Lackey pitched a brilliant game last night. 7.1 innings of four hit ball while allowing no runs. He looked like his old self, the pitcher who went 19-9 in 2007. And while it sucks that he did this against the Sox in the post-season, keep in mind he is a free agent this winter. Yes, I am looking for a silver lining. So what?
Lester was pitching a good game. And before I go further, let me state for the record that I don't like complaining about umps too much and I am taking NOTHING away from a fine performance by Lackey. But the home plate umpire wasn't giving Lester anything on the corners. At. All.
Usually if you are a veteran pitcher with a good rep (and Lester is just that) you get the corner calls, the ones that may be a titch high or low. Last night, Lester wasn't even getting the corner calls when the ball was in the strike zone on the corner. Joe West called a bad game last night, period. And the result was Lester got frustrated and then got sloppy, allowing Torii Hunter to drive an 0-1 pitch over the center-field wall to give the Angels a 3-0 lead. The fact that Ramirez and Saito combined to allow another two runs in relief in the seventh is inconsequential, since the Boston bats were dead asleep.
Four hits, all singles. The first shutout of Boston in the post-season since 1995's Game Two of the ALDS against Cleveland*. The Boston lineup walked into Anaheim and laid an egg, plain and simple.
The upshot of all this is that whatever mental block the Angels had with Boston is gone. And they did believe in it. From the ESPN recap:
"Whatever the hex is, I guess somebody un-hexed it," Angels leadoff hitter Chone Figgins said. "We've played tight games with them before, and they came out on top. But we had the ace going on the mound, and Torii got a big hit."
More than any other sport, mental attitude and perception matter in baseball. It's why Bob Gibson could win games just by stepping on the mound and Chuck Knoblauch couldn't make a throw to save his life**. The Sox had that one vital edge in this series and now it is gone. Now the Sox have to go out and win three of four games to advance. It's doable, but it's not easy and without the mental edge it's that much harder.
Tonight it's Josh Becket and Jered Weaver. Weaver is 2-2 lifetime against the Sox in eight starts with a 3.99 ERA, but he has pitched well against Boston this year (1-0, 0.66 ERA in two starts). Beckett is 2-3 lifetime facing the Angels with a 4.13 ERA and was 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA against them in 2009. So that isn't exactly what you want to hear
So how about this; in the post-season Josh Beckett is 7-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 12 starts and has a WHIP of 0.943. Weaver is 1-1 in two games with a 2.57 ERA and a WHIP of 1.286. Yes, I like these numbers better.
All kidding aside, Beckett is a post-season pitcher on par with some of the greats. He gets it done when it needs to be done. Weaver simply doesn't have that kind of experience. And if the Boston lineup can scratch a run or two off of Weaver, that will be all Beckett needs to take the Sox home with a 1-1 tie.
* Yes, I remember this game. It was trumped in its crapitude only by Game Three at Fenway, which I attended. The Sox lost 8-2 and lost the ALDS 3-0.
** We are NOT making any jokes involving Knoblauch's hands, his fielding/throwing skills and his recent arrest. We are much classier than that. As far as you know.