Monday, October 8, 2007

Sox Sweep Halos with 9-1 Win

Unlike the last time he stepped on the mound in October, Curt Schilling didn't have a blood-stained sock as proof for his will to win. He didn't need it either.
The evidence was all in the way Schilling completely carved up the overmatched Angels on Sunday afternoon and pitched the rolling Red Sox right into the American League Championship Series for a matchup with either the Indians or Yankees that will open on Friday at Fenway Park.

Though more of a control specialist at the age of 40, Schilling was still at his vintage best in lifting the Red Sox to a 9-1 victory that closed out the Angels with a three-game sweep in this AL Division Series.

As it turns out, all the offense the Red Sox needed came in the top of the fourth inning, when the lethal 3-4 combo of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez led off with back-to-back homers against Jered Weaver.

"You have to be excited about what's going on with this team," said Ortiz, who went 5-for-7 with two homers in the series. "We're playing good, hopefully the four or five days off doesn't affect us."

Eleven days of rest certainly didn't faze Schilling in this one. He held the Angels to six hits and no runs over seven innings, walking one and striking out four. In 16 career postseason starts, Schilling is 9-2 with a 1.93 ERA.

"We're trying to win the games," said Schilling. "Whatever I can do in the mix, it makes you feel good to contribute. How you do it is not really relevant anymore to me."

Now, the Red Sox -- who celebrated this win with champagne and Ramirez dumping buckets of water on anyone he could find -- will try to get the next eight wins necessary to achieve their ultimate goal. For those who believe in omens, Boston's World Series championship run in 2004 also began with a three-game sweep over the Angels.

This series was a compete clinic, as the Red Sox outscored the Angels, 19-4.

"Our main key was pitching," said Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell. "I knew we would have to pitch well in order to be successful in this series."

Schilling left after seven, with a tight 2-0 lead. Then the Red Sox busted the game right open and all but punched their ticket to the ALCS with a seven-run barrage in the top of the eighth.

"[Schilling] gave us a quality start when we needed it," said Lowell. "Our bats did a good job in that eighth inning and we were able to put the game away."

Dustin Pedroia got that game-breaking rally started with a double to left that scored Julio Lugo. Kevin Youkilis added a sac fly. After a single by Ortiz, Lowell raked an RBI double to left. J.D. Drew got another run home on a fielder's choice. Jason Varitek added an RBI double and Coco Crisp produced a two-run single, and the rout was on.

In a tightly contested duel, the pitchers were the story early. Weaver took a tough-luck loss, giving up four hits and two runs over five-plus innings.

Home | News | Multimedia | PhotosThe Angels had a good crack at it against Schilling in the third. With two on and two outs, Vladimir Guerrero walked to load the bases. But Schilling got the out he needed, inducing Reggie Willits -- who had entered the game in place of the injured Garret Anderson -- into a foul pop that Varitek hustled to get to.

"I thought Schilling was outstanding," said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. "I thought from the beginning, he commanded, especially the command of his fastball to both sides of the plate -- in and out, up and down. He really pitched."

The missed opportunity by the Angels quickly became more painful. Ortiz led off the Boston fourth with a towering solo homer to right. Ramirez followed by pummeling a long ball onto the rocks in center field. It was Ramirez's 22nd homer in postseason play, tying him with Bernie Williams for the all-time lead.

It was the ninth time Ortiz and Ramirez have gone back-to-back since becoming teammates in 2003, and the second such instance in the postseason.

"Mike [Scioscia] put it great yesterday," said Schilling. "Pick your poison. Manny is seeing the ball well. There is no way to get either one of those guys out when they're both on."

Schilling had one last jam to deal with in the bottom of the seventh, as the Angels, following a leadoff double by Maicer Izturis, had a runner on third with one out. Again, Schilling came through, getting Juan Rivera on a popup to first and striking out Mike Napoli. Knowing his day was done, Schilling clapped into his glove and excitedly walked back to the dugout, where a crush of high fives and pats on the back greeted him.

"I think if you saw the way I reacted to it, you know how important I thought it was," Schilling said. "It was a 2-0 game at that point."

But the Red Sox put one giant exclamation point on the sweep following Schilling's exit and made the cloudless day in Southern California feel even more perfect.

"These guys worked so hard and executed so well in this series, and they have a lot to be proud of," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein.

In many ways, the day belonged to Schilling.

"It's one thing when you get billed as a big-game pitcher, but it's another thing when you actually come through time and time again," said Lowell. "I think he did an outstanding job and got out of some tough situations when he needed to, and then he was cruising through a good part of the game. He gave us a quality start when we needed it."

Now, the Red Sox will take Monday off and go into workout mode for three days, starting Tuesday.

"We'll be back Friday, New England," said Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry.

And the games will only get bigger then.

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