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Lester Reluctantly Tips His Cap in Defeat

10.09.09 at 2:43 am ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. ‘€“ On the mound, the frustration was unavoidable. There were instances when Jon Lester‘€™s pitches appeared to dart through the heart of the strike zone, only for home-plate ump Joe West to call them balls. There were other calls, as when first-base umpire appeared to miss a couple of calls at first base, that elevated not only Lester’€™s pitch-count but also his blood pressure.

Even so, after enduring a 5-0 defeat in Game 1 of the best-of-five American League Division Series against the Angels, Lester couldn’€™t lay blame for his defeat on the umpires. Nor did he feel like he had performed poorly. There was one pitch ‘€“ one ‘€“ where his execution was truly poor.

That, of course, came with two on and one out in the fifth, on a two-seam fastball that Lester intended to keep down to elicit a potential double-play grounder. But the left-hander left the 95 mph fastball up, and Torii Hunter destroyed the pitch, sending it crashing into Space Mountain beyond the fence in left-center for a three-run homer.

Lester was naturally dismayed by the execution and result of that pitch, but overall, he recognized that there was little he could do to alter the game’€™s outcome. On a night when Angels starter John Lackey was nothing short of dominant, Lester was left to shrug in the face of his defeat, and to hope that the series gets extended to the point where he might be asked to pitch in either Game 4 (on three days of rest) or Game 5 (on five days).

‘€œIt’€™s tough to say, but you have to tip your hat. Lackey threw the hell out of the ball tonight,’€ said Lester. ‘€œI was trying to execute a two-seamer down and away and it was more middle up and he put a good swing on it. ‘€¦ I felt like that was the right pitch to throw, trying to get a double play. I elevated it a little and he hit it out. What can you do?’€

Lester’€™s stuff was strong, especially in the early innings, when he featured a mid- to upper-90s fastball, a cutter that got on the hands of right-handers and a swing-and-miss curveball. But it was a case in which the margin for error in the postseason became slim to non-existent, and so his one egregious mistake was punished unmercifully by Hunter.

“He’s one of the toughest lefties in the game. He had a lot going. The guy was throwing [a] 96, 95 mph fastball, cutter on your back leg as a right-hander. He was pretty tough, man,” said Hunter. “I was lucky or blessed that he threw a fastball down the middle, and I was able to capitalize on that mistake. Other than that, man, that guy’s filthy. You guys don’t want him, we’ll take him.”

Interestingly, the three-run homer represented the first time since May 26 that Lester had given up a homer with multiple runners on base. During the regular season, opponents had hit just .203 with a .546 OPS and two homers in 196 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

While Lackey was the Angel who deserved the lion’€™s share of credit for sending Lester to a defeat, the Halos lineup also deserved its share of credit. In particular, Bobby Abreu ‘€“ who drew three walks in as many plate appearances against Lester, and tied an ALDS record with four total walks in the game ‘€“ helped his team to drive up the left-hander’€™s pitch count, and put him in position where a mistake would mean multiple runs.

Indeed, Abreu walked immediately in front of Hunter’€™s homer, and the outfielder was running on the pitch that was driven out of the park. Lester said that Abreu was not a distraction by taking off for second, but he did credit his opponent for his impact.

‘€œThe four walks not only would have led to the pitch count where Jon Lester had to work hard to get to that part of the game, but also [set] the table, passing the baton to [Hunter] or [Vladimir Guerrero] or whoever it’s going to be,’€ said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. ‘€œBobby does that as well as anybody ever has. It was critical to our lineup to get somebody like that. That’s why we assigned Bobby. And tonight, not that he’s always going to go out there and draw four walks, but that’s the plate discipline that he has.

‘€œNot only tonight, but for our whole season Bobby set a tone that I think has gone more than what his numbers show. He’s brought some great numbers to us: the on-base percentage, hitting [with] runners in scoring position, the amount of runs he’s scored, the amount he’s driven in, the way he’s run the bases. He’s brought a lot.

‘€œBut I think there’s some spillover to other players. I think that over the course of the season we had a lot of guys that were around Bobby that had terrific seasons, and that’s not an accident.’€

Read More: Bobby Abreu, Jon Lester, torii hunter,

A pretty good night for the Angels

10.09.09 at 2:43 am ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — It was a monumental night for the Angels. 

