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Third inning: Napoli-onic complex

10.05.08 at 5:59 pm ET
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Josh Beckett gave up a double to Vladimir Guerrero to lead off the inning. After producing just one extra-base hit in the first 18 innings of the series, the Angels have two in the first three innings tonight. Guerrero, who runs as if Jeff Gillooly were taking a lead pipe to his knees, also stole third, giving the Angels two steals in the first three innings tonight following a failure to swipe a bag in the first two games. 

It looked like Beckett might be able to escape harm. He punched out Torii Hunter and got Juan Rivera on a foul-pop to first. But Mike Napoli told the Sox to take their two-out dominance and shove it: Beckett hung a curveball that will now have an opportunity to enjoy a few drinks at the Cask ‘n’ Flagon after the two-run homer tied the game, 3-3. The Angels ended a streak of 68 innings without a postseason homer. The Red Sox had not allowed a Division Series longball in 50 innings, since Paul Konerko of the White Sox went deep off of Tim Wakefield in Game 3 of the 2005 Division Series. Josh Beckett hadn’t given up a postseason longball in 22 innings.

Napoli might seem like an unlikely candidate to deliver a key blow, but the Sox were well aware of what he had done down the stretch this year. He hit .388 with a .481 OBP, 1.257 OPS and eight homers (in just 85 at-bats) in the second half this year, marks that put him in the same category as Manny Ramirez among players with at least 100 plate appearances in the second half this season. 

Through three innings, Beckett has thrown a whopping 66 pitches. Beckett has never lasted fewer than six innings in a postseason start (Game 1 of last year’s World Series). He’ll need to become far more pitch efficient to reach that total tonight. I doubt that 

The Sox went quickly and quietly in the bottom of the third. David Ortiz flied out to center, and seemed frustrated at having failed to do more damage on a pitch that seemed to be in the middle of the strike zone. After Kevin Youkilis walked, both Jason Bay and Mike Lowell flied to right, with Joe Saunders effectively living on the outer half of the plate. Saunders has actually been quite good, and but for the three-run single on a pop-up by Ellsbury, he would be unscored upon through three innings.

Jacoby makes history

10.05.08 at 5:40 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury made non-tacolicious history – he became the second player in October history to have a three-run single. Only Placido Polanco had done it before in the postseason, in the 2000 Division Series against Greg Maddux of the Braves. (Ga-ry! Ga-ry!)

The Red Sox rally in the second inning was uncharacteristic for other reasons as well: starting with the 2004 World Series, the team was hitting just .200 (16-for-80) with 2 RBI in the second innings of their last 23 postseason games. (Ga-ry! Ga-ry!)

