If there’s any team that has a true axe to grind with the Red Sox, it’s the Angels.
Coming in to the first game of the 2007 ALDS, the Red Sox had beaten the Angels in six straight postseason games, going back to 1986, when the Red Sox devastated the Angels in the person of Dave Henderson, and including 2004, when the Red Sox came back on a walkoff homer from Big Papi in Game 3 at Fenway Park to sweep them in the Division Series. This was the part of the season that would wind up feeling identical to 2004.
Still, nothing felt assured for Boston coming in to this year's playoffs. During the regular season, the Sox had gone 6-4 against the Halos, a tepid record for such an otherwise high-flying team. These games were all the more disheartening because all four losses came in the second half of the season, and several of them were worrying games—in particular, the Aug. 17 horror show in which the Red Sox rallied to take the lead in a four-run eighth inning, only to watch then-newcomer Eric Gagne blow chunks all over the ballpark to make the final score 7-5, Angels.
The 2007 Angels could be summed up as pains in the butt. They had a tough, consistent lineup and a franchise-signature tendency to run the bases with cunning and ruthlessness. Playing them was sometimes like being pecked to death by a duck.
And so we entered the 2007 ALDS apprehensive and anxious. A playoff matchup between these two teams had been predicted as early as July. Judging by the regular season, I feared a repeat of the 2003 ALDS against another Southern California team, the A’s, that left the Red Sox wrung out going into the pennant series in New York.
By the middle of the first inning of this year's Game 1, however, I had amended that pessimism. Despite their competitive season series, the Red Sox and Angels would revert to postseason form.
The Sox established pitching dominance early in the form of Josh Beckett, who was astonishing.
Knowing all that happened since, it’s hard to fully remember how surprising it was to watch Beckett in that first throat-clearing of the postseason. Now, it’s impossible not to remember the beast he was throughout the playoffs, but right there in the beginning…he had been good during the regular season, but even he hadn’t been that good. It felt like he’d opened up some reservoir of fuel we hadn’t known he was keeping in reserve.
And there was another change. I’d spent the season alternately enamored with and bewildered by Josh, depending on whether or not I was watching him pitch or watching him speak. He’d shown some spectacular screaming antics on the field of play since donning a Sox uniform, and the Beckett I’d grown used to was not shy about asserting himself both physically and verbally.
This new Beckett, from the very beginning, had found an even more intimidating demeanor: chilling serenity.
He had plenty of help from the heart of the lineup, but in the end his performance rendered their contributions moot: Beckett kicked off a legendary postseason with a complete-game shutout.
Manny and the Zen of the three-run walkoff
David Ortiz has been the Angels’ worst nightmare for years, and this regular season was no different. Per the Angels official site, he went 13-for-36 in nine games, possessor of 3 doubles and 4 homers, “the last one a titanic grand slam off Jered Weaver at Fenway Park.”
In his second at-bat of Game 1, Papi picked up where he left off, smashing a two-run homer off John Lackey in the bottom of the third to make the score 3-0 Sox.
You know what they say, fool me once…and so the next night, Ortiz tied a postseason record with four walks in one game, the first four-walk playoff game a single player in nearly a decade. With the score three all in the bottom of the ninth, Papi came to the plate with a man on, and the Angels walked him in favor of Manny Ramirez.
Two days later, the Red Sox would win their ninth straight playoff game against the Angels to clinch the division round on Anaheim soil. The series would become a thing of flawless, multidimensional symmetry, as yet another starter, Curt Schilling, put in a solid performance while Ramirez and Ortiz, having ceded the spotlight to one another in the first two games, would take turns teeing off on the Angels like Dueling Banjos. Papi would finish the series with six walks and—do not attempt to adjust your sets—an average of .714 (5-for-7) with 2 homers and three RBI. He and Manny would come to the plate 10 times in the series, and neither would make a single out.
But while the overall body of work was dazzling on paper, and the duet against Anaheim was surely a vintage performance, and while Papi’s Game 1 homer was a worthy blast, the moment most Sox fans I know will hold on to from this series was what happened in game 2, after they walked Papi in the bottom of the ninth.
From my original game post:
And Manny hit that ball with a crack the likes of which have rarely been heard even in the hallowed confines of Fenway Park. A crack that rang out into that attentive quiet and smashed it like a hammer striking glass.
The crack ran through the players, jolting them to a man into standing position, thrusting fists into the air. The crack set the crowd ablaze, thundering down joyful noise, arms raised in full Hallelujah position.
That moment, the moment of that no-doubt ringing sound of Manny's bat in full swing, may have smashed the tension of the game apart, but it also brought all of that energy of Red Sox Nation and its players to focused, communal life in that one explosive split second. Manny stood frozen at the center of it all, still in the batter's box with both hands over his head, mirroring the crowd.
Manny came around third base with a pleasant smile on his lips, but with every step it broadened until, by the time he took those last slow-motion, helmet-flipping steps into the crush of his teammates, it was a full-on, nose-wrinkling grin.
And it felt like that ball still hadn't come down.
In the one timeless moment after the ball left his bat, Manny found the only common ground he’ll ever share with Josh Beckett—that rapt, entranced expression.
In many of the photos from this postseason, but especially the shots from multitudinous angles of the Game 2 walkoff, Manny’s face has a look I find even more enigmatic than usual. In the most joyous of moments, his face is alight, but calm, his eyes staring off somewhere far beyond the camera. At his most ecstatic, Manny does not grin—he goes still.