NEW YEAR, NEW PLAYOFF LEGENDS: Manny Ramirez is gone. So too, temporarily (they hope), is Josh Beckett.
Into their place last night stepped Jon Lester, Jason Bay and a new generation of Red Sox postseason leaders.
Lester (above), writes Kevin McNamara, turned in a performance worthy of Beckett at his best, a seven-inning, six-hit, one-unearned run, one-walk, seven-strikeout gem that evoked memories of the sidelined postseason ace. (The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan says no one should be surprised, since Lester has pitched this way all year.) Bay -- whom Jim Donaldson found embraces the pressure of playing in Boston after years spent far from the maddening crowds in Pittsburgh -- delivered a two-run homer (right, being greeted at home plate by Kevin Youkilis) that put the Sox ahead to stay in the sixth inning. (It evoked a Ramirez comparison that some -- like me -- found irresistible.)
But Donaldson says they weren't the only heroes in the 4-1 ALDS-opening win over the Angels, which is recapped here by McNamara. Among the others was Ellsbury, whom Donaldson says is picking up where he left off last October. And Justin Masterson, who, writes McNamara, got by with a little -- okay, a lot -- of help from his friends in his postseason debut as the eighth-inning bridge to Jonathan Papelbon. (Just how much help is described in great detail by WEEI.com's Alex Speier and the Boston Globe's Tony Massarotti.) It was enough to overcome what McNamara says was a rather pedestrian return to the lineup by both Mike Lowell and J.D. Drew and help lift the Sox to a 1-0 series lead.
The Angels said before the game that they still respected a Ramirez-less Red Sox lineup. (projo.com) Maybe they meant it; maybe it was lip service. But if the Sox can play every night the way they did several hours ago -- with airtight pitching, clutch hitting and (save for the third inning) superb defense -- they'll be commanding some real respect in the weeks to come.
HERE WE GO AGAIN: It hasn't quite reached '1918' proportions -- yet -- but pressure's beginning to build on the Angels (above, AP Photo), who are now being constantly reminded a) they have a postseason losing streak against the Red Sox that's now at 10 (and counting) and b) they've never won a playoff series against Boston. And last night's defeat rattled all those old chains. The Riverside Press-Enterprise's Gregg Patton voiced the fears of Angels Nation when he wrote: " In Chicago, Cubs fans have been saying there's only one curse left in baseball. In Anaheim, it's up for discussion." Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times saw bigger themes, saying last night was a reminder of all the Halos' October failures, not just the ones against the Red Sox. (Even the national guys jumped on that one; Yahoo! Sports' Tim Brown is calling it the same old story in Anaheim.) Jeff Miller of the Orange County Register was particularly harsh; when Lester retired six in a row, with four strikeouts, in the sixth and seventh innings after Bay's homer had staked him to a 2-1 lead, Miller notes the Angels' six-batter output over that stretch was "only slightly better than six corpses would have done at the plate."
When the local media is referring to you as a bunch of "corpses" after one game, there's more at play than just a single defeat . . . and, just as the Red Sox had to deal with it all those years and the Cubs are dealing with it now, it looks like the weights of failures past are being dumped on the Angels' shoulders. Scoff if you will, but it can become a tangible element that players -- like it or not -- have to address.
"There's only one October," writes Jerry Crowe of the Los Angeles Times. "Which is fortunate for Vladimir Guerrero and the Angels."
Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
AND IT ALL TURNED ON ONE PITCH: John Lackey thinks one pitch -- the one that Bay deposited into the left-field seats with two outs in the sixth -- was the difference last night. (Riverside Press-Enterprise)
IT'S NOT ALL BLUE SKIES: All the news last night wasn't good for the Red Sox. While he couched it in as much positive language as he could, Terry Francona wouldn't say Beckett is 'a lock' to pitch Game Three on Sunday. (projo.com) Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald says today may be the day the Sox find out whether or not Beckett will be ready to go.
TURNABOUT IS FAIR PLAY: Last year, he was worried about them. But this year, Game Two starter Daisuke Matsuzaka wants the Angels to worry about him. (projo.com)
BAY WATCH: Joe Haggerty has a nice profile of the Sox' new left fielder on his Hacks With Haggs blog.
LEAN ON ME: They only called on him for three outs last night, but Francona says the Sox may tap Papelbon for some longer saves during the postseason.
