Right when Torii Hunter's three-run homer hit the rock pile beyond center field at Angel Stadium, two bursts of fireworks shot up from the artificial boulders.
The moment hardly needed the pyrotechnic punctuation. After several years of playoff frustrations against the Boston Red Sox, the Angels finally have a breakthrough.
John Lackey pitched into the eighth inning of his first postseason victory since 2002, and Hunter's big hit in the fifth inning sent the Angels to a 5-0 victory over their longtime playoff nemesis in their first-round opener Thursday night.
While Lackey's steady brilliance kept Boston off the postseason scoreboard for the first time in 14 years, Hunter's shot broke open a scoreless game. It also seemed 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.
"Whatever the hex is, I guess somebody un-hexed it," Angels leadoff hitter Chone Figgins said. "We've played tight games with them before, and they came out on top. But we had the ace going on the mound, and Torii got a big hit."
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. The shutout was the first in the Angels' 53-game postseason history.
Game 2 is Friday night at Angel Stadium, with Boston's Josh Beckett facing Jered Weaver.
Rockies Beat Phillies 5-4 to Even Series
Yorvit Torrealba hit a two-run homer, Aaron Cook pitched effectively into the sixth inning and the Colorado Rockies beat Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies 5-4 Thursday to even their NL playoff series at a game apiece.
Huston Street pitched out of trouble in the ninth to secure the win for Colorado. He retired Shane Victorino on a soft liner to second to leave the potential tying run — Game 1 winner Cliff Lee — at second base.
Hamels, the World Series and NLCS MVP last year, looked nothing like the guy who was so dominant during Philadelphia's championship run last October. The left-hander allowed four runs and seven hits in five innings. He didn't stick around after departing, rushing off to be with his wife, Heidi, who was in labor with the couple's first child.
The best-of-five series shifts to Denver for Game 3 on Saturday. Jason Hammel (10-8) will start for the wild-card Rockies against a yet-to-be-announced pitcher. The Phillies could use Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ or Pedro Martinez.
Dodgers rally past Cardinals for 2-0 series lead
All that Matt Holliday needed to do was make the catch, and the Cardinals would have tied the series.
Instead, his error gave Los Angeles a second chance, and St. Louis wound up on the brink of elimination.
Holliday dropped a sinking line drive with two outs in the ninth inning, leading to a two-run rally by the Dodgers that gave them a 3-2 victory Thursday.
Ronnie Belliard and pinch-hitter Mark Loretta came through with RBI singles off closer Ryan Franklin, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five NL playoff series. Game 3 is Saturday in St. Louis.
The Cardinals got a second-inning homer from Holliday and a stellar performance from starter Adam Wainwright, who left with a 2-1 lead after eight innings. Still, St. Louis went home empty-handed after opening the series with two Cy Young Award candidates on the mound: Chris Carpenter and Wainwright.
"Right now we're feeling disappointed, upset," manager Tony La Russa said. "Right now, I think it's important to get upset. To turn the page too quickly, it means you don't care."
With the bases empty in the ninth and St. Louis on the verge on tying the series, Holliday charged in on James Loney's liner to left field. But the ball hit his midsection and dropped to the grass, allowing Loney to reach second.
Franklin walked Casey Blake before Belliard singled up the middle, scoring pinch-runner Juan Pierre. A passed ball moved runners up to second and third, and Franklin walked Russell Martin on four pitches to load the bases.
Loretta, batting for reliever George Sherrill, was 0 for 15 in his career against Franklin before fisting a soft single to center that drove in Blake. That triggered a huge celebration, with teammates jumping on Loretta in a pile between first and second base.
"Unfortunately, I did know the numbers," Loretta said. "This series is far from over. St. Louis is a very talented team. We're going to have to keep battling as hard as we can."
The late rally was nothing new for the Dodgers. They won 23 regular-season games in their final at-bat, most in the National League, according to STATS LLC.
"I think it's just the confidence we have in the last inning," Loretta said.
Holliday was a huge reason the Cardinals won the NL Central. Acquired from Oakland in a trade in late July, the slugger's hitting tear helped St. Louis cruise to the division title.
His fielding gaffe on Thursday, however, cost the Cardinals dearly.
Sherrill got the win for the Dodgers, in position for a sweep in the opening round for the second consecutive year. Last year, they won the first two games at Wrigley Field before closing out the Chicago Cubs at home in Game 3.
Franklin took the loss, spoiling an outstanding effort by Wainwright.
The NL leader with 19 victories, Wainwright allowed three hits, struck out seven and walked one. That followed a subpar outing by Carpenter, who lasted only five innings and took the loss in Game 1.
Wainwright was 1-0 with four saves when the Cardinals won the 2006 World Series in their last playoff appearance, making him the first pitcher since Bob Welch to save a World Series game and then start a postseason game.
Trever Miller started the ninth and retired Andre Ethier on a popup before turning it over to Franklin.
Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw, a 21-year-old left-hander starting for the first time in the postseason, allowed nine hits and two runs in 6 2-3 innings. He struck out four and walked two in a game dominated by starting pitching, the opposite of the Dodgers' 5-3 win in Wednesday night's opener.
Trailing 2-1, the Dodgers loaded the bases in the eighth, igniting raucous cheers from 51,819 white towel-waving fans. Martin singled, then Wainwright hit pinch-hitter Jim Thome with a pitch before walking Rafael Furcal.
Wainwright's first pitch just missed hitting Matt Kemp, whose two-run homer gave the Dodgers the lead for good in the opener. But Wainwright escaped trouble, retiring him on a broken-bat grounder to first that ended the threat.
Sluggers Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez were non-factors for the second consecutive game. Pujols went 1 for 3 with an intentional walk for the Cardinals; Ramirez finished 0 for 4 with a strikeout.