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Sox to open ALDS vs. Angels
10/03/2004 7:16 PM ET
BALTIMORE -- They had played 162 games. Everything was settled. All the Red Sox needed was a playoff partner.

They showered, got dressed, packed their belongings and then waited.

The plane was lined up, but the Sox didn't know if they'd be heading, as manager Terry Francona put it, "west or northwest."

Was it Minnesota or Anaheim?

AL Wild Card Champions

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First-half highlights
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After more than five full days of waiting -- the Sox clinched their spot in the playoffs on Monday -- they finally learned they were going all the way West.

By the time their fate was official, some players were already sitting on the team bus, waiting to go to the airport.

Roughly a dozen others were sitting on couches in the visitors' clubhouse, glued to the television. Pedro Martinez was off in a corner by his locker. Manny Ramirez was bouncing around the room, socializing. Then the suspense finally ended.

As soon as former Red Sox infielder Jose Offerman struck out looking at the Metrodome, the players swiftly stood up off the couch and went to the bus, looking like a bunch of men going on a business trip.

For the Red Sox, this is the trip that can officially start the business they came so close to completing last October, only to suffer a heartbreaking defeat in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium. It all starts up again Tuesday night in Anaheim, with the first pitch scheduled for 4:09 p.m. ET.

"Well, here we go," said Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar. "We're ready to go. It didn't matter who we played. Now at least we know where we're going and we don't have to make a circle in the air. We're ready to go out there. It's going to be a fun trip, we're going to have good weather and here come the Sox."

It should be an intriguing series. The Red Sox have the big bats of Ramirez (.308, 43 HR, 130 RBIs) and David Ortiz (.301, 41 HR, 139 RBIs). The Angels counter with their own superstar, right fielder Vladimir Guerrero.

"He's unbelievable," Ramirez said of Guerrero. "He's one of the best players in the league. It's going to be fun."

The pitching is also strong on both sides. The Sox have two of the best in the game, with Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez pitching the first two games in Anaheim. The Angels are likely to counter with a solid lefty-righty tandem of Jarrod Washburn and Bartolo Colon.

The Red Sox edged the Angels, 5-4, in the season series.

"I think we match up great," said Millar. "I know they don't have any lefties in the bullpen. Our starting pitching is what's going to carry us. Bottom line is if Schilling and Pedro throw the way they can, we'll get back to Sox Nation with a favorable lead and see what happens."

Ramirez has a ton of postseason experience from his years in Cleveland, playing in the World Series twice. He was also part of Boston's wild journey a year ago. As far as he is concerned, this is the fun time of year.

"This is what you live for, man," said Ramirez. "This is what everything is all about as a player. I want to be there, everybody wants to be there. We're lucky that we're there. We've got some unfinished business to take care of. You just go and relax and play good baseball and move on."

They may have to be at their best to beat these Angels, who virtually stole the AL West from Oakland by coming up big when it counted most.

Ever since the Sox first played the Angels in June, Boston center fielder Johnny Damon has called Anaheim "the best team we've played all year."

Now, the Sox will see if they can beat them in this high-stakes, best-of-five series.

   Johnny Damon  /   CF
Born: 11/05/73
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L

"Anaheim is playing very well, so are we," said Damon, who is having a terrific season from the leadoff spot. "It's going to be a great series. To be the best, you have to go through the best."

The Red Sox finished at 98-64, their highest win total since they notched 99 victories in 1978.

"This is a very good team, a team that has a chance to do special things," said Damon. "We're all very excited."

As close as last year's team came to give New England historic thrills, the 2004 edition is considered to be more balanced.

"Numbers can tell you what we can do offensively," said right fielder Trot Nixon. "We can swing the bats, hit the ball out of the ballpark. We have team speed and great defense now."

It hasn't always been easy for the Sox. They weathered early injuries, midseason mediocrity and the trade of Nomar Garciaparra. Now, they are ready to make that final push.

"This team has played through a lot of adversity this year," said Damon. "A few ups and downs, but we're right where we need to be. The playoffs are a tough time. Teams are showing you their best stuff. We're going to show them our best stuff. We've been pretty awesome this year."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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