It's the same refrain: Sox-Halos in ALDS
Playoff rivals meeting for the third consecutive year
BOSTON -- It has become a familiar sequence of events for the Red Sox in recent autumns. They clinch a spot in the postseason and gear up for an American League Division Series matchup with the always-pesky Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Here we go again, as the Red Sox -- who clinched the AL Wild Card when the Rangers lost in Anaheim on Tuesday night -- will open their run at a third World Series championship in the past six years by facing off with the Halos.
It is the third year in a row the clubs have squared off in the ALDS, not to mention the fourth time in the past six years.
Of course, there is another common thread to the previous matchups. The Red Sox have won all of them, going 9-1 in the process. The latest chapter begins next week -- most likely on Oct. 8 -- when the clubs open their best-of-five encounter in Anaheim. Last year, the Red Sox stole the first two on the road before taking the series in four games.
"I don't think there's much of a jinx," said Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. "It's just about going out there and playing baseball. It doesn't matter who we play. If we play well, we like our chances. We've played them the last few years in the playoffs, and we got some breaks to help us win. That's the thing. Sometimes in those situations, you have to have some breaks to win."
If you really want to go back in time, the 1986 Red Sox came back from a 3-1 deficit -- sparked by Dave Henderson's dramatic homer with two strikes in the ninth inning of Game 5 -- and wound up beating the Angels in seven games.
So the past three times the Red Sox have gone to the World Series, they have knocked off the Halos along the way.
If Boston thinks it has some sort of psychological edge over Los Angeles because of this, it isn't letting on.
"I don't pay attention to any of that," said Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. "When you play Anaheim, you better play your 'A' game. Those guys, they can wear you out. They run, they hit, they play good defense. They've got good pitching. Don't let yourselves get caught in a situation just because you played good in the regular season against them or you played good 20 years ago in the playoffs and beat them. It's a totally different game."
Just like the past two years, the Red Sox might face Angels ace John Lackey in Game 1.
"He's a horse," Pedroia said. "We've seen him the last few years. He's kind of similar to Roy Halladay in Toronto who we've faced a lot. He's a bulldog out there, he throws strikes. He competes better than anybody in the game. We're going to go out there and battle as hard as we can, and hopefully, we beat him."
The Red Sox will probably counter with the same pitcher who won Game 1 last year -- lefty Jon Lester.
While pitching figures to be the key to the series, there are other crucial elements if the Red Sox are going to beat a team as dynamic as the Angels.
"I think they have a great manager," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay. "Mike Scioscia is one of the best managers in the league. They play very, very aggressive but not reckless. They go out and push it on the bases. They push it in a lot of aspects. It's kind of the way baseball should be played. Because of that, I think some of the time their talent gets overlooked. They have some very talented guys over there, some guys having great years. Their pitching staff is very good."
To beat the Angels, the Red Sox feel they have to set the tone and not make any mistakes.
"They're very balanced this year in their offense," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "They have a lot of guys who are swinging the bats really well. I think the biggest thing is they have a lot of team speed. They hit and run a lot. They can take the extra base.
"I think that makes it even more important for our starters to be on their game and executing their game plan to limit how many guys can get on base, so maybe they need to hit their way on to score their runs to get on rather than to be able to create with their good speed and their good tactics."
The Red Sox will try to counter the Angels' speed with power -- both at the plate and on the mound.
"You want to be somewhat on a roll and pitching well and playing good defense and have timely hitting," said Red Sox left-hander Billy Wagner. "You want to have those three ingredients going into the playoffs."
Can the Red Sox pull that off?
"I definitely think so," said Wagner. "We have good offense. Great starting pitching. Good defense and bullpen. We've got the ingredients. They've just got to be rolling at the right time to get that ring."
Despite their success against the Angels, the Red Sox know what a tough opponent they will be facing. As far as history goes, Boston looks at it as exactly that.
"I think if you would play a team 10 days in a row and you beat them all 10, then absolutely, it might mean something," said Lowell. "It's from one year to the next. A lot of time has gone by. By no means is it going to be an easy challenge, but we feel we are capable of beating any team."
Despite their recent lack of October success against the Red Sox, the Angels will come into this series with confidence, led by Torii Hunter, their spiritual leader and center fielder.
"I've always respected the Red Sox," Hunter said. "I just respect the way they play the game. They play the game fundamentally well. My respect for them is ongoing and forever."
The difference between the regular season and the postseason?
"There's more pressure and more adrenaline [in the postseason]," said Hunter. "You can't beat yourself. If you beat yourself, you're going to lose. We've played consistent baseball all year. Last year, we got beat by the Red Sox and a lot of guys were in their first year in the playoffs. Now, we're a lot better."
While an outsider might look at the fact that the Angels suffered key personnel losses from last year's team -- Mark Teixeira signed with the Yankees and closer Francisco Rodriguez went to the Mets -- those who know better can see that other players have stepped up.
"They're just one of those scrappy teams that has a lot of guys that can slap the ball around the field and run the bases, and they have a couple of key guys who drive the ball and they play great defense, and they have a good pitching staff," said Red Sox right fielder J.D. Drew. "Their core group of guys are still there, and they've played strong in that division for the past few years. I think they're right on track where they want to be."
And as always seems to be the case, that track includes a postseason date with the Red Sox.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.