10/02/07 7:13 PM ET
Aces set to clash in Sox-Halos opener
Beckett, Lackey hope to set right tone for their respective clubs
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
"[Lackey's] got an ability to channel his emotions and make pitches that matter," Scioscia said of his guy. "He's a confident competitor.""He's a young guy who has worked so hard and matured so much to become the pitcher we needed to have," Francona said of his own man. "That's why when a young pitcher joins us, we point to Beckett and say, 'Follow him.'" Now their entire teams have to follow them. Their hometowns are 300 miles apart, so they have no shared history. But now they have a shared mission. Once Wednesday night's opener is played out, the rest of the ALDS will have a plot to follow. In MLB's prior 80 five-game postseason series, the Game 1 winner has gone on to 32 three-game sweeps, calculating to 40 percent of the time. That's precisely the type of bean counting which Lackey and Beckett would scoff at. Asked what he can bring to this table from his '03 postseason success, Beckett thought long and hard and finally said, "Nothing. You just have to go out there and execute pitches." Both would be comfortable wearing 10-gallon hats and chaps, instead of caps and cleats, to the mound. Yet they can be thrown from the saddle. And, in fact, both have been -- in these circumstances. Lackey's breakthrough accomplishments have come despite the Red Sox. He lost both of his starts against Boston, with 20 hits allowed and an 8.38 ERA in 9 2/3 innings, dropping his career record against the Sox to 1-6. Lackey is 1-4 in Fenway Park, where he most recently had a Tom Glavine moment, allowing six runs in the first inning of an 8-4 loss on Aug. 17. More bean counting. "This time of the year doesn't matter where we're at," Lackey said. "I'll pitch anywhere this time of the year. I'll certainly show up for tomorrow night's game and give it a run. If I pitch up to my abilities, I like our chances." The opponent matches up better for Beckett, who has won both of his career decisions against the Angels, and this season restricted them to just two runs in 13 innings on the way to becoming the league's only 20-game winner. But not the location: His ERA (4.17) here was nearly double of that on the road, where he was 11-2. In their style, the Angels will try to drive Beckett to system overload by pressuring him on the bases. For that, of course, they will need baserunners. "What's going to be important is to be able to hold the runners," said disabled Boston reliever Brendan Donnelly (reconstructive right elbow surgery on July 31), who spent the previous five seasons in Scioscia's bullpen. "If we control the running game, they have to play American League baseball, which isn't their strength." The Angels' aggression will get a fight from the Red Sox, whose offense has become progressively more creative in four seasons under Francona's direction. Boston's home run totals, formerly its signature ploy, have diminished five straight seasons, from 238 in 2003 to 166 this season. Yet these Red Sox scored 47 more runs on 26 fewer long balls than they had last season. "We'll stay aggressive, do the things we've done all year," said Julio Lugo, the shortstop who is one of the Red Sox's most versatile offensive weapons. His 33 stolen bases led a team which totaled 96 steals -- Boston's most since '95, when it last captured the AL East. Coincidence? Maybe not. "Speed creates so many problems," Lugo said. "You hit the ball in the infield, I know it puts pressure on the infielders; they know they have to catch and throw the ball clean." If the Red Sox are conscious of leveling the track and thinking too much about doing their own running, they're welcome to it, Angels catcher Mike Napoli seemed to suggest. "That's how we play. That's our game," Napoli said. "Their game is pretty much smashing the ball all over the place. If they're gonna try running and stuff, maybe they'll get guys thrown out, then who knows what'll happen."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.