09/30/08 11:41 PM ET
Familiar foes have plenty of experience
Sox, Halos boast bevy of veterans acquainted with postseason
By Mychael Urban and Rhett Bollinger / MLB.com
In one National League Division Series, the Dodgers' fine young nucleus will be getting only its second taste of October baseball, and leading them through it will be first-year skipper Joe Torre and the team's still-shiny new superstar, Manny Ramirez.
The Dodgers' opponents are pretty stoked, too. And for good reason. This, perhaps more than any other in the past 100 years and despite the fact that we've heard this before, looks like it really could be the Cubs' year.
In the other NLDS, the Brewers, led by second-half savior CC Sabathia, are in the playoffs for the first time in 26 years. They're loaded with 20-something studs all over the diamond, too. And while the Phillies are in the playoffs for the second consecutive year, they're hardly recent legends of the fall.
One American League DS, of course, is going to feature the Rays, in all their new-contender-smell glory. They might as well call themselves the Rays of Sunshine, they're such a joyous bunch.
Here in Southern California, however, it feels quite a bit different. In the land known for its laid-back vibe, the Angels and Red Sox, who open their ALDS on Wednesday, have an air of cool calm that comes only with having ridden the wild rhino that is the postseason a number of times.
Happy to be here? Sure. But they expected to be here. It's as though the Halos and Sox, deep down, feel like their season doesn't even really start until October.
"You can kind of fake confidence," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said Tuesday at Angel Stadium, where both teams worked out to prepare for Game 1. "You can't fake experience. Either you've got it or you don't. And I'm not saying you can't play well without it, but having it sure ain't gonna hurt you. It can only help."
Baseball's postseason has featured either the Angels, Red Sox or both teams in seven of the past eight years, with the Halos winning the World Series in 2002 and the Sox winning it in '04 and '07 -- both times after beating the Angels in the ALDS.
Outside the White Sox, the winners of Monday's tiebreaking game to determine the AL Central title, no playoff-bound club -- with the exception of the Red Sox and Angels -- has won a title in the last 20 years.
The Red Sox join the Yankees as just one of two teams to make the postseason five of the past six seasons, while the Angels have won the AL West in four of the past five.
With all of those postseason games for both teams comes experience from veteran players.
Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek is the club's all-time leader with 53 postseason games played. David Ortiz is right on the Boston captain's tail, having played in 52 games, batting .317 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs.
Game 3 starter Josh Beckett has been one of the best postseason pitchers of this era, with a record of 6-2 and a 1.73 ERA in 10 starts. And closer Jonathan Papelbon has yet to allow a run in the postseason (14 1/3 scoreless innings over nine appearances).
Jon Lester, who won Game 4 of last year's World Series to clinch the Red Sox's title, is with Hunter. Having playoff experience, he said, helps.
"Anytime you pitch in a playoff atmosphere, it helps with your nerves, your emotions," said Lester, who is starting Game 1. "It comes with experience. You've just got to keep running out there and performing and controlling your emotions."
Halos elder statesman Garret Anderson has appeared in 32 postseason games, while utilityman Chone Figgins has played in 22. The two join Game 1 starter John Lackey, closer Francisco Rodriguez and setup man Scot Shields as the five Angels who played together on the 2002 club that won the World Series.
Only six of the 25 players on the Angels' playoff roster have no experience in the postseason, with the biggest name being new addition Mark Teixeira, who got some advice from Hunter on how to prepare for his first playoff appearance.
"The first thing he said is that you don't need to drink coffee in the morning when it's the day of the playoff game," Teixeira said. "I think that's going to be a welcome time for me."
Teixeira also can ask for advice from Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who has plenty of postseason experience. But Scioscia, who has managed 32 postseason games and played in 29 as a catcher while winning two World Series titles with the Dodgers, suggested it's difficult to know how any player will perform in the postseason.
"It depends on the player and what they do with that experience," he explained. "There are guys who have no experience and go out there and play like you should, and there are some guys that have the experience but don't have the level of confidence to perform.
"There's not a blueprint for if a guy is going to play well in the playoffs."
Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. Rhett Bollinger is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.