Commentary

Angels get it straight vs. Red Sox

Hunter's message heard loud and clear by teammates as L.A. takes Game 1

Originally Published: October 8, 2009
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- For the record, Torii Hunter insists he never said the Angels needed to show some guts against the Red Sox. No, he says, he never delivered that particular critique of his teammates' resolve and attitude toward their postseason nemesis. So he wants to clear that up right now. He most definitely did not say his team needed to show some guts.

"I said 'nuts,'" Hunter specified with a laugh Thursday night. "People keep saying 'guts' but I never said that."

Linguists can debate whether there is much difference between the two words in this context, but whatever the term, Hunter and the Angels showed plenty of it on Thursday in beating the Red Sox 5-0 in the American League Division Series opener in Anaheim.

Finally.

This is the fourth time in the past six years the Angels and Red Sox are playing in the ALDS. In the past three series, the Angels lost nine of 10 games, and led in only 7½ of the 94 innings the two teams played. The only game L.A. won (Game 3 last year) took 12 innings.

The Angels have seemed as overmatched as a working-class family against the IRS. It seemed as if no matter what they did, they would wind up on the losing end.

So after the Angels lost the first two games of a three-game series at Fenway back in a September postseason preview, Hunter called out his team for playing tentatively in the face of the Red Sox.

"Don't change anything because it's the Red Sox," he said back then. "If you play nervous, you're going to make mistakes. Show some [resolve]!"

"I was OK with that," Angels starter John Lackey said of Hunter's comments. "I can dig it. Torii showed some guts saying that and he stepped up and backed it up. Some other guys did as well."

[+] EnlargeTorii Hunter
Jacob de Golish/Getty ImagesTorii Hunter's three-run shot off Jon Lester broke a scoreless tie.

Lackey was one of them, holding the Red Sox to four hits and no runs in 7 1/3 superb innings. But for a while it looked like that wouldn't be good enough, because Boston starter Jon Lester held the Angels scoreless the first four innings too. So there still was this nagging feeling that this was going to wind up as yet another frustrating loss to Boston.

And then Hunter backed up his words with one out in the fifth when he slammed a thunderous three-run homer that bounced off the boulders in center field and released years of pent-up frustration. Hunter flipped his bat, practically sailed around the base paths and still was so excited by his home run that he spiked his helmet in the dugout.

"If I didn't have to pitch and keep focused, I would have been right there with him," Lackey said.

"Lester, he was bullying us," Hunter said. "To get a hit and drive a ball like that in the playoffs, it's exciting. Everybody in the dugout, the coaches, everyone was pretty pumped up. I can't explain to you guys how I feel. Sometimes I get so pumped up I get a headache. I get woozy. I get dizzy. I like that feeling, I don't know why.

"I wish you guys could be in my body and feel that adrenaline. It's NICE! Damn."

Hunter said several teammates told him they agreed with his comments in Boston, and that manager Mike Scioscia "gave me the wink" when the two discussed the subject. He also says his challenge carried over into this series.

"I know it did," Hunter said. "I'm not going to take all the credit. During that series in Boston three weeks ago, I was pissed. I was upset. I'm sure everybody in here was upset. It was just something I said, and right now, people are playing with it, those nuts."

Umm, is there another word we can use? Momentum, perhaps?

[+] EnlargeJohn Lackey
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesJohn Lackey shut down the Red Sox over 7 1/3 innings of the Angels' 5-0 win.

"Momentum is huge," third baseman Chone Figgins said. "We've been so close so many times to getting over the hump against these guys, and to get this win [in Game 1] is huge because it's going to change the momentum. They'll compete still and so will we, but being up 1-0 changes things a lot."

Well, it does, and it doesn't. Momentum is only as good as your next game's starting pitcher. As Lackey pointed out, when the Angels won the World Series in 2002, they lost the first game of every postseason series. But at least they won't head to Fenway facing a 2-0 deficit this year. And for at least one day, they won't have to face questions about why they can't beat the Red Sox.

"We're excited to win the first game -- period." Hunter said. "When you get the first one out of the way -- I'm not going to say it's easier, but it's refreshing. You get that first one out of the way and you go out and play the next day with the same intensity, the same guts and be ready to go."

Sounds good. Now, anything else you want to clear up?

"You go out there and you play the game," Hunter said. "You don't know if you're going to get it done. You just try your best and have some heart about yourself and go on out there and play the game the best way you know how. That's what 'nuts' means. That's all it means. Not the human nuts, but bag of nuts."

So that should clear it up, right? Or maybe not. As Scioscia added, "Can you guys use any of that at all?"

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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