Joe Buck summarized it perfectly in the ninth inning: “What. A. Game.”
Game 2 of the American League Championship Series went the way pundits and prognosticators figured every game between the Yankees and Angels would. There was great pitching, timely fielding, and enough punching and counter-punching from both sides to merit an HBO documentary. And like Game 2 of the Division Series against the Minnesota Twins, nine innings weren’t enough to decide the outcome.
Question marks defined the lead-up. Would the weather hold? Would AJ Burnett? How quickly would the Yankees offense strike against Joe Saunders and get into the Angels’ bullpen? Would the Angels rebound after matching the worst defensive performance in their postseason history?
The answers were yes (until the ninth inning); yes, sort of quickly but not with enough oomph to force Scioscia’s hand; and kindasorta.
The scoring reflected the team’s personalities: The Yankees flexed their power while the Angels thrived on their speed and ability to execute small ball. In no inning was this more apparent than the 11th: Alfredo Aceves followed 2 1/3 innings of splendid relief by Mariano Rivera by promptly walking the leadoff man, Gary Matthews, Jr. A sacrifice bunt by Erick Aybar put the lead run in scoring position for Chone Figgins, whose first hit of the postseason plated Matthews to give the Angels a 3-2 lead. In the bottom half, Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who led the AL with 48 saves during the regular season and was a stalwart to the Colorado Rockies’ run to the World Series two years ago, made the mistake of throwing an 0-2 fastball up and out over the plate to Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod drilled a line drive to right field — a 320-foot Yankee Stadium Special into the second row to tie the game at 3-3.
”I just can’t imagine a scenario where you would go braindead and want to do that,” said MLB Network’s Joe Magrane, referring to Fuentes’s decision on 0-and-2 to throw the fastball in that location.
There were times over the next few innings where both teams wasted scoring opportunities. Jeff Mathis belted a two-out double in the top of the 12th and was stranded when Matthews struck out to end the inning. In the Yankees’ half, A-Rod popped up with the bases loaded and the winning run on third. In the top of the 13th, Robinson Cano, for the second time in the game, misplayed a routine grounder off the bat of Aybar. And for the second time, the pitcher bailed him out; David Robertson induced an inning-ending groundout from Vladimir Guerrero, which left Aybar at third base.
The Yankees did not waste their chance in the 13th. Jerry Hairston, Jr.’s leadoff single plus Brett Gardner’s sac bunt had the Yankees set up well. After an intentional walk to Cano, Melky Cabrera, the Yankees’ designated walk-off king during the regular season, hit a bouncer to Maicer Izturis at second base and Izturis, instead of getting the sure out at first base, threw to second to try to force Cano. The throw was wide, pulled Aybar off the bag and rolled to Figgins, who had a play on Hairston at the plate. Figgins bobbled the ball, Hairston scored and the Yankees won thanks to another Angels miscue. The Yankees’ ability to play small-ball and manufacture runs has been lost in the series analysis.
From a fan standpoint, it was a welcome sight to see the Yankees celebrate another extra-inning playoff win. The last time the Yankees played an extra-inning game in the LCS was 2004, when David Ortiz singled home the winning run in the 14th inning of Game 5 to keep that epic comeback alive.
Now it’s on to California, and the big question: With a 2-0 series lead, regardless of what happens Monday, will Sabathia pitch Game 4?
BY THE NUMBERS
Time of game: 5 hours, 10 minutes
Pitches: 432 (Yankees 230, Angels 202)
Runners Left On Base: 28 (Angels 16, Yankees 12)
Teams’ Combined BA with RISP: .131 (3-23, Yankees 0-8)
AB: 95 (Yankees 48, Angels 47)
AJ’s NOT CC, BUT HE’S OK
Per dictionary.com, one definition of the word “consistent” reads as follows:
Being in agreement with itself; coherent and uniform: a consistent pattern of behavior.
By virtue of that definition, AJ Burnett is consistent. His “consistent pattern of behavior” has been to tease with brilliance for a smattering of innings, only to implode over the course of an inning or two. Sometimes he recovers, sometimes he doesn’t.
Such was the case Saturday night. For the first four innings, Burnett appeared to be following in CC Sabathia’s footsteps with an ace-caliber performance. He threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 15 batters faced and struck out three. He allowed just three base runners: one via, another on a walk, and he hit a batter.
Burnett’s teammates responded to the solid effort. A two-out RBI triple by Cano opened the scoring in the second inning and Derek Jeter padded the lead with a solo home run in the third. Based on the way Burnett was mixing his pitches, there was reason to believe that two runs would be enough to secure a 2-0 series lead.
Then the fifth inning rolled around and Burnett looked like the maddening enigma Cliff Corcoran described in his Game 2 preview. A leadoff double to Maicer Izturis appeared innocuous until he yielded an RBI single to Erick Aybar and then loaded the bases by hitting Chone Figgins with a curveball and walking Torii Hunter. Aybar scoring on a wild pitch was almost a foregone conclusion, considering he would have scored on Ball Four to Hunter had the fastball that ricocheted off Jose Molina’s shin guard landed in the field of play. The fifth-inning printout: seven batters faced, 1 first-pitch strike, 2H, 2ER, BB, HBP, WP, 33 pitches.
Burnett returned to his earlier form for the next 1 1/3 innings, tossing just 24 pitches and allowing just one base runner.
If the series goes to a Game 6, do you feel confident he can give a similar performance and minimize the damage?
JOE SAUNDERS ISN’T DOMINANT, BUT HE’S GOOD
The second and third innings notwithstanding, the Yankees could not maintain the early success they had off Joe Saunders, who capably changed speeds and was just wild enough to force Mark Teixeira, A-Rod and Hideki Matsui to be anxious in their approaches and swing at the first pitch they saw in the strike zone. Only twice after the third inning did the Yankees send more than the minimum three batters to the plate against Saunders. Three times the leadoff man reached, only to be erased by a double play.
PLUS: A-Rod. His third late-inning, game-tying home run of the postseason. All have gone to right field. Could it be that in five postseason games he’s redefining what it means to be clutch?
PLUS: Johnny Damon. Two more hits and a great catch in the ninth inning to rob Figgins of a base hit.
PLUS: Mark Teixeira’s defense.
MINUS: Mark Teixeira’s offense. He was the only Yankee starter to go hitless.
PLUS: The guts of the Yankees’ young bullpen guns. Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, and the eventual winning pitcher, David Robertson. The quartet combined to pitch 2 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball despite allowing six base runners.
MINUS: Robinson Cano’s defense. Between Cano, Izturis and Aybar, my unofficial count is three physical errors and one mental error by players wearing the ski hoodies.
MINUS: Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero was 1-for-7 with two Ks. He went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
“I’ll sleep good on the plane ride.”
— Yankees manager Joe Girardi