Their 5-0 win over the Red Sox in the teams’ American League Division Series, at Angels Stadium Thursday night, marked LA’s first shutout in club playoff history (53 total playoff games). It also snapped a six-game home playoff losing streak and was the first time the Angels had beaten the Red Sox at home since Game 4 of the 1986 ALCS.

With that in mind, here was the reaction from Angels manager Mike Scioscia, pitcher John Lackey, and outfielder Torii Hunter:

Q.  On the home run, was that a hit’€‘and’€‘run, or was Bobby just going with the pitch?

MIKE SCIOSCIA:  No, Bobby got a good jump, and he was just running.  Torii got a good pitch to hit, and he didn’t miss it.  So, no, it was not a hit’€‘and’€‘run.

TORII HUNTER:  I thought it was (laughing).

MIKE SCIOSCIA:  Come on, man.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bucknor comes under fire

10.09.09 at 2:22 am ET
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Disputes are part of the umpiring lifestyle, a fact that you are reminded if attempting to add to C.B. Bucknor’s Wikipedia page.

On the top of the 47-year-old umpire’s Wikipedia listing is a message: “Editing of this article by new or unregistered users is currently disabled until October 10, 2009, due to vandalism.” After the Red Sox‘ 5-0 loss to the Angels in the opening game of the American League Division Series on Thursday night, it’s probably a good thing.

Bucknor, who was voted the worst umpire in Major League Baseball in a 2006 Sports Illustrated players poll, was in the middle of two controversial calls at first base in the Sox’ loss.

The first came in the fourth inning when Alex Gonzalez‘ throw drew Kevin Youkilis off the bag, forcing the first baseman to make a swipe tag on Angels baserunner Howie Kendrick. Replays showed that Youkilis did tag Kendrick before the LA second baseman reached first, but Bucknor didn’t see it that way.

“He said I tagged him, but he said he was on the base when I tagged him,” Youkilis said. “I didn’t think that was possible.”

The second instance also came on a grounder off the bat of Kendrick, who this time led off the sixth by hitting the ball to third baseman Mike Lowell. Lowell tossed the ball wide to Youkilis, who scurried to get his foot back on the bag before Kendrick arrived, and he did so successfully, according to replays. Again, Bucknor saw it differently.

“I thought they both were out. C.B. disagreed. So I’ll just move on go from there,” Youkilis said. “I can’t really do anything.

“It’s not a big deal after the game. It didn’t really have anything to do with us losing. I’m not really worried about it.”

After the game, crew chief Joe West was asked about the controversial plays at first, which also included Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia gathering a wide throw from pitcher Jon Lester after a Chone Figgins bunt and getting back to the bag in time for the out.

“They were three bang-bang plays at first base. It seemed like two of them went against the Red Sox, one of them went against the Angels. I mean, they’€™re all bang-bang plays,” West said. “From where I was, it’€™s the kind of play, they hit the bag at the same time. I’€™m sure that the camera slowed everything down and they deciphered it the way they did. These are professional umpires, and they get in the best position they can to make the call. He was in great position on all the plays. If he got blocked out, he got blocked out. He was there to make the call. It didn’€™t appear that any of them were real routine plays, either. Those were all tough plays. They were all bang-bang plays. And tomorrow, there are going to be some more. These two guys always go at it, and that’€™s the way it’€™s going to be.”

West confirmed he saw the plays on replay following the game, yet still whe ouldn’t definitely say Bucknor erred in any of his decisions.

“Well, I had my impression. And you see them, you’€™re going to have yours,” West said. “They were bang-bang plays. The guys were pulled off the bag on all three of them. I’€™m going to tell you, from my heart, I think he was in the best position he could be.”

Bucknor is scheduled to be behind the plate for the second game of the ALDS.

Bard gets his feet wet

10.09.09 at 1:53 am ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — In the grand scheme of things in the Red Sox‘ 5-0 loss to the Angels in the opening game of the teams’ American League Division Series, Thursday night, it didn’t seem all that important.