WHATEVER YOU NEED: Paul Byrd is so delighted to be on the Red Sox' postseason roster that he'll fill any role they ask. (projo.com)
'IT'S BEST FOR THE TEAM': But, writes the Herald's Steve Buckley, that doesn't mean Mike Timlin isn't 'angry, disappointed or heartbroken' over the Red Sox' decision to leave him off the ALDS roster. Buck's just guessing, though, because all Timlin would say is, "It's best for the team."
RELIVE THE EVENING WITH CRAIG: ShysterBall's Craig Calcaterra did a fun live blog of last night's game which concludes thusly:
"This was your standard Red Sox playoff game, wasn't it? It was about three and a half hours of slow, grinding attrition. They poked hits through when they needed to. They got to relievers they shouldn't have gotten to. They're the champs. What can you say?"
TOUGH CALL: In his preseries analysis, Baseball Musings' David Pinto says that while he has "no doubt Boston is the better team," a variety of factors leads him to pick the Angels to win the series.
NOT SO TOUGH: SI.com's John Donovan reports that Baseball Prospectus' secret-sauce formula -- click the link to find out what it is -- concludes the Red Sox will not only beat the Angels, but win the World Series. Just one cautionary note: The BP link above refers to the 2006 postseason . . . where the "secret-sauce formula" predicted a Twins' victory over the Mets in the World Series.
MY BOYS: Jim Rice? He picks the Sox.
THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG: How obnoxious must the "pompous gloating of the Rays and their 12 fans" be if a Yankee loyalist like Ed Valentine of Bugs and Cranks would rather see Boston win the World Series than Tampa Bay?
YOU MAY HAVE A POINT, ED: The blog DRays Bay calls the story of the 2008 Rays "an American story, a Biblical story, a story that everyone can rally around. Human beings love it when the puppy that lost its way makes it home, when David slays Goliath, when Horatio Alger pulls himself up by his bootstraps and then precedes to kick the Robber Barrons in their collective faces,etc., etc."
THE PUPPIES ARE BACK: The Rays make their postseason debut this afternoon against the White Sox, and the St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin says their goal is to continue to play the way they have all season. They'll be playing without Troy Percival, though; the Rays succumbed to the obvious and left him off the postseason roster. (St. Petersburg Times)
NLDS RESULTS: Yes, that was Manny Ramirez (left, AP Photo) homering in the Dodgers' 7-2 win over the Cubs. (Los Angeles Times) And yes, that's the angst of Cubs Nation you hear wailing in the background (Chicago Tribune) . . . The Phillies won their first postseason game in 15 years, beating the Brewers, 3-1 (Philadelphia Daily News). Mike Cameron explains why he took the scenic route for the drive by Chase Utley that he misplayed into a game-losing, two-run double. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
LEGACY CALL: Brian Cashman says he wasn't willing to walk away from the Yankees before his rebuilding plan was completed -- "For a long time we've been old and everybody knows it. And for a long time people have pointed it out. Now when you start to fix it, [people say] 'Oh my God, we've missed the playoffs! Off with his head!' " -- and that's why he's returning as Yankee GM. (New York Times) The blog WasWatching thinks it's a mistake.
IT'S ALL GOOD: Calcaterra's having a tough time find a potential World Series matchup he wouldn't like.
TRAGEDY: Mets reliever Ambiorix Burgos may have been involved in a hit-and-run accident that killed two women in the Dominican Republic. (New York Daily News)
HERE AND THERE: Pat Gillick may return to the Blue Jays (Toronto Globe and Mail) . . . The Giants won't bring back Omar Vizquel in 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle) . . . The Padres may seek to recoup some money from Khalil Greene because the injury that sidelined him for the last two months of the season was self-inflicted, as he slammed his hand in frustration (San Diego Union-Tribune) . . . It looks like the Rangers will keep Hank Blalock for 2009, though they're not inclined to talk about a long-term contract with Milton Bradley (Dallas Morning News) . . . Eric Byrnes is making noises like he'd be willing to waive his no-trade clause (Arizona Republic) . . . The Astros won't pick up Doug Brocail's 2009 contract option (rotoworld.com) . . . Eric Wedge says the Indians will still be in the market for a closer this winter (Cleveland Plain Dealer) . . . Carlos Quentin hopes he can return to the White Sox in time for the ALCS if Chicago makes it. (Chicago Tribune)
AND FINALLY . . . As someone who has used the line "And may their first child be a masculine child" with a couple of friends for, oh, going on 30 years now, how can I not love Joe Maddon? (Tampa Tribune)
-- ART MARTONE