ANAHEIM - 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 into the eighth inning and Hunter hit a three-run homer off the rock pile in center 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. 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.
Game 2 is Friday 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 defense behind him. After striking out four and allowing four singles over 7 innings, he doffed his cap to a standing ovation.
Jon Lester allowed four hits over six innings for the Red Sox, who had won five straight playoff series openers. Lester wasn’t as sharp as Lackey during just 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.
The homer was the fourth career playoff shot for Hunter, the Angels’ unofficial team captain and clubhouse leader who 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.
Boston took the first two games at Angel Stadium in last season’s division series, including Lester’s 4-1 win over Lackey in the opener. The Angels had lost 12 of their 13 playoff games against Boston.
As a rookie, Lackey won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series to clinch the Angels’ only championship – but the veteran ace hadn’t won a playoff game since. He was winless in six division series games in his career, including his previous five starts against Boston.
Lackey had to escape just two jams in the first six innings, stranding two runners in the third on Dustin Pedroia’s fly to right before getting Kevin Youkilis’ grounder to third with two on in the sixth.
Los Angeles padded its lead in the seventh on Morales’ run-scoring hit and a heads-up play by Juan Rivera, who advanced to third and then scampered home when Jason Bay’s throw from left field got away. J.D. Drew threw out Morales at the plate moments later to end the inning.
Lackey slammed the ball into his glove with exaggeration when manager Mike Scioscia came out to remove him in the eighth, but acknowledged the crowd on the way out.