Of course, Francona could deal with those uncertainties a lot better after welcoming back Manny Ramirez from a month's absence with a strained side muscle.Of all of the players whose status is up on the air, the most critical may be Matthews, an outfielder with terrific instincts able to handle Fenway Park's center field adventureland. His replacement would be Reggie Willits, who started one game there during the Angels' four-game series in August, and, frankly, appeared lost. A Fenway Park condition with which the Angels are quite familiar, incidentally. Since 2000, they have gone 14-21 in The Fens. Furthermore, in five historical postseason games there, the Halos are 1-4.
American League Division Series schedule
|Wed., Oct. 3||6:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||3 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||9:30 p.m.||Angel Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||8:30 p.m.||Fenway Park||TBS|
|Thu., Oct. 4||6:30 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Fri., Oct. 5||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|Sun. Oct. 7||6:30 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Mon. Oct. 8||6 p.m.||Yankee Stadium||TBS|
|*Wed. Oct. 10||5 p.m.||Jacobs Field||TBS|
|* If necessary. All times ET.|
Scioscia resolutely waves off the track record, repeating one of his mantras: "I think there is a lot being said about how we play in Boston. The bottom line is how we play the game." At least, unlike in those two previous postseason encounters, the Angels are no longer lost in the Red Sox' shadow. The 1986 Championship Series pitted Boston's legacy against the novelty of the Angels, who nonetheless gave it a good, seven-game fight. In the 2004 Division Series, the Angels were essentially emaciated by Scioscia's decision to boot Jose Guillen off the team. Now they are on equal footing, including their run-ups to this series. They were the first two of the eight teams to secure postseason berths. The Red Sox beat the crowd on Sept. 22. The following day, on the eve of the much-anticipated release of the video game Halo 3, it was Halo 3-out-of-4, the Angels clinching their third West title in four years. Thereafter, the teams had different priorities. Scioscia seemed bent on resting his troops -- even to the extent of not going full-bore for the home-field advantage that loomed invaluable to a club with the Majors' best home record (54-27). Francona could not let up, not with a division flag still to keep away from the Yankees. In that regard, the Red Sox may have arrived at the Second Season with a sharper edge -- but the days off in-between seasons tend to dull that. Having both teams clinch early did away with a lot of the uncertainties surrounding their respective pitching rotations. Francona has set up Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Curt Schilling to follow Beckett, which Scioscia will counter with Kelvim Escobar, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders. As the mad scramble of the incredible resolution of the regular season gives way to the mad dash of the postseason, the urgency of this Division Series is further dialed up by a belief that naturally will remain unspoken, but is nonetheless true: Both teams may regard this as the biggest obstacle to the World Series: The Red Sox went 5-2 against Cleveland and see so much of the Yankees, they're always willing to take their chances with them; and the Angels held their own while splitting 10 games with the Indians, and always like their karma against the Bombers.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.