Second inning: Bits and bloops

10.05.08 at 5:35 pm ET
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Let’s kick if off with some more Josh Beckett post-season head-shakers, this one courtesy Gary from Chapel Hill. In last season’s playoffs, hitters went 5 for 53 (.094) with 35 strikeouts when getting to two strikes. For his career, Beckett has limited hitters to 8 hits in 125 at-bats with 82 strikeouts when getting to two strikes, best in big league history. (The second-best opponent’s batting average in such situations is Fernando Valenzuela’s .078, 5-64, with a minimum of 50 two-strike at-bats). In the first inning hitters were 1 for 3 in such two-strike scenarios.
Torii Hunter’s infield hit in the first inning was the first hit Beckett has ever allowed with runners in scoring position and two outs in the post-season. You can’t buy that kind of info, unless you’re shopping at the GFCH Superstore.
Chone Figgins, who set the tone for the Angels by jumping on a first-pitch fastball to leadoff the game, came into tonight hitting .333 against right-handers’ first-pitch fastballs, swinging at that pitch vs. that kind of pitcher 17.7 percent of the time.
Figgins kept his momentum going with a single up the middle on Beckett two-seamer. The speedster then stole second for the Angels’ first stolen base of the series. (Jacoby Ellsbury was up on LA, 3-0, coming in.) The Angels finished second in the American League in steals (behind Tampa Bay) with 129. Alex Speier told me this is an interesting fact: The top three base-stealing in the AL all made the post-season. Jason Varitek threw out four of the 11 base-stealers when catching Becket this season.
Beckett already has three walks, one more than he had in all of his 30 post-season innings a year ago. In the only two games he walked three or more batters in the post-season (Game 1 of 2003 NLDS/Game 3 of 2003 WS) the pitcher lost both, despite having a combined 1.88 ERA in those two. They were his only two post-season losses.
As for the Red Sox offense, it was only the second time in the last 10 post-season games where the Sox didn’t get a hit in the first inning. In seven of those, they got two-or-more hits. (Courtesy: GFCH).
Walks to Jed Lowrie and Coco Crisp, sandwiched around a Jason Varitek single, left Jacoby Ellsbury up two outs and the bases loaded. Ellsbury was hitting .154 this season in such situations, while Angels starter Joe Saunders had allowed three hits in 10 at-bats with sacks juiced, with no walks. Also to keep in mind, this series the Red Sox were hitting .308 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Who would win …
Ellsbury, with a huge tip of the hat to Torii Hunter. A bloop was allowed to drop by Hunter (and second baseman Howie Kendrick), allowing all three runners to score. Of note was the jump with a full count and the bases loaded Crisp got from first, allowing him to score easily.
The Red Sox have now scored nine runs with two outs this series.
Saunders has made it through two innings having thrown 48 pitches, well above his 15.2 pitches per inning, which was eighth in the American League among qualifying starters.

Score Flash: Red Sox 3, Angels 1

10.05.08 at 5:34 pm ET
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Jacoby Ellsbury hit a seemingly harmless pop-up with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second, but a failure to communicate between Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick and centerfielder Torii Hunter allowed the ball to drop for a three-run single. Coco Crisp exploited the full count to get an exceptional jump, and was almost standing on second by the time that Ellsbury made contact. The Sox have now scored nine two-out runs this series.

First inning: Beckett mortal

10.05.08 at 5:02 pm ET
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Chone Figgins jumped on the first pitch of the game to lace a ground-rule double down the right-field line. Figgins hit .381 with a homer and three doubles in the 42 regular-season at-bats in which he put the first pitch in play this year. Opponents had one-pitch at-bats against Beckett in 91 of 725 plate appearances this year, hitting .291 with two homers, five doubles and a triple.

The double seemed to highlight a rare piece of postseason krytonite for Beckett, as noted by a certain North Carolinian: during the 2007 postseason, Beckett allowed 2 runs, a homer, .313 average, and .875 OPS in the 1st inning. Then he allowed a total of 2 runs, a .154 average, and a .401 OPS in all innings after the 1st. Opponents went a combined 1 for 25 against Beckett during innings 3 and 4 last postseason.

That in mind, perhaps the Angels felt bullish about their chances, particularly with Garret Anderson (8-for-17, .471 with a homer in the regular season against Beckett) at the dish. But Beckett has, of course been brilliant with runners in scoring position in the playoffs. Entering tonight, he had allowed ony 18.2 percent (8-of-44) of runners in scoring position to score against him in the postseason.

He struck out Anderson, starting him with a swing-and-miss changeup and closing out the at-bat with a nasty curve. He followed by fanning Mark Teixeira (0-for-2 vs. Beckett) on a 94 mph heater and then pitching around Vlad Guerrero to put runners on first and second with two outs against Torii Hunter (.455, 5-for-11 against Beckett).

Hunter got jammed, but muscled a grounder to the right side of the infield to load the bases. (Hunter had 12 infield hits in the regular season.)

That brought Juan Rivera (2-for-12, .167) to the plate. Beckett’s early command difficulties were underscored, as he issued a five-pitch walk to Rivera. Bad command and the bases loaded: not exactly up to the standard of peanut butter and chocolate as pairings go. Beckett gave up one bases-loaded walk this year in the regular season. 

