Angels 5 Red Sox 0
ANAHEIM, Calif. — With Torii Hunter hitting the rocks and John Lackey rolling through the Boston lineup, the Los Angeles Angels finally got on top of the Red Sox in the playoffs.
Lackey pitched superbly into the eighth inning and Hunter hit a three-run homer off the rock pile in centre field, leading the Angels to a 5-0 victory over their longtime playoff nemesis in their first-round opener Thursday night.
Hunter’s shot broke open a scoreless game and appeared to topple any mental barriers Los Angeles might have faced against the Red Sox, who ended three of the Angels’ past five seasons in the division series, winning nine of 10 games.
“(Lackey) went out there and set the tone early,” Hunter said. “Man, we were so pumped up from then on. I’m excited about this start today.”
Boston didn’t manage an extra-base hit while getting shut out in the playoffs for the first time since Game 2 of the 1995 division series against Cleveland. The shutout was the first in the Angels’ 53-game post-season history.
Game 2 is today night at Angel Stadium, with Boston’s Josh Beckett facing Jered Weaver.
The AL West champion Angels snapped a six-game home playoff losing streak behind Lackey, who dominated his first playoff victory since 2002 with fine control and good defence behind him. After striking out four and allowing four singles over 7 1/3 innings, he doffed his cap to a standing ovation.
“Even in the bullpen, I knew my arm was feeling good,” said Lackey, who pitched just once in the previous 11 days. “The extra rest that I had really helped me out. I really felt like my arm was pretty live tonight.”
Darren Oliver finished up with 1 2/3 innings of hitless relief.
Jon Lester allowed four hits over six innings for the wild-card Red Sox, who had won five straight playoff series openers. Lester wasn’t as sharp as Lackey during his second loss since July 19, but he avoided trouble until the fifth.
Erick Aybar started the rally with a leadoff double down the left-field line. After Bobby Abreu walked, Hunter smashed Lester’s second pitch off the Disneyland-esque artificial rock pile, with fireworks bursting from it at the moment of impact.
“That was huge because of the way Lackey was pitching. Three runs looked like a lot,” Boston manager Terry Francona said.
The homer was the fourth career playoff shot for Hunter, the Angels’ unofficial team captain and clubhouse leader who just finished one of his best regular seasons.
Kendry Morales added a late run-scoring single and Abreu drew four walks for the Angels, who had lost six straight home playoff games. Although they’ve made six of the past eight post-seasons, the Angels lost three of four last fall to the Red Sox, who won the World Series after bouncing Los Angeles from the division series in 2004 and 2007.