With the Red Sox already trailing, 5-0, Daniel Bard came on to pitch the eighth inning. He faced three batters, striking out two and throwing just 11 pitches.

More importantly, Bard got his first postseason experience out of the way without incident.

“Not really,” said the rookie reliever when asked if the outing felt any different. “I didn’t have any extra butterflies or anything like that. It was like a normal outing, just maybe a little louder when I was warming up. A little more intense atmosphere. But once you get out there it feels the same. You’ve got the same job and you just try to keep that in mind.”

The outing might offer a payoff for the Red Sox down the road. Not only did the limited number of pitches presumably make Bard available for action Friday night, but he would be pitching without the obstacles that can be presented to first-time playoff participants.

“It’s the same game,” Bard said. “The only thing that’s changed is the stage you’re on. It’s easier said than done.”

Francona on the Indigestion of a Game 1 Loss

10.09.09 at 1:43 am ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Red Sox manager Terry Francona was suffering from food poisoning prior to the start of Game 1 of the Division Series on Thursday, and so was unable to be on the field during team introductions and the national anthem. He felt little better during the game while watching his team endure a 5-0 defeat to the Angels in the opener of a best-of-five series. Here were his postgame thoughts:

Q. First of all, how do feel?

Not very well, thank you. I appreciate you asking. It’s been a tough day.

Q. Was it food poisoning? Something you ate last night, do you know?

Probably Del Taco. I know there’s a big sign they don’t support MLB, do they? They just support the Angels? Yeah, it was Del Taco (laughing).

Q. How would you assess your team’s play tonight?

Well, we gave them some extra opportunities. Lester had four walks. Three of them were to Abreu, so that line’s a little skewed. Bobby’s at bat was huge. We were actually playing back in one inning, sacrifice a run, try to stay out of a big inning. Bobby won’t give in.

So it’s first and third. Hunter’s at bat before that was so good that it makes him more dangerous, and he gets a fastball. Wanders back over and catches enough of the middle and he crushes it.

So that was huge because of the way Lackey was pitching. Three runs looked like a lot.

Q. Speaking of Lackey, was he as good as you have seen him or faced him at least?

Yeah, good. Lot of life on his fastball. Looked like he was moving both ways. Threw enough breaking balls we had to respect that, and he was able to locate his fastball again with two different directions. He was good. He was real good.

Q. When you came out to talk to [First-base umpire] CB Buckner, what was your kind of main complaint or beef there?

Don’t bring up the word beef, please. I didn’t think he got the call right.

Q. 7th inning, your reliever, Ramon, looked a little rattled. Were you a little disappointed in how he reacted to this situation?

I thought he looked a little amped up. Yeah, I agree. He walked Bobby, which can happen. Gets Torii. And then we get the groundball. We’ve got a chance at worst one, maybe two. He looked a little overexcited. Hopefully, next time out he’ll be a little better.

Read More: ALDS, cb buckner, ramon ramirez, Terry Francona

Beckett ‘Looking Forward to Doing What I’m Supposed to Do’

10.08.09 at 7:20 pm ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Josh Beckett just had his pre-game media session. Some highlights:

Q. How would you assess how you come into the playoffs this year compared to last year? How do you feel physically and throwing the ball?

Well, there’s no issues physically at all. Obviously, last year was a little bit different. So as far as physically coming in, it’s a lot better. Last month it’s been better than it was two months ago, so I’m just looking forward to going out there and doing what I’m supposed to do.

Q. You’ve had great experience, great success in the postseason early in your career. From the start, are you one of those guys that just approaches it exactly as a regular season game, or is there any kind of difference, really?

Well, I think the focus is going to be there. I think the extra adrenaline helps that. So I think everybody’s a little more locked in in the postseason. I know that you come in, and obviously, you don’t feel like you did when you come into spring training. You’ve got a little bit of physical, you know, tiredness, whatever it may be.

But, you know, I think the best way to approach it is to just approach it exactly as you said. It is just another game. You’ve got to go out there and do exactly the same things you did in the games you were successful in the regular season.

Q. What has it been like over the four years you’ve been here just kind of watching the development of Youkilis who was kind of a role player when you first got here, now he’s one of the best hitters in the game?