Beckett avoided further damage, getting Mike Napoli to ground into a fielder’s choice. All the same, we will not see a reprisal of the complete-game shutout he logged against the Angels in Game 1 of last year’s Division Series. Not only did Beckett allow a run, but he also threw a whopping 30 pitches (14 for strikes). In last year’s shutout, he needed just 108 pitches on the night. 

In the bottom of the first, Jacoby Ellsbury ripped a ball down the first-base line on the second pitch of the night by Joe Saunders. But Halos first baseman Mark Teixeria made a gorgeous diving play. Teixeira, of course, is a two-time Gold Glove winner, and was considered the consensus best defensive first baseman in the A.L. until Kevin Youkilis became a force at the position. Teixeira, a free-agent after this season, hasn’t done much to hurt his contract cause this offseason. He’s hitting .625 this series. Somewhere in Southern California, Scott Boras cackles. 

(Just wondering: how did Red Sox executives feel when Manny Ramirez, after his team swept the Cubs, thanked Boras for getting him to the Dodgers last night?)

After Dustin Pedroia was hit by a pitch, David Ortiz flied out to center and Kevin Youkilis grounded into a forceout.

Angels 1, Red Sox 0

Score Flash: Angels 1, Red Sox 0

10.05.08 at 4:56 pm ET
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With two outs in the first inning, Juan Rivera drew a bases-loaded walk to score Chone Figgins. Figgins had led off the game with a ground-rule double. The free pass, which was Josh Beckett’s second bases-loaded walk of the season, came after Rivera swung at a 3-0 pitch, fouling it off. The Red Sox starter finished with 30 pitches for the inning.

Pre-Game: The Angels can’t be thrilled to face this man…

10.05.08 at 4:28 pm ET
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In case you hadn’t heard, Josh Beckett is pretty good in the postseason. A few examples of a phenomenon of which you and the Angels are likely well aware:

  • Beckett has won his last five playoff starts, with a 0.92 ERA in that time. 
  • He went 4-0 with a 1.20 ERA in the 2007 playoffs, tied for the third most wins in a single postseason, and matching the most starting victories. 
  • He is 6-2 with a 1.73 ERA in 10 postseason contests. His ERA is the third lowest all-time among pitchers with at least 40 playoff innings. Opponents have managed just a .159 average against him, lowest ever against a pitcher with at least 40 innings. 
  • In games where his team could either advance or get eliminated, Beckett is 3-0 with a 0.60 ERA in four games. 

I’m guessing the Angels eschewed those numbers in favor of Beckett’s 0-2 record and 7.43 ERA in two starts against them this year.

Closing time? Not against the Sox

10.05.08 at 4:19 pm ET
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Greetings from venerable Fenway Park, where the Red Sox and Josh Beckett are preparing to try to knock out the Joe Saunders-led Angels. The Sox have not fared well against the Angels southpaw–Saunders is 4-0 with a 2.89 ERA in six career starts against the Sox, including a 9-2 win over Josh Beckett on July 30. (The beginning of the Teixeira era for the Angels; the last game of another era for the Sox.) The Angels and Saunders also beat Beckett and the Sox on July 19, when Saunders took a no-decision in a 4-2 win.

But enough of that. The postseason is a different time of year, and one of the truly fascinating elements of this series has been the fact that the Red Sox closer is a force of nature in October, and the Red Sox lineup is a force of nature against closers in October. 

For the second time in as many years, Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez were both given the keys to Game 2 of a Division Series contest. When the proverbial dust settled, the identity of the Alpha Closer was clear. It is a pattern that has recurred with shocking frequency in Boston’s recent playoff history. 

In ’04, Francisco Rodriguez absorbed a pair of losses in the Division Series before the Sox wiped out leads against Mariano Rivera in consecutive games in the Championship Series. In ’07, the team beat K-Rod. 

Gary From Chapel Hill offers this startling illustration of Boston’s dominance of other teams’ closers:

Since 2004, the Red Sox have 165 postseason plate appearances against closers (defined as 30+ saves during the ’04-’08 span) and have put up an .876 OPS in those opportunities. That’s the highest mark of all playoff teams since ’04 (the Dodgers, .825, are 2nd in just 51 PA). The Sox are 1 of only 3 teams with 100+ PA against “closers” in this time, joining the Cardinals (181) and the Astros (118). The Sox have 16 extra base hits versus closers since ’04. No other team has more than 11 (Cardinals) or 5 (three teams) in that span.

