ANAHEIM, Calif. – Two games into the American League Championship Series, better than halfway through another October, the Los Angeles Angels might consider the greater of their flaws: Vladimir Guerrero(notes) in the cleanup spot or the fact they, for the moment, have no one better.
And then what that might mean for the rest of the series, and what another game might expose.
The Angels have scored four runs in 22 innings and are 4-for-19 with runners in scoring position against the New York Yankees, which doesn't fall entirely to the guy who wears the Superman T-shirt under his uniform and an appetite for wild sliders on his sleeve, but he is again in the middle of enough of it, a familiar postseason theme for Angels fans.
While five consecutive playoff wins for the Yankees have convinced New Yorkers happy days are here again, they might at least douse themselves with the notion the Angels lost those two games at least as much as the Yankees won them.
The pennant counts either way, of course. If the Angels want to lunge at bad (or, from Joe Girardi's view, expertly thrown) pitches when a little composure would go a long way, and if October weather is going to turn their gloves to stone and their arms to sprinkler heads, the Yankee parade won't be any less festive.
If only that were the end of it for the Angels. It's not. They've pitched well enough to win, and were three outs from finishing off Game 2 when catcher Jeff Mathis(notes) suggested a two-strike fastball to Alex Rodriguez(notes) and, to center fielder Torii Hunter's(notes) horror, veteran closer Brian Fuentes(notes) went along.
It's late Saturday night (maybe early Sunday morning at that point) and Hunter is standing in a puddle of slushy rain and hating it. Just like Game 1, Yankees pitchers have been so tough, and especially with runners in scoring position, and yet the Angels have a 3-2 lead. Hunter's thinking they're going to win, in spite of all that's happened, and everything is changing.
But Mathis puts down one finger for a fastball.
“Right before the pitch,” Hunter said Sunday afternoon, “I wanted to call time-out.”
Then Mathis raises his mitt. Not just a fastball, a high one.
“My body,” Hunter said, “reacted a little too slow.”
Then Fuentes nods.
“I thought, 'No way,' " he said. “He'd thrown two fastballs in and [Rodriguez] didn't even budge. Then we threw one away. That was weird.”
Fuentes throws the pitch.
“I saw it,” Hunter said, “and I knew.”
Rodriguez, of course, hits the ball just over Bobby Abreu's(notes) red glove and just over Yankee Stadium's right-field wall, the perfect swing for the imperfect strategy and the imperfect pitch. Granted a couple more innings to force the Angels into more mistakes, Guerrero left the last of eight runners on base, Maicer Izturis(notes) threw the ball past second base, Chone Figgins(notes) looked like he was trying to pick up an ice cube with an oven mitt, and the Yankees won again.
Vladimir Guerrero (R) gets some pointers from hitting coach Mickey Hatcher on Sunday.
(Chris Carlson/AP Photo)
“I'm not going to blame the game on one pitch,” pitching coach Mike Butcher said. “We left 18 stinkin' guys on base.”
Sixteen, actually. And, prodded, Butcher could defend neither the plan nor the execution. Sure it was cold. Of course it was awful. But nobody looked less comfortable on that field than Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano(notes). And the Yankees made their way through it, through baseball in October, the way it goes.
“I've never been in New York where a Nor'easter has not gotten there,” manager Joe Girardi said. “The ones that I've been a part of have been really nasty.”
So, the off day was a short one, but welcome. Both clubs flew all night, got to bed around breakfast time and had breakfast just after lunch time. A good number of Angels took batting practice on a warm Sunday afternoon. Earlier, CC Sabathia(notes), who will pitch Game 4 on short rest, had gotten in a bullpen session and Andy Pettitte(notes) and Joba Chamberlain(notes) had played catch in a sun-washed outfield. Pettitte's three sons lounged on the grass, waiting for dad to knock off work.
It's about where the Angels' season will continue, or not. Vladdy will start hitting, or not. Figgins will get on base, and Hunter will pick him up, and the Angels will start catching and throwing the baseball, or not. Because, like spare cleanup hitters, the Angels don't have many options. And the Yankees don't have many flaws.
“We're beating ourselves,” Hunter said. “I feel like we're beating ourselves. We're playing fine and then right when we make a mistake, they're taking advantage of it. We need to play the game. It's what we did all year. That's what we're not doing right now.”