Halos pushing all the right buttons
Timely pitching shows Angels are force to be reckoned with
ANAHEIM -- This is Angels baseball in the postseason the way it was supposed to be in the first place.
The three October misadventures against Boston seemed like historical oddities the past two nights at Angel Stadium. The previous 1-9 record was stale information in the light of the 2-0 lead over Boston right here in 2009.
Every aspect of the Angels' game has been on in this American League Division Series. The starting pitching has been superb, the hitting has been timely, the defense has made the necessary plays regardless of difficulty, the baserunning has been every bit as aggressive and effective as usual. These were the Angels, from their own perspective, the way they ought to be. It was very impressive for the rest of us and very gratifying for the Angels themselves.
"I feel good about our club, because we're playing better baseball than I think a lot of people have seen us play before in the playoffs," manager Mike Scioscia said.
"Last year, we showed glimpses of it. We lost a couple of games late last year, but I thought we played better and performed better even though we didn't win the series. I feel good for these guys, because it's a terrific bunch of guys that play the game very, very hard, and it's good to see them go out and get rewarded with a couple of wins, and on a national stage like a playoff situation.
"So I feel better about that. And I think you can live with losing if you play well and another team beats you. That always hasn't been the case when we've had an opportunity to get in the playoffs. I feel good about at least our club settling down and showing some of the things that they can do."
It takes two teams to lift these events to the right level. And these were top-shelf postseason games in both directions. The pitching was so dominant for a time that you thought perhaps two National League teams had disguised themselves as the Angels and the Red Sox.
But no, this is just the way things are done when they are done correctly in October. The Angels have the formula now, and for the first time in the past four postseason tries against Boston, they also have a sizable lead in a short series.
These were the second- and third-best offenses in the AL, but, all together now, great pitching beats great hitting, especially in October. The Angels have had superb pitching, brilliant pitching, pitching too good to be beaten for two consecutive October nights. They are 2-0 now and while the ALDS moves to Boston, when you get pitching this good, you are never that far away from home.
There were a number of media types opining that in the first two pitching matchups -- John Lackey vs. Jon Lester and Jered Weaver vs. Josh Beckett -- the Red Sox had the clear advantage. Maybe history suggested something like that in Lester's victory last year over the Angels and in Beckett's earlier postseason dominance, but this kind of thing tended to shortchange two very talented and determined Angels pitchers. At this moment, Lackey and Weaver have one victory each and two last laughs.
The lines for Lackey and Weaver from these two starts were strikingly similar in their extreme effectiveness. They each pitched 7 1/3 innings. Weaver on Friday night gave up one run, while Lackey had allowed none. Lackey allowed four hits, Weaver two. Lackey walked one, Weaver two. Lackey struck out four, Weaver seven.
The 5-0 victory in the opener and the 4-1 victory in Game 2 were also strikingly similar. The previous two Octobers, it had been Boston's starters producing the great performances and the Angels' starters pitching competently but getting no run support and no victories. Both the dominant pitching and the disappointment have switched dugouts.
Without making any excuses for the Angels' earlier postseason shortcomings, two of the three Boston teams they lost to went on to win the World Series. The current Red Sox team is no pushover, either. But these two games of this ALDS have reminded you of the Angels' quality. This is a franchise that has won five division titles in six years. The failures against Boston in the postseason were more like the aberrations than the norms.
This series isn't over. (Ask the 2004 Yankees or the '07 Indians about how comfortable a postseason lead might not be against the Red Sox.) But the Angels have found their better form and it is truly an impressive sight to behold.
They don't have to make miracle advances at this point. They have created their own best example. The real Angels, the better Angels are back at work here in the 2009 postseason. They no longer have to search for the higher postseason level of play; they simply have to stay there.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.