.

It would be silly, though. The Angels beat the Red Sox in eight of nine games last summer, then got smoked again in the playoffs. There was no larger narrative here.

"I don't think there's any messages to send," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said, "or any feelings to get."

It was a good win, no mistaking that.

The Angels hung tough against Josh Beckett, and they beat Billy Wagner. Check, and check.

They scored the winning run in the ninth inning, with small ball: Walk, sacrifice bunt, bloop single.

"They end up scoring a run and you're not even quite sure how it happened," Beckett said.

They got a superb outing from Ervin Santana, who has now gone seven innings in consecutive starts for the first time this season. He'll get the New York Yankees next week. With another strong start, maybe he sneaks into the playoff rotation.

And, perhaps most important for a team dependent on offensive contributions from all comers, Howie Kendrick is back.

With two more hits tonight, he'll be a .300 hitter once again, three hard months after his exile to the minor leagues. He had three hits on Thursday, including a home run and that game-winning single, and he has 21 hits in his last 43 at-bats.

Kendrick ought to play every day, with Maicer Izturis on the bench. Scioscia would say only that he has three guys in the middle of the infield "playing at a very high level."

Kendrick is the one who is a career .442 hitter in Boston.

Not including the playoffs, of course. He had two hits, no walks and seven strikeouts in 17 at-bats against Boston last October. He left 18 runners on base.

He was not haunted all winter, even if you were.

"I thought about it for maybe the first week," he said.

Then it was time to move on, as it was for the Angels on Thursday.

Hunter told wave upon wave of reporters after Wednesday's loss that the Angels needed to calm the nerves here and at Yankee Stadium, to show some guts after three ugly losses in New York and Boston. To the last wave of reporters, he said, "We choked every time."

Hunter denied using that word on Thursday, but reporters from the Boston Herald, CBS and AOL all heard it. If his comments were intended to rally the troops, well, Kendrick said the subject of Wednesday's debacle barely came up in the clubhouse on Thursday.

"There weren't any guys really talking about that," Kendrick said.

The talking points will be the same this October as they were last October. The road to the World Series will go through Boston once again, a road that could take quite a toll.

--

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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