Yeah, his stance has gotten different, too. You know, he just, even when he was a role player, he doesn’t give at bats away. He didn’t give at bats away then, he doesn’t give at bats away now. He really fits that mold of guys when I first got here and continued on until now as guys that work pitchers.

The more pitches you can make their starter throw earlier, the better chance you are of getting to that point of their bullpen where, you know, maybe those middle guys are not equipped stuff-wise to be starters or end-of-the-game guys, so those are guys you end up scoring the crooked numbers off of.

The guy who starts the first game of the series can set the tone for the series. Do you approach it differently if you’re up 1 0 or down 0 1, pitching the second game in the series?

No. You’ve got to approach it, you need to win every game. You’re trying to. The first one to 11 is the one who takes home the ultimate prize. Every game, it means a lot. Whether you’re up 2 games to nothing, you’re not trying to give any games away.

The dominance that you guys have had over the Angels, is that something that we just write a lot about, or is it a special hold that you guys kind of cherish and hold on to and use psychologically?

I haven’t been here through the whole thing. I just know that we’ve had good teams the years that I’ve played the Angels, and they’ve had good teams. I think some of it just comes down to execution. The team who executes the best is the one that’s going to win.

Can you describe how you digested the idea that you would be the Game 2 starter instead of the Game 1 starter this year?

There was no digestion. I don’t make those I don’t make those decisions. That would be a great question for Tito, maybe.

All your past playoff experiences, how much has that helped you in this situation, you know, what you have to do?

I don’t know. I think just like the preparation. You know other, I know going into my first start in the postseason, I didn’t really know what to expect and what I needed to do. Did I need to do something different? I think my experience, if anything, helps me just go at it the exact same way that I would a regular season game and prepare myself the exact same way for the games that I was successful in during the season.

Are you any more excited about this start because you don’t have the physical limitations on you that you had last year when you really had to grind it out? Are you a little bit more excited for the opportunity in this situation?

Yeah, I definitely look more forward to this start than I do whenever I’ve got physical things that are holding me back. But I’ve had a lot of starts this year that I’ve felt good in. So I’m just going to continue to try to execute pitches.

For so many years the Angels were very much one through nine, put the ball in play quickly type of club. This year with Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins walking more, it’s a little bit different. Do you adjust the way you pitch to the way that they hit? Or do you simply just pitch your game and whatever they do is what they do?

Well, I mean, you definitely go in with a plan. You know, the plan’s obviously going to be altered a little bit by their approach. Bobby’s been one of the great guys to face my whole career because he’s always been a guy that’s worked counts. He’s obviously brought that over here and some other guys have fed off that and kind of doing what I was talking about Youkilis. Working guys and trying to get them out of the game to get to the middle guys.

But as far as like their approach against me, I don’t think it’s changed even with Bobby being here. I think that certain guys have certain approaches when they have enough at bats against somebody, that they just usually stick with that.

Read More: Josh Beckett,

Scioscia on Ortiz: ‘As Dangerous As He’s Ever Been’

10.08.09 at 7:10 pm ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Game 2 starter Jered Weaver just had their pre-game media sessions. A few highlights:

Ervin Santana, who has moved from the rotation to the bullpen for the Division Series, might be available to pitch on back-to-back days, depending on his workload in the first contest. If, for instance, he were to throw one inning tonight, he could be available on Friday for Game 2.

–Scioscia offered quite a bit of praise for Red Sox skipper Terry Francona.

“There are a lot of things that Terry brings, you’ll notice. And it’s not just limited to in-game management, which he’s as good as there is at. He does a great job with the bullpen, [and] I think a great job with lineups. [He] has guys running in high-percentage success-rate situations, but I think the environment and the tone he sets goes beyond what might happen in a ballgame just shows what he brings to that organization. He’s had to deal with a lot of things. Those guys just keep bouncing back, and bouncing back from injuries and everything that goes on with their club to be perennial contenders. He’s certainly leading that charge.”

–A moment of levity occurred when Scoscia was asked about Jeff Weaver’s performance in the second half.

“I haven’t seen Jeff too much,” said Scoscia. “He got the win last night for the Dodgers. I’ll just assume you’re talking about Jered. I get them confused all the time, too. If Jered had a nickel for every time I call him Jeff, he’d be richer than he is now.”

