Why the Red Sox beat the Angelsby Ben Jacobs
October 08, 2008
I could sit here and gloat over nailing this series by predicting a Boston win in four games, but the reality is that it was a tremendously close affair and a couple plays breaking differently could have swung it the other way.
The Red Sox could easily have swept this series, or the Angels could have taken Game 4 and forced a Game 5 where anything could have happened. Heck, they could have swept the series themselves without too many plays changing.
Of course, none of that actually happened, so let's take a look at the biggest reasons the Red Sox did win in four games.
- Jon Lester. Much was made before the series about Josh Beckett being unable to pitch Game 1 for Boston. Lester went out and showed how silly that talk was by allowing just a single unearned run in 14 innings, taking the Red Sox through seven innings with a lead in both his starts. And Lester needed to be that good to give the Red Sox a chance to win Games 1 and 4 because his opponent, John Lackey, only allowed four runs in 13.2 innings (a 2.63 ERA).
- Outs on the basepaths. The Angels made two outs on the bases that really shifted momentum in Games 1 and 4. In Game 1, Boston led 2-1 in the eighth when Vlad Guerrero hit a one-out single. Torii Hunter followed with a pop single behind first base, and Kevin Youkilis corralled the ball quickly and threw out Guerrero trying to take third. Instead of first and second with one out, they had a runner on first with two outs and didn't score. In Game 4, it was tied in the ninth when pinch-runner Reggie Willits ended up at third with one out. Erick Aybar then failed to make contact on a suicide squeeze, leaving Willits dead halfway to home plate and ending the threat.
- The closers. Francisco Rodriguez set a record for saves during the regular season, but there was nothing in his performance to suggest he was a better bet for success in the playoffs than Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon pitched five scoreless innings in the series, although he did get a blown save in Game 2 when he came in with a man on third and nobody out and retired six batters in a row. Rodriguez, meanwhile, allowed J.D. Drew's winning two-run homer in Game 2 and loaded the bases in the 10th in Game 3 before escaping with the score still tied.
- The ninth inning. If not for that one inning throughout the series, the Angels did pretty well. In the ninth innings of the four games, Boston scored five runs and allowed none. In all the other innings, Boston scored 13 runs and the Angels scored 13 runs. Of course, this ties in pretty closely with the previous item.
- Jason Bay. He was the best hitter for either team in this series, hitting .412 with two homers and two doubles. His two-run homer in the sixth inning of Game 1 gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead, his three-run shot in the first inning of Game 2 gave the Red Sox a 4-0 lead and his one-out double in the ninth inning of Game 4 set up Jed Lowrie for a series-winning single.
- L.A. power outage. The No. 3 and 4 hitters for the Angels (Mark Teixeira and Guerrero) combined to go 14-for-30 in the series. Normally when your two best hitters combine for a nearly .500 average, it means you're going to score runs in bunches. In this series, however, 13 of those 14 hits were singles (Guerrero hit a double) and the two of them combined for just one RBI. No. 5 hitter Hunter also had a singles-only seven-hit performance, but he did drive in five runs. Because the Angels were hitting so many singles (36 of their 42 hits), they were mostly scoring just a run at a time. They only scored multiple runs in an inning twice (two runs both times), while the Red Sox scored multiple runs six times (with a high of four). The Red Sox had four fewer hits in the series, but they had seven more extra-base hits.
There were obviously other reasons the Red Sox won, but those were some of the big ones. Some of them (Lester, the L.A. power outage) were fairly predictable. Others (the basepath outs, in particular) were not. Ultimately, the Red Sox were the more talented but less healthy team and they got the breaks they needed to win the series.
Ben Jacobs can be reached via e-mail.