ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When an angry Torii Hunter said following a loss in Boston three weeks ago that the Angels needed to have some nuts, he sure didn't mean the kind Matt Holliday showed attempting to make that catch in Dodger Stadium on a crazy playoff Thursday. Ahem.
No, he meant the kind the Angels exhibited in another Southern California ballpark as they made a clean getaway with Game 1, a 5-0 nutcracker of a victory against Boston in a game the Angels had to have.
|Known for his solid bat and collection of Golden Gloves, Torii Hunter is proving to be an effective clubhouse leader, too. (Getty Images)|
Yes. And even given what the scoreboard read, if I'm the Angels, even after starter John Lackey's magnificent 7 1/3 innings of shutout ball, I'm checking my pockets on my way home to make sure my wallet is still there. I'm sprinting to the parking lot to make sure my car is still there.
The way Boston has had its way with Mike Scioscia's team recently, the Angels cannot be too careful here.
"Momentum is huge," Angels leadoff man Chone Figgins was saying in an optimistic but guarded Angels clubhouse. "We've been close so many times to getting over the hump. To get this one is huge."
That was the closest any of the Angels would come to saying Game 1 of this series was must-win baseball. The rest of them said intentionally bland things such as "we definitely needed to play well" (Lackey) and "early runs are going to be important in this series" (Scioscia).
So I'll say it: Game 1 in this series was by far the biggest Game 1 in any series this postseason.
Boston has faced the Angels in the first round in three of the previous five postseasons and promptly dispatched them to their winter tee times on each occasion. Beginning with the AL Divisional Series sweep in 2004, the Red Sox were 9-1 against the Angels in those three postseasons.
How thorough has the mauling been? In 94 innings, the Angels held a lead for a grand total of 7½.
Yes, when Hunter smashed a three-run homer against Boston starter Jon Lester to snap a 0-0 game in the fifth, it was as if the Red (Sox) Sea parted and a new day dawned.
"We're excited to win the first game, period," Hunter said. "I'm not going to say it was easier. It was refreshing."
As opposed to what would have happened had the Red Sox won and the Angels faced another 24 hours worth of questions, doubts and nightmares about the Boston Green Monsters.
That's why Game 1 was far more important for the Angels than for Boston.
Boston can lose Game 1 and come roaring back. We've seen the Sox shred the Angels more often than we've seen Caddyshack by now.
The Angels? They lose Game 1, the demons are stirred up.
The Angels don't want to talk about that or think about it. But there's no question there is a direct correlation between that frustrating subject and Hunter's outburst following a tough loss Sept. 16 at Fenway Park.
"I definitely feel it [helped]," Hunter said. "We had some guys step up and get the job done. I know it did.
"I'm not going to take all the credit. I was pissed. I was upset. I was pretty sure everybody else was upset, too."
Figgins wouldn't touch what might become known as Hunter's Nut Address, if the Angels win this thing, with a 10-foot pole.
"He said it," Figgins shrugged. "You'll have to ask him. He spoke his mind and we moved on."
Hunter said he has had several teammates quietly approach him since that day and applaud him for having the ... um, guts, to say something that needed to be said.
"I had a lot of guys tell me it was the right thing to say," Hunter said. "I heard [things like that] hadn't been said too much around here before."
Whatever, Scioscia, perhaps appreciating simply watching a team leader lead, seemed OK with Hunter's heartfelt -- and, yes, crass -- public evaluation of the team three weeks ago. Hunter admitted the manager said something to him afterward, too.
"It was good," Hunter said, grinning again. "He gave me the wink. I'm not going to tell you what he said. Scioscia's a good guy."
Hunter also wanted to clarify that he did, in fact, challenge his team to show some "nuts." Not "guts", which was the best the local family newspapers could do to get the quote into print (a gallant effort, nonetheless).
The difference between the two?
"Nuts is the 'hood," Hunter explained. "Guts is professional."
Who needs Webster's?
Really, as the Angels and Boston tangle again in what has become every bit the autumn tradition of the new fall television season -- this is the fifth time these two clubs have met in the postseason, most ever now in AL history -- these two teams are so close that even the words surrounding this series are being parsed.
The loss sickened Boston manager Terry Francona. Well, technically, he was ill before the game, felled by what he thinks was a case of food poisoning caused by something he ate from Del Taco. He was sick enough to miss pregame introductions, and Game 1 couldn't have made him feel better.
Especially with CB Bucknor, who is to umpiring what bad meat is to food poisoning, blowing multiple calls at first base.
Someone asked Francona about one of his arguments with Bucknor, wanting to know what the skipper's beef was.
"Don't bring up the word 'beef', please," the nauseous manager quipped.
(Memo to Francona: A smart move would be to have the Sox dugout equipped with air sickness bags for Game 2, when the umpire's rotation should put Bucknor behind the plate.)
A common thread running through all of this madness as the series lifts off? When the Angels made their Thanksgiving strike two years ago to sign Hunter as a free agent, Hunter met general manager Tony Reagins at a local ... Del Taco.
On this day especially, no wonder it didn't agree with Francona.