- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Can't give anything away in October, Mike Scioscia reasoned, and the Anaheim manager picked his best defensive infielders at second and third base to play the first game of the playoffs.
Boston manager Terry Francona? He stuck with his big sticks in Game 1 of the Division Series, benching perhaps the AL's best defensive first baseman and starting Kevin Millar.
By the fourth inning Millar had clubbed a homer off Jarrod Washburn, and the Angels were throwing the ball around, creating the kind of early explosion for which Anaheim has no answer. Curt Schilling tended to an eight-run lead and the Red Sox went on to win, 9-3.
"We did a lot of things well today," said Millar.
"It's tough to give a club as stacked offensively as they are extra outs," Scioscia said afterward. "I think we did, and they took advantage of every one, so that was a big early part of the game.
"Getting down early by so many runs kind of stifles some of the things we need to do offensively."
The Angels don't necessarily have to score runs against Schilling and Pedro Martinez to beat Boston; they don't even have to have early leads. If the game is close in the middle innings, the Angels' strong relief will probably give them a chance to win, and they usually piece together some late runs.
But Anaheim does not have a dynamic offense, and Scioscia must fear the early rallies: If the Anaheim starting pitchers get hammered, it doesn't matter how good the Angels bullpen is. Francisco Rodriguez had nothing to do but work on his tans in the bullpen this afternoon, because Washburn was pounded, sabotaged by the infielders who were supposed to help him.
Figgins had a do-or-die defensive play in the first inning, a backhand on Manny Ramirez's high chopper hit down the third-base line. Figgins -- who had a lot of on-the-job training at third base this year but still might be better than rookie Dallas McPherson -- failed to make the play, the ball skipped into left field, and Ramirez had a double. When David Ortiz hit a bouncer into the hole between first and second, Amezaga could have knocked the ball down and kept Ramirez at third. Instead, Amezaga tried to set himself to make a play at first base, the ball rolled past him, and Ramirez scored.
Washburn threw a terrible pitch to Millar in the fourth, a thigh-high changeup in the middle of the plate, and Millar mashed a two-run homer. The Red Sox went on to load the bases. Johnny Damon slapped a bouncer at Figgins, who started to throw and then stopped and started again, whirling the ball high past catcher Bengie Molina. The game was all but over; Schilling was pitching.
An hour before Schilling threw his first pitch, he sat on the Boston bench and studied scouting reports, jotting down notes like a student preparing for a final exam. When his mind was good and saturated, Schilling idly fidgeted with a resin bag, rolling that in his hands, and then a baseball, staring at the dugout floor.
He came to the Red Sox because he wins big games, and Schilling methodically dispensed of the Angels like he was loading a dishwasher: The fastballs go there, the splitters over there, the sliders down, one or two curves, slam the door and you're done. Schilling aggravated his sore foot trying to make a play in the seventh inning, an injury the Red Sox say is not serious.
"I tweaked it, actually, in about the fifth inning, and then I misplaced it twice on that play," said Schilling, "so it's a little sore right now, but these guys will take care of it."
Schilling came out a half-inning after Millar had departed. Doug Mientkiewicz is a much better first baseman than Millar, but Millar made a couple of nice plays, diving to glove a ball in the sixth and throw to second. Millar singled in the seventh, and Mientkiewicz pinch-ran for him, which is how Francona would love to job-share with the two players this October -- get the lead, go with the defense. Get the lead.
Before the game, Damon came close to saying -- but stopped just short -- that the most dangerous teams in the postseason are facing each other here. "I think whoever wins this series ..." Damon said, and then he paused and smiled through the bangs hanging onto his cheeks. "I mean ... could go all the way."
"We know that we had some heartache last year. We felt like we had the best team out there. We were just a bunch of cowboys out there last year, just enjoying every minute. Now we know we have something to prove. We don't want to be remembered as a team that [keeps] making it to the playoffs, but we keeping having tough losses. We want to be known as a team that ..."
Damon paused and smiled, and continued, boldly. "... Rewrites the history books."
A Boston World Series championship would qualify. The Red Sox have to win 10 more October games to make it a reality, and Anaheim needs 11.
Scioscia said afterward he will consider some lineup changes. He's hoping to find some way to get some more offense.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is a New York Times best seller and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.
Defense wins championships? But that wasn't the case for Anaheim in its Game 1 loss, writes Buster Olney.