The Sox have touched K-Rod in 32 plate appearances to the tune of .346 avg./ .452 obp/ .615 slg/ 1.067 ops.  The Sox regular season OPS vs K-Rod in his career is .545.  The Orioles (.757) have the highest OPS vs K-Rod (.757) in his regular season career (min. 50 PA). 

Translation: When Papelbon enters the game, he closes the door. When other teams’ closers enter against the Sox in October, they open Pandora’s Box. 

Game 2 Wrap

10.04.08 at 3:29 am ET
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With their 7-5 win, the Red Sox assumed a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Angels with the opportunity to close out the Division Series back at Fenway Park, where Boston has won 11 of their last 13 postseason contests. The Sox set a record for postseason dominance by one team over another by extending their winning streak over the Halos to 11 games (though Justin Masterson, 19 months old when the run started, seems unlikely to draw much inspiration from Dave Henderson). 

TOP 1: BAY STRIKES AGAIN

Angels starter Ervin Santana quickly recorded two outs, but gave up a double to David Ortiz, a walk to Kevin Youkilis and a double to J.D. Drew. The Sox, ahead, 1-0, then sent Jason Bay to the dish. Bay, who suggested that he was “less jittery” on Friday than he was at the start of Game 1, homered for the second consecutive game, crushing a three-run blast off rockpile in centerfield to give the Sox a 4-0 lead.

“I flushed it,” he said. “It was a two-strike slider that I hit. (A homer) was the last thing on my mind. Second and third, a single scores two runs. That’€™s usually when that stuff happens.”

INNINGS 1-5: DAISUKE MATSUZAKA

Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka lasted just five innings and needed 108 pitches to do so. The pattern was familiar: Matsuzaka lasted five or fewer innings in 12 of his 29 regular-season starts.

This time, he actually proved enormously efficient at the start of the game, flying through the first three innings with 47 pitches, before the Angels ratcheted up his pitch count while pushing across runs in both the fourth and fifth. The Angels pushed across single runs in the first, fourth and fifth innings. Manager Terry Francona nearly had to summon reliever Manny Delcarmen in the fifth, but Matsuzaka stranded runners on the corners by getting pinch-hitter Kendry Morales to pop to third.

‘€œThat’s the ultimate tight rope,’€ said Sox manager Terry Francona. ‘€œI think in the fourth and fifth he threw 61 pitches and there was a lot going on. I said before the game that he doesn’t give in, he certainly didn’t. He finds a way to make pitches and those were two tough innings. But he finds a way to make a pitch, but, boy, they made him work.’€

INNINGS 6-8: BOSTON’S BULLPEN

Matsuzaka left the game with a 5-3 lead, but certainly asked a great deal of his bullpen. Hideki Okajima pitched a clean sixth inning but gave up singles to the first two hitters of the seventh. That led Francona to summon Justin Masterson. 

Masterson walked a pair of hitters to force in a run that narrowed the game to 5-4 before stifling the rally. He returned to the mound in the eighth, and gave up a leadoff triple to Chone Figgins. That, in turn, led Francona to call on closer Jonathan Papelbon for a nearly impossible six-out save. 

Papelbon, who has yet to give up a run in his playoff career, got a quick pop-up from Garret Anderson. But Angels slugger Mark Teixeira, who went 3-for-3, lifted a sac fly to center against Papelbon to tie the game.

“They were chipping away for a while,” said Bay. “It (was) kind of a let down (when the Angels tied it).”

TOP 9: DREW STRIKES

Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez, who never pitched more than an inning in the regular season and made 70 of his 76 appearances with a lead, was pressed into duty in the eighth on Friday with his team trailing, 5-4. He stranded an inherited runner, and then after the Angels tied the game on Teixeira’s sac fly in the bottom of the inning, K-Rod returned for the ninth.

