BOSTON -- They'll study video, searching for tendencies. They'll compare notes. They'll formulate a plan. And then Game 2 of the American League Division Series will start on Friday night at Fenway Park, and the Angels will try to be 14-year-old kids on the sandlot, playing the game from the heart. That's pretty much the approach they'll take against Daisuke Matsuzaka, a pitcher they've never faced but have heard a great deal about over the course of his debut season in the Major Leagues.
Matsuzaka, 15-12 with a 4.40 ERA, fared decidedly better in games facing a team for the first time. In 16 such starts, he went 9-6 with a 3.14 ERA, striking out 116 hitters against 36 walks in 108 2/3 innings. "I'll look at video and see what he has, learn from that," cleanup man Garret Anderson said. "I really don't pay attention to scouting reports too much. "I believe in what I see. You can't try to make it something it's not. He still has to throw it over the plate. I'm not a guess hitter. The delivery doesn't matter to me. I don't look at the delivery or motion. I just look for the ball." See ball, hit ball. It's the Yogi Berra approach to baseball, the one that suggests thinking too much can be counterproductive. "They say the leadoff hitter sees pitches," said Chone Figgins, who will be the first Angels batsman to step in against the import from Japan with the hesitation in his delivery and the multiple pitches. "For me, I don't. I go into it hitting. If I see something I like, I'm swinging. "I don't want to go down in a hole [in the count]. In the playoffs, you want to get after it. I want to go in and try to create our tempo. I want to get our stuff started early." Figgins took his best shot in Game 1 against Josh Beckett. Down 1-2 in the count, he worked it full and singled leading off. Turning on the jets, he thought he had second and third base stolen, but Orlando Cabrera and Vladimir Guerrero grounded out each time while he was on the move, putting him on third with two outs. Anderson went down swinging, and the AL West champs had just watched their best scoring chance of the night disappear. Beckett's four-hit shutout has the Red Sox in the driver's seat. Now it's Dice-K looking to bring down the hammer. "We'll see how it goes," said Guerrero, who might return to right field for the first time since an inflamed right triceps turned him into a DH on Sept. 6. "I don't see any advantage. You see so many guys you haven't faced before. I'll see a lot of video, then I'll make an adjustment in the game if I need to." Figgins suggested that an assignment like this takes a player back to his roots, not necessarily a bad thing. "All through the Minor Leagues you go up against guys you've never seen," Figgins said. "That's how we all got here, figuring out what to do up there." At least one of his teammates plans to follow the catalyst's lead. "I'll watch video and see what he likes to throw, and I'll see how he pitches Figgy, watch that," Maicer Izturis said. "We're pretty similar. I'll try to get him to bring it into a spot and hit it hard."
Fundamental stuff. Basic instinct. Trust yourself.This is essentially the Mickey Hatcher approach to the art of hitting. A Yogi disciple, the Angels' batting coach is big on not overthinking or overreacting. See ball, hit ball. "That comes with playing the game," Hatcher said. "If you get in a groove and have confidence, that ball looks big to you. If your timing's out of whack and you're not seeing the ball good, it makes it tough. "You can watch video to get a feel for what his pitches are doing, which side of the plate he likes to go to, what he likes to do in certain counts. His ball has a lot of movement, sinkage. But it comes down to making game adjustments, at-bat to at-bat. "The leadoff guy is really going to set the tone. I'll watch [Matsuzaka] during the game, try to get his tendencies, because he could be completely different than what you've seen on video. That's why you have to be ready to make quick adjustments." With respect to Dice-K, Angels manager Mike Scioscia recognized that "there's obviously an unfamiliarity with him," adding that left-handed hitters appear to have no measurable advantage against the man of many weapons. "A video will give you a little piece of the puzzle," Scioscia said. "You look at tendencies, some charts. But the biggest piece of the puzzle is in the batter's box." Scioscia doesn't put much stock in Matsuzaka's comparative struggles in the second half. Taking a 10-6 record and 3.84 ERA into the All-Star break, Dice-K was 5-6 with a 5.19 ERA after the Midsummer Classic. "A lot of things might go into that," Scioscia said. "It could be a little fatigue, hitters are starting to adjust. I wasn't close enough to know what was going on with him." Howard Kendrick, a potential batting champion in the eyes of some scouts, figures this is no time to change anything. The second baseman plans to attack Dice-K with the same philosophy he takes against every pitcher. "You've just got to go into a game like this open-minded," said Kendrick, who had one of the four hits against Beckett. "You can't make any prejudgments until you see what the guy has, because you don't have anything else to rely on. You just have to watch the game and see what he does, then make adjustments. "Basically, just go out and play your game, your style. Don't change anything." Reggie Willits isn't sure he'll be in the lineup, but he could be valuable against Matsuzaka. Nobody works counts better than the rookie outfielder. "I'll watch a lot of video," Willits said. "I'll look at hitters he has faced who are similar to me. They've got a scouting report on me, and I have a grasp on what they've done against me in the past. "I don't look at the delivery. I find his release point -- where he lets go -- and focus on that area. I like to take a pitch or two my first at-bat of every game, but if it's an RBI situation, I don't have a problem trying to drive that run in early in the count."
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Game situations dictate approaches.Anderson has been around long enough to know what not to expect -- anything in his wheelhouse. "I know I'm not going to get a lot of stuff out over the plate," Anderson said. "It's not a pattern -- they're not going to let me beat them. I can't go up trying to do too much." Hideo Nomo, the Japanese right-hander who made a big splash with the Dodgers, also had a hesitation in his windup, but Anderson sees no useful parallels with Matsuzaka. "Nomo had a different delivery," Anderson said. "He was fine early, then they started hitting him. They made adjustments." See ball, hit ball. Understand the game situation, what it dictates. Make adjustments. Trust your instincts. And, maybe most importantly, go back to being 14 years old on a sandlot, loving how it feels to play the game.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.