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Matchups: Red Sox vs. Angels
10/03/2004 8:51 PM ET
Jason Varitek wore down a bit at season's end, hitting just one homer with 11 RBIs in last 102 at-bats. But his total focus is on getting the most out of his pitchers. While he had a Gold Glove-caliber season with only two errors, Bengie Molina actually has a pair of those. Despite his bulk, Molina is very athletic behind the dish.

Besides setting the Sox's loose tone -- remember, this was one of MLB's tightest teams until he arrived, showing up with weird hairdos and coined rally cries -- Kevin Millar is a dangerous streak hitter. Darin Erstad has been steady through his flashback season -- back at first, back atop the lineup.

Mark Bellhorn is a "Moneyball" oddity; he sets club strikeout records, yet reaches base at a great rate and wears down pitchers. He's got great range, but an average arm in the field. Alfredo Amezaga, one of those versatile Angels, took up residence at second when a torn knee ligament claimed 2002 postseason hero Adam Kennedy.

Dethroned batting champ Bill Mueller also slumped in the field this year, with two fewer errors than in 2003, but in 40 fewer games. Mueller closed the regular season with his poorest month of the season, hitting just .238. Chone Figgins has done a credible job at a new position after Troy Glaus went down, but his value is as a slasher at the plate and a speedster on the bases.

Cabrera can't hold an Adirondack to Nomar Garciaparra's bat, but his eye-popping defense changed the Sox. His covert threat on the bases -- 40-for-46 the last two seasons -- can swing tight games. There is no end to David Eckstein revelations: he made only six errors all season; Alex Rodriguez earned a Gold Glove last season by making eight.

The always-entertaining Manny Ramirez strikes terror in opposing pitchers and can do the same to his own pitchers with his play in the field. But he is also liable to produce highlight-reel plays when you least expect it. Neither Adam Riggs (who'll start against lefties) nor Jeff DaVanon will be mistaken for Jose Guillen, but their efforts make up for quite a bit of the difference, without the residual anger.

You've got to be pretty good to make that look work, and Johnny Damon pulls it off with aplomb. The man with the mane scored 100-plus runs for the eighth straight season, and his walks again exceeded his strikeouts. As icy as Damon is emotional, Garret Anderson just keeps producing big hits. But how much will his aches and pains inhibit him?

Trot Nixon missed much of the season with back and leg problems, and his conserved energy level showed as he batted .383 for the season's final month. If the last, decisive week of the regular season is any indication, Vladimir Guerrero is about to be crowned the new Senor Octubre.

David Ortiz has hit with a sore elbow for five weeks, but you'd never know it from the results. The extra-base machine hasn't missed a beat, while achieving the type of consistency the Sox dreamt of when signing him away from Minnesota. Troy Glaus' post-shoulder surgery return gave the Angels a little pop, and a big lift.

For the first two games, Boston's pen will swell with Games 3 & 4 starters Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield, as well as the demoted Derek Lowe. But Keith Foulke (32 saves), Mike Timlin and Alan Embree will keep doing the heavy lifting. Scot Shields, Kevin Gregg, Brendan Donnelly, Frankie Rodriguez and Troy Percival don't only close doors, they smoke them shut. The group has a combined 404 strikeouts in 367 innings.

Boston's bench is very active and very involved -- as close to two-platoon as baseball gets. Second baseman Pokey Reese and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz are sure to be in there if there's a seventh-inning lead to protect. The Angels have too many of their role players in starring roles, leaving them with a weakened mix of veterans (Curtis Pride, Andres Galarraga) and newbies (Robb Quinlan, Dallas McPherson) as support.

We wish Terry Francona would wear his uniform; his habit of managing in that red sweatshirt is irritating, not to mention against the rules. But he gets the most out of players who like him, mainly because he is a great communicator. Mike Scioscia has already earned his stripes, and recently a new level of respect with his censure of Jose Guillen.

With the Red Sox, it always begins and ends with The Curse. When things go awry, they can't avoid those "Here we go again" blues. But this motley crew is oblivious enough to end it. The Angels are feeling the vibe, but now must guard against having emptied their emotional tank while winning the division in Arlington and Oakland.

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