David Ortiz was the leadoff hitter. Rodriguez typically avoids the Red Sox slugger, who is 1-for-3 with a double and three walks in six regular-season appearances against the Angels closer. Last year, in Game 2 of the Division Series between the Sox and Angels, Rodriguez intentionally walked Ortiz to get to Manny Ramirez. (Ramirez followed with a homerun that prompted confused Canadian officials to go to DefCon Level 2.)

Kevin Youkilis followed with a groundout, bringing J.D. Drew to the plate with a runner on second and one out. Though Drew missed most of the final six weeks of the season, Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez tried to avoid throwing fastballs, given Drew’€™s ability to crush the pitch.

‘€œYou see how they have to pitch him,’€ said Sox manager Terry Francona. ‘€œ(Rodriguez) started him with a fastball and then he went exclusively soft because you have to respect (Drew’€™s) bat and what he can do. If you make a mistake he can hit it out of the ballpark.’€

Drew navigated the count to 2-2, and then a changeup from Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez stayed up over the middle half of the plate. Drew jumped on it, launching his first ninth-inning homer as a member of the Red Sox.

‘€œThis was huge,’€ said Drew. ‘€œWe were in a spot, tie ballgame, they had seemingly had the momentum, having scored to tie the game and Jonathan Papelbon, you don’t want to go out there and burn him if you don’t have to, so it was nice to get those two runs to let him have something to work with.’€

Drew admitted that, after missing the better part of six weeks, he was concerned about whether he would even be able to participate in the playoffs.

‘€œAbsolutely,’€ he said of whether he thought he might be unable to play. ‘€œI thought at some point I was going to have to shut it down and watch the team go through the playoffs, so it is nice to be out there and participate.’€

BOTTOM 9: PAPELBON CLOSES IT OUT (WITH ASSISTANCE FROM YOUKILIS)

Papelbon needed just seven pitches to navigate the eighth, and so he remained fresh to return to the hill in the ninth. The task was nothing new: Papelbon has recorded four or more outs in nine of his 11 playoff appearances, and he now has four outings of at least two innings. 

Though the Sox closer had been fastball-heavy down the stretch, catcher Jason Varitek noted that he was able to mix in effective sliders and splitters on Friday. The Angels could not hit him hard, but retiring three batters required spectacular defensive efforts from Kevin Youkilis.

Youkilis, a Gold Glove first baseman, was pushed across the diamond to third by the absence of Mike Lowell in Game 2. Torii Hunter tried to exploit the situation by bunting to lead off the inning. Youkilis adeptly charged the ball, bare-handed it cleanly and fired across his body to cut down Hunter by a step.

Pinch-hitter Gary Matthews, Jr., followed. He fought Papelbon for seven pitches, the last of which was fouled towards the stands down the left-field line. Youkilis raced back and reached into the camera well on a well-timed leap to record a second out. 

Youkilis has made the cross-diamond shifts look easy over the course of the 2008 season. He played 125 games this year at first, and 36 at third, and always appeared comfortable on both corners. Yet he acknowledges that the position he was playing last night presents unique challenges.

“Third base, I feel, is the hardest position in the infield. It’€™s do or die, and you’€™ve got the angle where you can’€™t see the ball as well off the bat,” said Youkilis. “I take pride in helping this team win any way I can. Some days you’€™re not going to hit well. Some days you aren’€™t going to field well. You just want to contribute somehow, some way each day.  You want to do everything. There’€™s little plays that you can make each day. The box scores don’€™t always tell the game. You can do the little things that help out.”

Obviously, he did that last night. 

“Phenomenal,” said Papelbon. “(His defense) is one of the difference makers in this ballgame.”

So was Papelbon’s dominating stuff. With two outs, Howie Kendrick was the final barrier to a Red Sox victory. Kendrick, who had terrible at-bats for most of the night, fought Papelbon to a full count. But then the Sox closer elevated a 95 mph fastball on which the Angels second baseman could not check his swing. 

