John Lackey might not agree, but when Jason Bay flew across home plate ahead of Mike Napoli’s tag, the better team won this American League Divisional Series.
The Red Sox outhit and out pitched the Angels. They made fewer mistakes in the field and far fewer mistakes in the basepaths. In short, to crudely paraphrase the gist of the AngelFan post we featured at the beginning of last week, run differential trumped intangibles.
Indeed, intangibles appeared to be all the Angels had. And they failed them. Instead, the hyperaggression on which Los Angeles has thrived under Mike Scioscia again let them down — turning into tangible outs at second, at third and at home.
The fact remains — and this has been true since 2004 — that the Angels’ small-ball style of play cannot compete in a short series against a team featuring shut-down pitching and solid-to-elite defense. Without patience to fill the bases or power to clear them, the Angels were again a mirage, propped up by luck as evidenced by their success in one-run games and a lousy division.
This year was supposed to be different. I believed it. Certainly the national media, who overwhelmingly picked the Angels to win this series, believed it. Not only were the Angels a 100-win team, they had picked up the patience and power they had so desperately needed in Mark Teixeira.
We should have realized. One hundred wins means nothing. Not when the Angels played 54 games against teams with no better than a .488 winning percentage while the Red Sox played 54 against teams with no worse than a .531 winning percentage. The Red Sox scored 80 more runs and allowed three fewer than the Angels despite the glaring difference in quality between their divisions.
So, yes, Teixeira. He certainly added more to this Angels club than we’d seen in previous postseasons, batting .467 and reaching base 55 percent of the time. The heart of the Angels lineup was fearsome for once, as Tex was followed by Guerrerro (who bat .467) and Hunter (.389). Yet not a single one of the three hit a home run. All of them finished with slugging percentages lower than their on-base percentages.
The Angels outhit the Red Sox, 42-38. They drew the same number of walks, 15. They finished with a batting average 23 points higher and an on-base percentage 14 points higher. For the first time, they managed to fill the bases. They still couldn’t drive them home.
The Red Sox hit 10 doubles, the Angels hit three. The Red Sox hit three home runs, the Angels just two. Jason Bay hit .412 and slugged .882. J.D. Drew hit .286 and slugged .571. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .333 and slugged .500. Not surprising, then, that the Sox outslugged Los Angeles by 31 points and posted an OPS 17 points better. The Red Sox also struck out fewer and stole more bases.
Likewise, the Angels committed four errors to the Sox’ one, anf went eight for 40 with runners in scoring position, a dismal .200 batting average.
Most damning, however, was the small-ball philosophy by which the Angels have lived for most of this decade and by which they have died nearly every time they’ve reached the postseason. Only one Red Sox player was thrown out on the basepaths — Jacoby Ellsbury, when he stole second and overslid the bag. The Angels had three men thrown out on the basepaths: Guerrero, out by a mile trying to advance from first to third on a bloop single, Hunter, out by a mile trying to advance a single into a double, and
Erick Aybar Reggie Willits, caught off third when the Angels last night inexplicably attempted a suicide squeeze in the ninth with one out and a high-contact hitter at the plate.
The reason for the Angels’ inability to convert their style into runs (43 men left on base to the Red Sox’ 36)? Undoubtedly, the Sox’ pitching and defense. The latter is anecdotal, but how many plays did the Angels make that rivaled Ellsbury’s snare of Teixeira’s liner in Game 1? Or Mark Kotsay’s two terrific catches in Game 4? Or Youkilis’ devastating throw to nab Guerrero (or Bay’s to cut down Hunter)? Instead, we saw a botched pop up that scored three runs. A three-base error. A bobbled grounder that unsettled Lackey enough to throw a meatball to Dustin Pedroia.
Pitching? Statistically, it wasn’t a contest. No Angel pitcher rivaled Jon Lester’s 14 innings without an earned run. And Jonathan Papelbon showed that Francisco Rodriguez may hold a record, but he doesn’t hold the title of league’s best closer. The Angels’ bullpen certainly showed why they were among the best in the league, but the Sox’ pen held their own — especially as Shields and Rodriguez stumbled, twice.
The Red Sox went into this series banged up. They did not have great performances from two of their three starters. Their MVP candidate went 1 for the series. Yet they won.
They won, in part, because they were facing a deceptively weak team whose problems and inherent flaws were masked by the poor opponents they faced the most. But it was a team the Sox had not yet proved they could beat.
Now the Sox go to Saint Petersburg, where they face another team with a better regular-season record. A team that faced the same opponents they did. But also a team they’ve shown they can beat. It looks to be an epic struggle — but the Red Sox are used to those in the ALCS.
So bring on Tampa Bay. We’re ready.