09/28/08 8:00 PM ET
AL's two elite teams have history
Dynamic Red Sox, more traditional Angels no strangers
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
The Los Angeles Angels sport baseball's best record and have known they were October-bound since roughly Memorial Day. They absolutely steamrolled the American League West, though a formerly tough division did turn out to be one of the game's worst this year.
The Boston Red Sox, meanwhile, enter the postseason as the Wild Card and the AL East runner-up. However, they have the AL's best run differential, they emerge from one of the toughest divisions since the advent of divisional play, and by some statistical measures, they were actually baseball's best team.
In a period of Yankees decline, these are the American League's top two franchises. And they love facing off.
Of course, it's not a rivalry if one side wins all the time. So you might say that Red Sox-Angels finally turned into a rivalry this year. The two clubs met in the Division Series in 2004 and 2007, and the Red Sox won all six games -- four by blowout, two by heartbreaker. This year, though, the Halos turned it around in the regular season, winning eight out of nine meetings.
"They're a tough club, but we feel fortunate we played this well and got away with three wins," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said after a late-July sweep at Fenway Park. "You've got to play well to beat them, there's no doubting that."
You can cherry-pick the history and the numbers to favor either team, and that's part of what's so much fun about it. Maybe this year's matchups tell the truth. Maybe past October meetings are the real story. Maybe the Angels' dominant record indicates the better ballclub. Maybe the Red Sox's superb run differential is the better indicator.
It comes down to how you look at it, which is appropriate since the two front offices take decidedly different viewpoints in building a team -- especially on offense.
The Angels' way is the traditionalist's way. Put the ball in play. Run the bases aggressively. Bunt, hit-and-run, move runners over. Make 'em sweat.
The Red Sox's way is the new-school way. Take your walks and only swing at strikes. Don't give away outs on the bases. Wait for the three-run homer. Make 'em work.
Except that for once, the contrast isn't that clear. The Angels executed just four more sacrifices than the Sox. The Sox stole over 100 bases for the first time since 1974. The approach may be different, but the results aren't that drastically dissimilar. Neither Scioscia nor Boston manager Terry Francona is a dogmatist.
If the steal is there, you take it. If the bunt makes sense, you do it.
Likewise, the differences in philosophy between the two clubs' front offices diminished a little this year. L.A. has long been known as a conservative team, rarely making major in-season moves. But the Angels pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades this season, acquiring Mark Teixeira before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"We're in it to win a [World Series] championship, and I think this speaks volumes to that," general manager Tony Reagins said when he made the deal.
Boston, meanwhile, has long had a reputation for valuing production above all else. But clubhouse considerations won out when the Red Sox dealt Manny Ramirez, though they acquired an elite-level slugger in return in Jason Bay.
"I feel it's the best, not only for him, but for us as a team," infielder Alex Cora said when Ramirez was dealt. "Compare it with the Mets' situation earlier in the season [with then-manager Willie Randolph]. Like Manny said, 'Let's turn the page and move on.' We are a good team and we are still capable of winning, and we know what it takes to bring another ring for the city."
And that's the biggest thing these two franchises have in common: One goal dwarfs all the others. In some cities, a division title or a series win equals a good season. In Boston and Anaheim, any season that doesn't end with a champagne shower is not a success.
It's fitting that one will have to beat the other just to have that chance.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.