ANAHEIM -- Somehow, the Angels and Red Sox had a sneaking suspicion every time they played this season that they just might get together again in October.
Almost every one of the nine games Boston and Anaheim played this season had a playoff-type atmosphere, where the best players saved their best efforts for the situations that mattered most.
If the games between Boston and Anaheim during the regular season were a preview of the American League Division Series to come, baseball fans are in for a rare treat.
The first two games were played in Anaheim. On May 1, Vladimir Guerrero's two-run double led to an Angels come-from-behind victory, 7-6. But before it was over, Brian Daubach smashed a two-run home run in the ninth inning off Anaheim closer Troy Percival.
The sheer talent level and competitive nature of both teams led Johnny Damon to make a prophetic statement at the time:
"I can honestly say that this is the best team we've played all year," Damon said. "I think right now, they're the best team out there in both leagues. They have a very scrappy team. They're going to be a force to be reckoned with."
The next night, on May 2, the Angels again came from behind to win, 10-7, beating Pedro Martinez. Guerrero had two home runs and drove in a team-record nine runs and David Eckstein also had a career-high five hits.
David Ortiz / DH
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
The teams split a four-game series in Anaheim in mid-July. In the first game, ALDS Game 1 starter, Jarrod Washburn, earned his 10th win in an 8-1 victory. But the next night, Martinez, who will start ALDS Game 2, got his 10th win in a 4-2 Red Sox victory.
The next night the Angels bounced back, 8-3, as Bartolo Colon allowed just three hits in six innings and Guerrero went deep again. But the series finale was a 6-2 Red Sox win as Curt Schilling won his 12th and David Ortiz hit a three-run home run.
From Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Boston, the Red Sox swept a three-game series with the Angels. In the first game, Schilling won his 17th and Manny Ramirez hit two home runs and drove in four runs.
In the second game, Kevin Millar drilled a three-run homer and Damon had four hits as Boston handed former Red Sox starter Aaron Sele just his second loss in 10 decisions.
In the finale, Boston won, 4-3. Derek Lowe beat Colon and the Red Sox won their ninth straight in what would become a season-high 10-game winning streak.
You can see a trend developing, as the two teams' top players took turns making top-of-the-line plays when needed most.
In this series, don't look for too much of an advantage in the numbers. Yes, the Red Sox won the season series, five games to four. But the Angels won four of the six games in Anaheim and the Angels have the home-field advantage in this series.
Vladimir Guerrero / RF
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
In a short series, pitching could be the key. But it's difficult to say which starting staff is better. Likewise, these are two of the best bullpens in the game.
So surely it will come down to a big hit by one of the big boppers. But will that be Ramirez or Guerrero, two of the leading candidates for the league's MVP award? Or maybe it will be Ortiz or Darin Erstad.
Perhaps the scrappy Eckstein can make things happen. But what if the Red Sox's scrapper Damon is even better? And let's not forget that these squads are led by two of the best all-around catchers in the game, Jason Varitek and Bengie Molina.
One thing is for sure, neither one of these teams is looking too far ahead to the American League Championship Series. The Angels are very aware that, even though the Red Sox are the Wild Card here, they won six more games than the Angels. And the Red Sox are facing the team that most forecasters believe has the best chance of making a surprise run at the World Series. Again.
Early on in this series, you will hear about and see flashbacks of the only other time these two teams met in the postseason, the 1986 ALCS. Expect a hearty amount of Game 5 and Dave Henderson references, the moments that eventually led to the Red Sox making the World Series.
But that was long ago and even though Roger Clemens is still pitching, he's in a different league now. And so is this game. Both these teams have superb pitching, play great defense and have big hitters. They both possess the total package. And the veteran players give total effort.
We've already seen it all on display nine times this season and we're about to see it again.
Paul C. Smith is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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