Ballgame. Papelbon claimed the victory, improving to 3-1 in October. More importantly, he has yet to allow a run in the playoffs. He has 17.2 shutout innings in the postseason, second only to Joe Niekro (20) for the most playoff innings pitched without allowing a run. 

“Those are the kind of situations I live for,” said Papelbon. “October is a time when there’€™s no mistakes. There’€™s no time for error. You have to be perfect. That’€™s what October’€™s about. In October, these hitters have had 500, 600 Abs. They’€™ve seen thousands of pitches over the season. They’€™re going to key on your mistakes. You’€™ve got to be perfect.”

Papelbon was just that, retiring all six batters he faced, helping the Sox to claim a commanding 2-0 series lead.

POSTSCRIPT

The Angels recognize the stark reality that confronts them, in large part because they are familiar with it. The team went down 2-0 in the best-of-five Division Series against the Red Sox in both 2004 and 2007. Both times, they were summarily swept. 

‘€œThere is a challenge in front of us and the only way to meet it is going to be pitch’€‘by’€‘pitch, inning’€‘by’€‘inning on Sunday,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “We played well in their park all year and we have to do it now.’€

Though the Angels swept the lone Fenway Park series (a three-game set) between the two teams this year, the Sox do not seem bothered by that memory.

‘€œIt’€™s great to go to Fenway Park with a two-game lead,” said Youkilis. “Hopefully we don’€™t have to fly back here again.”

“We’€™ve got to go back home and take care of business,” added Papelbon. “In our ballpark, we should be able to take care of that.”

NOTES

-Mike Lowell said that he remains on track to start in Game 3 on Sunday against left-hander Joe Saunders

-Jason Bay is the first Red Sox player ever to homer in his first two postseason games. Only 14 players in MLB history have accomplished the feat, led by Ivan Rodriguez, who cleared the fences in each of his first four games.

-The Angels have 20 hits in this series, but Chone Figgins’ eighth-inning triple is the only one for extra bases. The team his hitting .190 with runners in scoring position, and has stranded 20 baserunners in two games.

-David Ortiz quietly set a Division Series record by extending his first-round hitting streak to 13 games.

Jacoby Ellsbury stole his third base of the series, matching a team Division Series record set by Johnny Damon in 2004, also against the Angels. Ellsbury now has five career postseason swipes, and needs to steal three more bags to catch up with Damon for the team’s career franchise leader in the postseason.

Ninth inning: Slipped discs are all the rage (Red Sox win, 7-5)

10.03.08 at 10:28 pm ET
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Guess who led off another inning? David Ortiz.

For the third time tonight the Sox DH has started a frame for the Sox, this time coming through, ripping a double off the right field fence. It was his sixth double in such a situation this season. If you’re wondering who might be best positioned to drive in pinch-runner Coco Crisp against Francisco Rodriguez — Against K-Rod, Kevin Youkilis is 2 for 7, J.D. Drew is 0 for 2, and Jason Bay is 0 for 1.

In the post-season, however, it is slightly different story for K-Rod. Against the Sox in the playoffs the reliever has allowed four runs in five innings coming into tonight. The Red Sox have won all three games in which they’ve faced K-Rod.

And that appears to be the case this time around.

Drew pulls a Manny Ramirez and takes K-Rod over the center field fence for a two-run homer. Just like Manny last season, the equation was simple: Take a month off, come back, hit big Game 2 homer against K-Rod. Just in case you forgot …

Of Drew’s career ninth-inning home runs coming into tonight, three either gave his team the lead or ended the game. This, however, was the first time Drew has homered as a member of the Red Sox.

Youkilis … Wow! A bare-handed scoop and throw on Torii Hunter’s leadoff bunt attempt. Just like they teach you in some high school gymnasium …

Youkilis … Wow! A backhand catch, reaching into foul ground for out No. 2. (Sorry, no instructional video for this one.)

Papelbon strikes out Howie (I’ve had a really bad night) Kendrick for out No. 3. Game over.

Chew on this … Of the 35 teams to fall behind 2-0 in a best-of-five division series, only five have comeback to win the series.

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