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One series down, two more to go

Red Sox peaking at right time

ANAHEIM -- Two innings. That is precisely how many frames the Red Sox trailed during this clinic of a three-game sweep of the Angels in the American League Division Series. Systematically, the Sox punished their opponent by an aggregate count of 19-4.

For a team that took the AL East lead on April 18 and never gave it back, perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. And neither is the fact that the Red Sox have advanced to the AL Championship Series.

"This postseason, we've played with a lot of efficiency and tremendous execution," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said in a champagne-soaked clubhouse following Sunday's 9-1 win in Game 3. "In '04, against the Yankees, it became more about emotion. So far this year, we've been pretty methodical and systematic in our execution, and it showed with a great result on the field. There's a lot to be proud of in our clubhouse with these players."

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All season long, the Red Sox have set the tone with their pitching, defense and timely hitting. In this series, they got all of that, plus the combination of star sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez getting hot at the same time.

"It was huge," said Epstein. "Those guys put us on their back and carried us the whole series."

The beauty of the 2007 Red Sox has been their balance. And that came to fruition again in these last three games against the Angels.

Was third baseman Mike Lowell surprised by the sweep?

"Yes and no," said Lowell. "The way we play, not really. I think we played a complete game of baseball, and our pitchers did a great job. Anaheim is a very good team. I don't think you ever think going into a series that it's going to be a cakewalk."

But the Red Sox -- hardly gregarious "Idiots" this time around -- stayed with their matter-of-fact approach and reaped the rewards. And they won't get complacent until they achieve their final goals.

"We didn't come to Spring Training to win the first round," said Lowell. "We want to win the world championship. But it's hugely satisfying the way we went about this. We played a complete game of baseball."

After winning their first division title since 1995, the Red Sox began the postseason on a roll. Josh Beckett fired a masterpiece in Game 1, a four-hit shutout. Ramirez hit a majestic walk-off homer against elite closer Francisco Rodriguez in Game 2. And in the finale, the Red Sox rode another big-game performance from Curt Schilling and got a late-game offensive barrage.

"You have to be excited about what's going on with this team," said Ortiz. "We're playing good. Hopefully, the four or five days off doesn't affect us. We're playing good."

The Red Sox, after stumbling through parts of September with injuries and fatigue, have grabbed their second wind in a big way.

"Any time you can look methodical out there, almost as if it's second nature, that's a tribute to the journey and professionalism of our players, and letting their talent take over," said Epstein.

Late last season, when Boston fell apart due to injuries and an aging team, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry gave Epstein the green light to be more aggressive with offseason spending.

The rewards are starting to come into focus.

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"You play a long, long season -- 162 games," Henry said. "After all that work, you hope everybody is healthy. We came in healthy, and it's so gratifying that all the pieces have come together so well and that we played so well."

But the fun might just be getting started.

"We're almost there," said Red Sox veteran setup man Mike Timlin. "We've got a couple of more steps. We'll try to complete the task that everybody set out to do. We're almost there."

Before looking ahead to Friday, and the start of the ALCS against either the Indians or Yankees, Epstein felt it appropriate to at least take a brief look back.

"These guys worked so hard and executed so well in this series that they have a lot to be proud of," Epstein said.

The Red Sox will try to keep their wire-to-wire success going in the next round, where four wins is what it will take to get to the World Series.

"The key is for us to stay strong and healthy at the same time," closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "If we can do that, we should be fine."

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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