EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 31, 2008

Dead Sox Angels show spunk of 2007 Red Sox

By Bill Burt

BOSTON — Los Angeles Angels centerfielder Torii Hunter, the second newest Angel of note, says he never heard anybody on his new team mention the embarrassing Boston Red Sox sweep last October.

Then, of course, his white lie was exposed as he rattled off reasons why he "heard" Angels looked so horrid, including Gary Matthews missing the series because of injury, Vlad Guerrero's bum leg and Garret Anderson's severe case of conjunctivitis in his important eye, the right one.

The point is the Angels are still sore about last October.

The rallying Red Sox buried the Angels in three straight games — 4-0, 6-3 and 9-1 — including Manny Ramirez's first walk-off homer in seven years with the Red Sox in Game 2.

"That was tough because they beat us pretty good," said Angels starter John Lackey, a day after nearly no-hitting the Red Sox through 81/3 innings. "They deserved it. They beat us. No excuses."

Last November they did something about it, signing Hunter, the prize free agent for 2008, to a 5-year, $90 million contract.

While the Red Sox have been floating in Nowhere Land the last month, mostly due to a faulty bullpen and the Manny Ramirez daily saga, the Angels mean business.

Over the last 12 days the Angels beat the Red Sox six times, including last night's 9-2 drubbing.

Over the span, the most disheartening aspect from the Red Sox perspective was that ace Josh Beckett was beaten handily twice, including last night.

"We don't care that it's the Red Sox," said Anderson. "We come to play every night. It doesn't matter who it is. The difference between now and the last October is obvious. We have depth."

The Angels improved to a major league best 67-40 last night and are now 12 games ahead of the second place Texas Rangers in the AL West.

They look a lot like the 2007 Red Sox.

All five of their starters have at least nine wins, including last night's winning pitcher, Joe Saunders, who improved to 14-5.

They have the best closer in baseball, Francisco Rodriguez, who has a whopping 44 saves. And reliever Scott Shields is every bit as good as Hideki Okajima was in the eighth inning a year ago.

Offensively, they are good, not great with Guerrero, Hunter and Anderson in the middle. But a move on Monday may changed that when the Angels traded for slugging first baseman Mark Teixeira, who will bat third before Guerrero.

"It shows that management cares as much about winning as the players do," said Anderson of the Teixeira acquisition. "We know we have a good team. Everybody has a good sense of what their roles are. We have to beat teams like the Red Sox if we want to reach our goal."

Nobody knows that better than Lackey, who is 9-2 despite missing seven starts.

The Red Sox, particularly at Fenway, have made him look very hittable. Two of his nine losses in 2007 were against the Red Sox. He lost again in Game 1 of the ALDS, 4-0, to Beckett.

He's 2-0 over the Sox the last 12 days, including his near no-hitter.

"Sure, I've struggled a bit against these guys before," said Lackey. "But so do a lot of people. That's a great lineup. I guess you could say (Tuesday night's) game was a big one for me, especially here at Fenway. I needed to beat them."

The Red Sox looked more like the Dead Sox the last week. It could be that the Ramirez issue — the trade talk and his whimsical press briefings — is wearing on a team that has defined the word resilient.

If not for Sox pitcher Jon Lester, who almost single-handedly halted potential sweep against the Yankees over the weekend, panic would officially have set in.

The fact that the Yankees made another move, acquiring former all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez from the Tigers, also adds a little juice to the Red Sox malaise.

For the Red Sox there appears to be a strange case of apathy, mixed in with confusion.

To the contrary for the Angels.

"We like where we're at," said Lackey. "Look, it's still early. And the Red Sox are going to be there. They're too good. But we aren't focused on them. We are focused on us. And our goal is to win a World Series. It's always our goal."

But after a few weeks of running over the Red Sox, it appears to be reachable if not probable.

You can e-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.