In every postseason series there are certain games that, based on the starting pitchers, teams consider built-in wins. These are the games that a team believes it has to win in order to, if you’ll pardon the mixed-sports metaphor, hold serve in the series. For the Yankees, those games are the ones started by CC Sabathia (they’re 2-for-2 thus far). For the Phillies, they’re the games started by Cliff Lee (3-for-3). For the Dodgers, they’re the games started by Clayton Kershaw (their loss in his Game One start is why they’re trailing in the NLCS).
The Angels’ must-win games are those started by this afternoon’s starting pitcher, Jered Weaver. The Angels won Weaver’s Game Two start in the ALDS against the Red Sox, taking commanding 2-0 lead in the series on their way to a three-game sweep. Coming into this series, they rejiggered their rotation so that Weaver could make his first start at Angel Stadium, where his ERA this season was nearly two runs better than it was on the road (and is nearly a run better on his career) and where he made his strong ALDS start. Weaver was the Angels’ best starter during the regular season and tonight matches up against Andy Pettitte, the Yankees’ number-three. That’s as close to a favorable pitching matchup as the Angels are going to get prior to John Lackey taking on A.J. Burnett in Game Five. This is a game the Halos have to have.
That would be true even if the Angels didn’t come home down 0-2 in the series, but given that predicament, this game goes from a must-have to perhaps their last chance to save their season. Because both of the games in New York were played as scheduled (despite foreboding forecasts of rain), CC Sabathia remains on schedule to start Game Four on short rest against Scott Kazmir, who struggled in his ALDS start against the Red Sox. If the Angels lose again tonight, Sabathia, who dominated the Halos in Game One, will take the mound with a chance to complete an unexpected Yankee sweep. (I’d quote the unfavorable stats about teams down 0-3 in best-of-seven series, but the lone exception to the rule just happens be the last team to face the Yankees in the ALCS.)
However, if the Angels win tonight behind Weaver, it makes Game Four a must-win for the Yankees, not only because Sabathia is starting, but because another loss there would let the Angels all the way back into the series, tying it up 2-2 and giving Anaheim all of the momentum heading into that Lackey-Burnett matchup in Game Five.
Weaver made three starts against the Yankees this season, the best of which was the one he made at home, when he struck out nine Yankees in six innings on July 11. Still, even in that game, Weaver allowed four runs (three earned), in part due to the two home runs he allowed. One of those homers was hit by Eric Hinske, who was left off the Yankees’ ALCS roster, but the other was hit by Mr. Clutch himself, Alex Rodriguez.
The loser in that game, incidentally, was Andy Pettitte, who gave up six runs on seven hits in just 4 1/3 innings. Pettitte was similarly kicked around in an earlier start against the Angels in the Bronx, but a return trip to Anaheim resulted in a quality-start win on September 21. The difference was the overall improvement in Pettitte’s pitching in the second half, which he maintained with a solid start against the Twins in the clinching game in the ALDS.
In his two postseason starts since returning to the Yankees, Pettitte, who tied John Smoltz for the most postseason wins ever with that win in the Metrodome’s final game, has allowed just one run in 12 2/3 innings, striking out 12 against three walks and no homers. Weaver has a 2.19 ERA in two career postseason starts, both of them coming at home against the Red Sox in the ALDS. He’ll face the usual Yankee lineup this afternoon.