Jeff Weaver last pitched for the Angels in 2006, going 3-10 with a 6.29 ERA. Jered Weaver went 16-8 with a 4.75 ERA this year.

–Scoscia said that he “absolutely” could see a difference between David Ortiz in April and May and the one who his club faced in Boston in September.

“When he first came in here earlier in the season, you could see he was really searching for some things,” said Scoscia. “I think he was putting a lot of pressure on himself, just from outside looking in. … When we went back in there in the last month of the season, you just saw a different presence. You saw a guy, I think, more confident, more comfortable. And, you know, I think probably the numbers reflect really two different guys from … maybe the first two months of the eason until where he is now. He’s every bit as dangerous as he’s ever been. I think you can throw the numbers out at this point. There’s probably not a guy that’s been a better clutch hitter in postseason ever than David Ortiz. He’s going to be someone to deal with, for sure.”

Read More: David Ortiz, jered weaver, mike scioscia, Terry Francona

When Roger Clemens Made Casey Kotchman Cry

10.08.09 at 6:46 pm ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Casey Kotchman insists it’s no big deal.

He was drafted by the Angels in the first round of the 2001 draft and spent seven years in their organization before getting traded to the Braves as the centerpiece of a deal that sent Mark Teixeira from the Braves to the Angels last year. He is now making his first trip back to an organization in which he literally grew up, since his father, Tom Kotchman, has been a manager in the Angels system since 1984.

But before Tom Kotchman took his family into the Angels organization, he spent his first year as a minor-league manager in charge of the Red Sox‘ High-A affiliate in Winter Haven, Fla. There, Tom Kotchman — who became a father at the start of spring training that year, when Casey entered the world on Feb. 22, 1983 — was the man who was in charge of Roger Clemens‘ introduction to the professional baseball world.

Clemens was a first-round draft pick of the Sox in 1983, a year in which he led the University of Texas to the College World Series title. The young right-hander signed in June and reported to Winter Haven. And as Tom Kotchman recalled (in a conversation a couple of years ago), there was little hope for the pitcher’s opponents.

“He saw a couple wooden bats break, he gave me a nudge and he said, ‘Skip, I like that.’ I said, ‘I think you’re going to break a few,'” Tom Kotchman recalled. “The only way you knew he was a first-round pick was by watching him pitch. He didn’t say much. He didn’t go out and buy a fancy car. He didn’t have a bunch of bling around his neck. He just wore jeans, maybe had a Cowboy hat. He’d come to the ballpark and he was all business…Coming out of Texas and coming to Winter Haven, Fla., where the heat and humidity were just awful, he could physically outrun any of our pitchers doing their condition. It wasn’t even close.”

Clemens pulled away from his opponents in equally impressive fashion. He went 3-1 with a 1.24 ERA, pitching 29 innings, striking out 36 and not issuing a single walk. Tom Kotchman was just 27, and he was just a first-year manager, but he had little doubt that a ridiculously talented individual was passing through Winter Haven.

That notion was reinforced in particularly dominating fashion in Clemens’ last start prior to a promotion.

“I remember his last game. It was a 1-0 game (against Lakeland). I remember going out to the mound because he was near his pitch count,” Kotchman recalled. “When I went out there and asked him, he said, ‘You’re not taking me out. This game’s over in three pitches.’ He didn’t mean foul ball, fly ball, pop-up. It was good morning, good evening, good night. After the game, we were shaking hands and he said, ‘I told you.'”

Clemens finished that game with 15 punchouts. There was one spectator that day who seemed particularly jarred by the performance.

That would be Casey Kotchman, who was about five months old at the time.

“When he was pitching in Winter Haven, my son was just born. He would be three or four months old. My wife brought him over for like an hour and a half drive from our house. Casey was sick and collicky,” said Tom Kotchman. “Maybe that’s the reason my son was collicky that day. He was only four months old, but maybe he saw Roger’s stuff and was having nightmares that he would have to hit off him one day.”

When he got to the majors, Casey Kotchman went on to face Roger Clemens. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout when Clemens was with the Yankees in 2007.

