It would have been easy to assume that the past dictated the present, that history had decided this series before the first pitch was even thrown. But this is baseball, and that's not how it works. The Angels may have had their struggles with the Red Sox in the past, but now, they're focused on the present.
To quote Peter Finch, they're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it anymore. The Angels have been smacked around by the Red Sox for the past half-decade, and they're ready to put a stop to it. If the Sox want to win this series, they're going to have to really earn it.
John Lackey took the mound for the Angels on Thursday night, knowing full well that he was the poster boy for these L.A. teams that had been abused by the Red Sox in postseasons past. In 2004, he watched from the dugout as the Sox made quick work of the Angels in the teams' first ALDS. In '07, Lackey took the mound in Game 1 and got shelled, giving up four runs in six innings. In '08, he got the ball twice, and the Angels lost both games.
When Lackey toed the rubber for Game 1 this time around, he was determined to finally beat these Red Sox. And he did, earning his first postseason win in four years.
It was a decisive one. Lackey was dominant against the Red Sox — he retired the first eight batters he faced, never allowed a runner past second base, and left in the eighth inning with a shutout intact. He finished with four strikeouts, one walk and only four hits allowed. Of his 115 pitches, 67 were strikes.
If the Sox came into this series thinking they could sleepwalk into the second round, they were quickly taught otherwise.
After years of being the Red Sox' whipping boy, Lackey stood up and knocked the bully out. You still think the Angels are dead meat against Boston? Think again.
The Red Sox may have made quick work of the Angels in 2004, but that's ancient history now. You think the Sox own these Angels? Try telling that to Kendry Morales, to Torii Hunter or to Bobby Abreu. Try telling it to the next generation of Angels.
The Red Sox are still a strong team with a good chance of winning this series. They have power arms in the front of their rotation, a far superior bullpen, and a battle-tested group of October warriors up and down their order. They're down, but certainly not out.
But while the Sox' chances are still good, they learned on Thursday night that winning this series wouldn't be easy.
When the No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters in your order go 0-for-11 with four strikeouts, you're going to have a tough time winning a playoff game. When your ace gives up a three-run homer to break a scoreless tie, you know you're in trouble.
The Red Sox team that showed up on Thursday is obviously not going to cruise to the ALCS. Before, they could count on the Angels to cough games up by making key mistakes. Baserunning blunders, bullpen choke-jobs and key errors — the Sox would let the Angels find ways to lose. But that was back when the Angels were overmatched.
Simply put, that's not the case anymore. If the Sox want to put away the Angels again, they'll have to bear down and work for it this time.
When they take the field for Game 2 on Friday night, they'll have Josh Beckett on the mound. With his 7-2 record and 2.90 ERA in the postseason, Beckett is the right man for the job. History is on Boston's side.
But that's just the thing — history doesn't matter anymore. The Red Sox learned that lesson on Thursday night. Let's see what they do with it.
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