Angels clinch home-field advantage
Los Angeles elects to begin facing Red Sox on Wednesday
ANAHEIM -- On a night they wrapped up the best record in the Majors for the first time in franchise history and claimed home-field advantage throughout the postseason, the Angels opted to open the American League Division Series on Wednesday against the Red Sox at Angel Stadium. Game 2 will be played here Friday.
The upshot of the decision is that both clubs will be able to go with three starting pitchers on their regular rest. The second best-of-five ALDS, starting Thursday, will feature the AL East champion Rays against the AL Central champions -- the Twins or White Sox -- at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The World Series will open at the home of the AL champion on Oct. 22 by virtue of the AL's triumph in the All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
"It was probably more related in-house, what we're looking to do," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said in announcing the decision to take the longer of the two series, with off-days before Games 2, 3 and 5 spacing it out -- enabling teams to use just three starting pitchers. "We'll be able to trim our pitching staff."
The Angels figure to go with 10 pitchers and 15 position players on their postseason roster. By taking the shorter series and beginning Thursday, they probably would have needed 11 pitchers.
The Angels are expected to start John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders, in that order. The Red Sox figure to counter with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Starters Jered Weaver and Jon Garland will head to the bullpen for the Angels, with Tim Wakefield and Paul Byrd likely bullpen-bound for the Red Sox.
News of losses by the Rays -- who lost at Detroit -- and the Red Sox -- who fell at home against the Yankees -- cushioned the blow of a knockout administered by the Rangers of Lackey in a 12-1 Texas romp at Angel Stadium. Lackey yielded 10 earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, sending his ERA skyrocketing from 3.25 to 3.75.
"Home-field advantage is certainly something we've been shooting for," Scioscia said. "It's important, but it's only important if you play well. If you don't play well, it doesn't matter where you're playing."
For the first time in franchise history, the Angels will finish with the best record in the Majors. By taking one of their remaining two games against the Rangers, they can become the first team in franchise history with 100 wins.
"I can't tell you how proud we are of the guys, the way they played all summer," Scioscia said. "Some guys were nicked up, and they gave us all they had."
The Red Sox have a recent postseason history with the Angels that should give them confidence. Boston swept an injury-riddled Angels team last year on its way to the World Series title, and it also knocked out Los Angeles over three straight games in the 2004 ALDS.
On the other hand, the Angels turned the tables and dominated the Red Sox this season, going 8-1 and taking eight in a row after losing the first one.
The three men principally responsible for destroying the Halos in the ALDS last fall -- Beckett, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez -- didn't have anything close to the same impact against Scioscia's troupe in the regular season.
Beckett lost his two starts against the Angels, yielding 12 runs (11 earned) on 20 hits in 13 1/3 innings. Ramirez, before his shipment to the Dodgers, was 12-for-33 (.363) with two homers and five RBIs against the Angels. Ortiz was 7-for-22 (.318) with two homers and five RBIs.
One of the highlights of the Angels' season came in Fenway Park, when Lackey took a no-hitter into the ninth inning and got one out before Dustin Pedroia singled sharply and trotted home on Kevin Youkilis' homer. Lackey walked away with a 5-2 win.
That happened to be the same day, July 29, the Angels acquired Mark Teixeira from the Braves in exchange for Casey Kotchman and Minor League pitcher Steve Marek. The deal had a transforming impact on the Angels -- notably on Vladimir Guerrero, batting behind Teixeira.
Before the trade, Guerrero was batting .276. Since the trade, he has hit .363. Teixeira, batting .283 in Atlanta, has hit .362 in an Angels uniform.
Batting third and fourth, Teixeira and Guerrero have the ability to do to the Red Sox what Ortiz and Ramirez did to the Angels last October.
Los Angeles is counting on its bullpen to give the club the kind of edge it provided all season. The relievers have gone 61-28 in games decided by one or two runs for a .685 winning percentage. The Rays are next at 51-24, for a .680 winning percentage. The Red Sox are 33-33 in games decided by one or two runs.
Torii Hunter, who has emerged as a team spokesman with his outgoing personality in his first season with the Angels, expressed excitement with the prospect of opening the postseason at home.
"We think we've got a good shot at getting to the World Series ... and winning it," Hunter said. "We're really looking forward to getting this thing started."
The Rays won five of six from the Angels in Florida, and are the only AL team to hold the upper hand this season against the Angels. The White Sox and Angels split 10 games. The Twins were 3-6 against the Angels.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.