That, of course, was at a time when Casey Kotchman was with the Angels. Now, he will oppose the team that once signed his paychecks and that still provides his father’s income. While that will be a bit of a foreign experience, it seems unlikely to inspire as much discomfort as did the sight of Clemens when the first baseman was in swaddling clothes.

Read More: Casey Kotchman, minor leagues, Roger Clemens, tom kotchman

Pre-Game Notes: Red Sox at Angels

10.08.09 at 6:14 pm ET
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ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Red Sox will use their “regular” everyday lineup for Game 1 against the Angels, with Victor Martinez catching Jon Lester:

Ellsbury, CF
Pedroia, 2B
Martinez, C
Youkilis, 1B
Ortiz, DH
Bay, LF
Lowell, 3B
Drew, RF
Gonzalez, SS

–Outfielder Rocco Baldelli still cannot run due to his strained hip flexor. Nor has he been able to hit. As a result, the Sox had no choice but to leave him off the roster for the Division Series.

Daisuke Matsuzaka will be available as a long reliever for Game 1. He will long toss, alongside Jon Lester, prior to Game 1 in case he is needed.

–The team feels that Hideki Okajima is in good shape after the left-handed reliever missed time late in the season with a sore right side that required acupuncture and rest. Manager Terry Francona said that Okajima was tested fairly thoroughly on Wednesday and responded well.

A few more interesting notes on the groundhog day series between the Red Sox and Angels:

–The two teams are meeting for the fifth time in the postseason, having done so previously in 1986, 2004, 2007 and 2008. The Sox have won each of the previous series, claiming nine wins in 10 games this decade of 12 of the last 13 dating to Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS.

–The Angels are 0-5 all-time in Game 1 of Division Series. They have also lost their last five home games in the postseason to the Sox.

–In a shocking development, the Angels hate to hear about the details of that history.

–The Angels were tremendously strong down the stretch, particularly in their starting rotation. “Los Angeles” starters had a 2.52 ERA over their final 34 games, averaging more than six innings per start in that span. Halos starters also led the A.L. with 70 wins.

–The 2009 Angels are the only team in MLB history with 11 players who drove in at least 50 runs.

–The Sox are the ultimate “Wild Things,” having entered the playoffs as a wild card seven times. No other team has punched a postseason ticket as a wild card more than three times.

–Jonathan Papelbon’s record scoreless innings streak to start his postseason career now stands at 25 innings. He is closing in on Christy Mathewson’s record of 28 straight shutout innings, achieved from 1905-1911.

–Jon Lester’s 1.95 ERA in five postseason starts is the third lowest in Sox history among starters with at least 30 innings, behind Babe Ruth (0.87) and Ernie Shore (1.82).

Read More: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, lineup, Rocco Baldelli

Behind Enemy Lines: Angels Coverage

10.08.09 at 5:46 pm ET
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Since we brought you everything we have been doing here at WEEI.com on the Red Sox/Angels series, we figured we would bring you some of the news coming out of the left coast. Check out what they are saying in the links below.

-Los Angeles Times –

Angels Gary Matthews Jr. plays his role well

Angels want a new mind-set against Red Sox

Angels Lackey needs to post a victory

Reliever Jason Bulger is on Angel’s playoff roster

They’re only playoff opinions  . . . (Good quote from this one: “If Jon Lester is half as intense on the mound as he is in media interviews, I can see why he has become the Sox’s No. 1 starter . . . .”)

Casey Kotchman proves you can’t go home again

Paul Byrd’s heart is still in Anaheim

Torii Hunter hasn’t quite cut the cord with the Twins

Check out the rest the LA Times has to offer in its Angels Unplugged blog.

-The Orange County Register

Angels vs. Red Sox: Analysis and Prediction (slideshow)

Why the Angels will win (slidehshow)

ALDS Preview: Will maturity help Angels?

Angels Playoff Argument: Beantown vs. Beach Town

Bill Plunkett, Mark Saxon and Randy Youngman of The OC Register go on camera to discuss the series. (video)

GoHalos.com

How To Beat The Red Sox – Top 10

ALDS Scorecard (strange mathematical formula used here, check it out)

And, of course, we have this little guy. . .

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