Once again, the Red Sox have the Angels right where they want -- down, and close to out.
It took a pressure-cooker of a Game 2 conquest to pull it off, but the defending World Series champions have put themselves in a most enviable position as this American League Division Series against the Angels heads back to Boston.
Of course, it is also a quite familiar one when you consider the recent history between these two teams in the month of October. After building an early four-run cushion, the Red Sox had to stave off the Angels again and again and, well, again, before finally escaping Southern California with a 7-5 victory on Friday night.
The Red Sox have the Angels pinned in a 2-0 hole in this best-of-five series and will go for the sweep on Sunday when ace Josh Beckett -- his right oblique healed -- makes his entrance into this series. The Sox swept the Halos in the ALDS in 2004 and '07, going on to win the World Series championship both times. Overall, the Angels have lost a record 11 straight to the Red Sox in postseason play.
"We have to keep steadily applying pressure. There's no question about it," said Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who earned the win. "We have to go back home and take care of business, which I think with our ballclub, we should be able to do that."
Since the Wild Card era began in 1995, 27 of the 31 clubs to take a 2-0 Division Series lead have captured the series. The 2003 Red Sox were the last team to overcome such a deficit, doing it against the A's. The '01 Yankees (vs. Oakland) are the only team to lose the first two games at home and win the series. The 1999 Red Sox (vs. Cleveland) and '95 Mariners (vs. the Yankees) also rallied from 2-0.
Drew, whose availability for this series was in question because of a bad back, put the Red Sox on his back by belting a two-run homer to center off ace Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez in the top of the ninth, snapping a 5-5 tie.
For the Red Sox, it had to bring back sweet memories of last season's Game 2, when it was Manny Ramirez who pummeled a walk-off homer against K-Rod.
| Jason Bay became the first Red Sox player in history to homer in each of his first two postseason games and the 14th player in Major League history, joining Matt Holliday, who did it last season with the Rockies.|
| David Ortiz's single in the first inning extended his Division Series hit streak to 13 consecutive games and moved him into a tie for second place in Division Series history.|
| Jonathan Papelbon has worked 17 scoreless innings in 11 career playoff appearances, and only Joe Neikro with 20 innings without a run has more. Papelbon retired all six batters he faced in Game 2, and now the entire Angels ALDS roster is just 2-for-48 against him.|
| The Red Sox have won 11 consecutive postseason games against the Angels, breaking the Major League record.|
| Dating to the ninth inning of Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series, the Angels have led in just seven of the past 94 playoff innings against the Red Sox.|
| The bottom four batters in the Angels' lineup were 1-for-15 in Game 2 and stranded 17 runners on base.|
| The four-run deficit the Angels overcame matched a season high, but unlike in like the previous three instances this season, the Halos lost.|
| Torii Hunter has driven in three of the Angels' six runs this postseason and has hit safely in nine of his past 10 postseason games, batting .400 (16-for-40).|
| Mark Teixeira has had multihit efforts in his first two postseason games and has reached base safely in six of his eight plate appearances in the series.|
| Vladimir Guerrero is 5-for-8 this series after batting 3-for-30 over his previous eight playoff games. But all five of his hits this series are singles.|
| Chone Figgins' triple to lead off the eighth inning was the Angels' first extra-base hit of the series, as the first 19 hits were singles.|
| The Angels are batting .190 (4-for-21) with runners in scoring position during the series.|
| The Angels have lost nine straight playoff games, while the Red Sox have won nine consecutive playoff games to set a club record.|
| Francisco Rodriguez took the loss in Game 2 by allowing a two-run home run to J.D. Drew in the ninth inning, and he also blew Game 2 of the ALDS last year, giving up a three-run walk-off homer to Manny Ramirez.|
This time around, David Ortiz had set Drew up with a double. Coco Crisp pinch-ran and was nearly picked off second. Drew worked the count to 2-2 on K-Rod and did the rest.
"I feel like I hit it good," Drew said. "I'm trying to get a ball to square up to allow Coco to score somehow, hit a ball in the hole. It ends up out of the park. I'm not trying to do that in that situation with two strikes. [I'm] just trying to hit a ball hard. That's what happened, so it worked out good."
Before the postseason started, the right fielder had played just two games since Aug. 17. Aside from the big homer, Drew delivered an RBI double in the first and made a tremendous catch against the wall to end the sixth.
But Drew wasn't the only hero of the night. Far from it, in fact.
It was Bay who set the early tone, clubbing a two-out, three-run homer in the first off Angels starter Ervin Santana to give Boston a 4-0 lead before Daisuke Matsuzaka even threw a pitch. But never was an early comfort zone so misleading.
Bay, who is new to this whole postseason thing, is hitting .556 over the first two games, with two homers and five RBIs. He became the first player in Red Sox history to homer in his first two career postseason games.
"I'm drained," said Bay. "In that atmosphere, every pitch feels like life or death. Especially to have the lead early like we did and think maybe we're going to cruise on this one, and then they chip away, chip away, chip away and ultimately we have it ripped away. You're down and then you get right back up again, and you've got to go out and lock down the ninth. It's a roller coaster, but that's why you play. It's a blast. I'm definitely looking forward to taking a snooze on that flight."
Matsuzaka navigated his way through five strenuous innings (eight hits, three runs, three walks, five strikeouts, 108 pitches) and left with a 5-3 lead.
The Angels made it a one-run game in the seventh when Justin Masterson walked Mike Napoli with the bases loaded.
Finally, the Angels tied the score in the bottom of the eighth. Chone Figgins set the rally in motion with a leadoff triple against Masterson. With Figgins at third and nobody out, Red Sox manager Terry Francona went to Papelbon. Garret Anderson popped the first pitch out to third, but Mark Teixeira, who hadn't made an out all night, stood in the way. Teixeira did his job, hitting a sac fly to center to make it 5-5.
"You have to instantly go into strikeout mode and keep the ball in the infield," said Papelbon. "I thought I was able to get underneath Teixeira's swing right there, but he was able to muscle it out there in the outfield."
Backed by Drew, Papelbon had a chance at redemption. And he quickly overpowered the Angels in the ninth, finishing it off with a strikeout of Howie Kendrick and then an emphatic fist pump.
"For me, I enjoy being in that situation," Papelbon said. "I knew that was a big win for us tonight. That was a huge win. That was just big for us."
But the Red Sox, who in recent history have rallied back from postseason series deficits of 3-0 and 3-1, know how important it is not to let their opponent gain any form of life.
"We know how it is," said Ortiz. "They're going to fight back. So we're going to keep playing hard and try our best when we get home."
"We go home with a 2-0 lead and the big key is we play well at home," said Drew of the Sox, who were 56-25 at Fenway in 2008. "We really just have to win one out of two. We'd like to get it out of the way and go on, but we'll see how it works out."
And as for Boston's now record-setting October success against the Angels, Francona, who has managed eight of the 11 wins, was allowing zero time to contemplate it.
"That is so far in the past, and in about 10 minutes, tonight will be in the past," Francona said. "Winning every game is what we're trying to do. What happened in '04 or 1986 does not matter to us. We set out to win today's game. It was difficult, but we did it. Now we'll prepare for the next game."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.