As often happens when the Red Sox venture out West for a playoff series (as often happens), there’s no more painful post to write than the one scheduled to hit the wires the morning following a late night start like we had in Game One of the ALDS – except of course the post following a game that saw the Red Sox hit their side of the Win Probability ledger only for one fleeting at bat the night prior.
That chart pretty well sums up the Red Sox offense all night against Angels starter John Lackey; flatline.
If the Angels had a chip on their shoulder last night or anything to prove to the denizens of Red Sox Nation (myself included) who thought that playoff ghosts past* would trump the ability of the team on the field, they certainly didn’t let it show. For Angels fans, it should feel cathartic that it was Torri Hunter, who challenged his team to step up against the Red Sox and put his bat (and a Jon Lester fastball) where his mouth was, and John Lackey, who amidst all the talk about the Angels not having an “ace” went out and proved himself to be “that guy”, that would step up and deliver this win.
*As Red Sox fans, we should know better than to rely on past fate as a premonition of things to come. Just ask Mystique and Aura how much impact “playoff ghosts past” have against a team confident in their ability to win baseball games. Shame on us for buying into the “we own the Angels in the playoffs storyline.”
The fact that Jon Lester matched John Lackey pitch for pitch for all but two or three pitches this game (eerily similar to his previous post-season start and Matt Garza) will get lost in the shuffle. Lester was certainly good enough to deliver a game one win last night and showed again why he was given the mantle of game one starter to being with.
But the combination of a 1-2 inside fastball left just a hair out over the inside of the plate instead of driving into Erick Aybar’s body, a(nother) walk to Bobby Abreu and a straight up mistake to Torri Hunter lead to an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
“I was trying to executive a two-seamer down and away,” Lester would say after the game about the pitch to Hunter. “It was middle up and he put a good swing on it.”
On the flip side, if the Red Sox offense saw any mistakes from Jon Lackey, they certainly didn’t let it be known with their bats. The Red Sox had only three runners make it past first base all game long, unable to mount any kind of offensive rally.
As hot as the Red Sox offense has been, the one concern coming into the playoffs was the possibility of the offense collectively being shut down by a top flight starter. We’ve seen it more often this season than in years past; this Red Sox team is susceptible to being shut down by good pitching.
As disappointing as last night was and as important as we thought it was for the Red Sox to win the games Jon Lester started this post-season, “Operation Split in Anaheim” still has life.
In Game Two, the Red Sox turn to their stopper of old, Josh Beckett. Beckett, who entered the second half of the regular season on the short list to compete for the AL Cy Young, struggled mightily in August, 5.03 ERA over six starts where he allowed twelve home runs. Whether the wear of a career high 212 1/3 innings pitched this season took their toll on Beckett, who had been labelled as fragile at times over his career, or that for a second straight post-season he isn’t coming into October completely health, the Red Sox and Beckett himself expect and need a solid outing.
In many ways, is there anyone else you would rather have on the mound in this situation? Beckett has proven time and again that this is his stage; 7-2 in the post-season with a 2.90 ERA and 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA when his team is trailing in a post-season series. Josh Beckett lives for these moments.
He will have to do it this time, however, without his “preferred catcher” Jason Varitek. Victor Martinez, with whom Josh Beckett is still struggling to find comfort and chemistry with as a battery-mate, has officially been given the nod behind the plate for Game Two. For Varitek, it means that it’s unlikely that the captain will see a start this series unless it is in Game Four with potential starter Daisuke Matsuzaka if the Sox were to roll two straight victories on the way there. But for a team that looked as lost offensively as they did last night, there isn’t really the luxury of replacing Mike Lowell’s bat in the line up with Varitek’s lack of one.
As you all bide your time, chomping at the bit between now and 9:37 PM pst, just remember this; If I had given you a 1-1 series heading back to Fenway Park before the Red Sox flew to the west coast, would you have taken it? I would have. Time to put your faith, and potentially the Red Sox season’s hopes in the previously capable hands of Josh Beckett.