Jon Lester put it best.
"Any time you can come in to another team's ballpark and take the first game, it's huge."
The Red Sox took a huge step in their quest to repeat as World Series Champions last night in Anaheim. And Jon Lester was the driving force in the statement victory. Lester pitched seven strong innings, striking out seven, walking just one, and giving up only one earned run.
"Hopefully we can do it again tomorrow and go from there," said the highly poised left-hander in his on-field, post-game interview.
But as good as Lester was, he didn't do it alone. Rookie Justin Masterson seemed amazingly cool and confident, pitching a scoreless 8th in his first career playoff appearance. And closer Jonathan Papelbon guilefully struck out the side in the 9th to secure the game.
Angels' starter John Lackey didn't give the Sox a lot to work with, going 6.2 innings and giving up just two runs on four hits. Both of those runs were the result of Jason Bay's 6th inning, two-out homer that finally put the Sox on the board.
After 771 Major League games, over five full seasons, Bay finally got a taste of the playoffs. And the Canadian native seemed unfazed by the glare of the media spotlight, hitting the game-winning home run, as well as a double later in the game.
Bay has been a difference maker for the Red Sox since arriving on August 1st, accounting for 9 HR and 37 RBI in 49 games. But most telling was the way he seemed to inspire his teammates after his arrival. The following is an illustration of the "Bay Affect."
Red Sox W/Manny W/Bay
Record 61-48 34-19
Win Pct. .560 .642
Runs/Game 4.9 5.8
Chemistry is a critical component, and as opposed to the previous dissension and enmity in the clubhouse caused by the previous left fielder, the newcomer seemed to know his place and fit right in from the start. Bay's good-natured demeanor seems entirely well-suited to the veteran ball club.
Bay's heroics saved rookie Jed Lowrie, also playing in his first career playoff game, from being "The Goat."
In the bottom of the third, with no score, Garret Anderson on first, and two outs (both strike outs), Lowrie misplayed a routine ground ball off the bat of Vlad Guerrero that should have been an easy force at second. But the error resulted in Anderson reaching second. Torri Hunter then knocked a bloop to right, and the Angels scored the game's first run.
All you could think was, Lester deserved better.
The Angels actually out-hit the Sox, 9-8, and each team committed an embarrassing error. But the Red Sox were able to put four runs on the board (to the Angels one), and extended their MLB-record 10th consecutive playoff victory over the Angels.
The Red Sox made a statement and picked up a critical win in a short series. Just two more victories are needed for the Sox to return to the ALCS for the forth time in seven years. It's not over yet by a long shot. But the Red Sox have now stolen home field advantage, and they are lethal at Fenway Park.
Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.