NEW YORK (AP)—Chone Figgins charged through Yankee Stadium’s center-field swamp, diving to catch Gary Sheffield’s line drive and save at least one run, possibly two. Randy Johnson had a different sort of flop.
On a soggy night when The Big Unit was a big bust for New York, Figgins’ pivotal plays pushed Los Angeles within one win of the AL championship series.
Figgins followed his clutch catch with a go-ahead single in an 11-7 victory Friday that gave the Angels a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five playoff series.
“Figgy’s been our catalyst the entire season,” Darin Erstad said.
Garret Anderson had four hits and five RBIs for the Angels, who made Johnson look like a 42-year-old batting practice pitcher and set their postseason record with 19 hits.
Game 4 in New York was rained out Saturday and rescheduled for Sunday night. With one more victory, Los Angeles will eliminate the Yankees for the second time in four seasons and earn a spot against the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS.
“Our team has always been able to come back against any team with the little things, like we did today,” Bengie Molina said. “That’s just the kind of team we are.”
Molina homered for the third straight game and Anderson hit a three-run shot through the raindrops as Los Angeles went ahead 5-0 and chased Johnson in the fourth. In his playoff debut for the Yankees, Johnson pitched as badly as Jim Beattie, Ken Clay and Doyle Alexander—pitchers once denigrated by owner George Steinbrenner—allowing nine hits while getting only nine outs in the shortest of his 15 postseason starts.
Johnson had said Thursday that Diamondbacks fans in Arizona made more noise during his starts than the Yankees’ supporters. He did receive high decibels in this one: repeated choruses of boos.
“If I would have paid a ticket to watch me pitch today, I would have booed myself,” he said.
Sparked by Hideki Matsui’s leadoff homer in the fourth, New York came back against Paul Byrd and the Angels’ bullpen to go ahead 6-5 in the fifth on Robinson Cano’s RBI double and Bernie Williams’ sacrifice fly only to quickly fall behind again as Aaron Small and Tom Gordon faltered.
New York, with a record payroll of $203 million, must win two straight in order to continue its quest for its first World Series title since 2000. If the Yankees fail, Steinbrenner could order a shake up.
“Our offense is very capable. We’ll come out fighting tomorrow,” Alex Rodriguez said.
Small, a surprise 10-0 during the regular season after New York called him up from the minors, entered with runners at the corners in the fourth and got a strikeout and double-play grounder, then threw a 1-2-3 fifth. But he wound up losing for the first time since New York brought him up in mid-July.
“If I could put up the zero, we had a great chance to win this game,” he said.
Erstad and Figgins, who had been 0-for-11 in the series, had run-scoring hits in the sixth for a 6-5 lead. Figgins’ catch stopped New York’s momentum after the Yankees closed to 5-4 in the fourth.
“Who knows where that inning would have gone?” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Figgins made two great plays at third base in Game 2. Several Angels called this catch the turning point, and it was especially impressive because of the conditions.
“It’s almost like you’re running in a marsh or a swamp,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.
If Figgins had let Sheffield’s drive drop in front of him, New York would have scored another run. If the ball had squirted by, the Yankees would have gotten two.
“He hits the ball so hard, the ball just kind of stayed up there,” Figgins said. “I just had to take a chance, kill their momentum.”
Anderson added a run-scoring single in the seventh off Gordon after Molina was hit on the left elbow by a pitch and forced from the game. Molina at first thought the elbow was broken, but X-rays were negative. He’s still unsure whether he can catch in Game 4.
“We’ve got to wait until the morning and see how swollen it is,” he said.
While the Angels’ Brendan Donnelly, winner Scott Shields, Kelvim Escobar and Francisco Rodriguez combined to allow three runs in 5 1-3 innings, Los Angeles scored six times in six innings against New York’s bullpen, with Small, Gordon and Al Leiter giving up two runs each.
The Yankees, who have played from behind for most of this year, must win Game 4 to force the series back to California. If not, they will be failures for the fifth straight season.
“It was very disappointing,” Cano said, “but there are two games left.”
The Yankees left Game 1 winner Mike Mussina in California to pitch a possible Game 5. … The series has followed the pattern of the 2002 matchup, when the Angels lost the opener before winning three in a row.