Results tagged ‘ Alex Rodriguez ’

Still one more for No. 27

burnett_300_110309.jpgBy Jon Lane
Of course, there’s uproar over the fact that the Yankees actually lost a game, this one Game 5 to the defending World Series champions, and Joe Girardi’s decision to start A.J. Burnett on three days’ rest instead of Chad Gaudin.

Take your imaginary scale and place it in front of you. Then weigh these options in a potential World Championship-clinching game: Burnett or Gaudin? Gaudin or Burnett?

I addressed your comments in my previous entry – great feedback, by the way, so keep it coming. Girardi’s over-managed at times and has made some strange moves, but I stand by him in this case. You win and lose with your best. Burnett didn’t lose that game because he pitched on three days’ rest. He lost because he’s an enigma and the Phillies were bound to bust out. I also refer to what Robin Roberts told a Philly reporter before Game 5: In his days starting on as little as 24 hours rest was nothing.

Yep, the Yankees are in serious trouble, just like when they were ahead 3-2 against the Angels in the ALCS after losing Game 5 and everyone had flashbacks to 2004. Chill. The Yankees took two of three in Philadelphia against the champs and have two chances to win it at home. They still need one win to win it all and have Andy Pettitte – owner of the most series-clinching wins in history – likely going in Game 6. You’ll take that, right?

Short rest or not, you like the Yankees’ chances, even against the amazing Pedro Martinez. Pettitte is 4-6 with a 4.15 ERA in his career working on three days’ rest. The last time he did it was 2006 in Houston (1-1, 3.79.).

Last I checked Burnett was 4-0, 2.33 prior to Game 5. Studying the numbers helps one make a decision, but in the big picture they mean nothing.

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Here’s yet another reason why it’s not 2004 – or even 2003. The Yankees’ winning percentage at home was a league-best .704. They outscored opponents by 101 runs and hit 136 of their 244 home runs in the new place. You’d also have to go back to September 11 and 12 (Orioles), and June 17 and 18 (Nationals) for the last times they lost two straight at Yankee Stadium.

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arod_200_110309.jpgIf the Yankees wrap it up Wednesday night, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez are, for my money, the team’s top MVP candidates. Jeter’s double-play grounder in the ninth was one of the final nails of Game 5, but he’s still batting .364 in the World Series. Damon is batting .381 and his two stolen bases in Game 4 is another part of Yankees lore. And since starting his first Fall Classic 0-for-8 with six strikeouts, A-Rod homered in Game 3 and totaled four RBIs in Games 4 and 5. One more big hit in Game 6 can seal it for the Yankees’ third baseman.

What Rodriguez is doing is more remarkable considering that Mark Teixeira has been terrible. Teixeira is 2-for-19 with seven strikeouts, including his game-ender as the tying run Monday night. In the postseason, Teixeira is batting .172 (10-for-58) with 16 strikeouts.

More troubling is Robinson Cano’s .167 average, which is tied with Nick Swisher for the team low, and his ridiculous struggles with runners on base have continued (1-for-10, one RBI). Swisher was benched for Jerry Hairston Jr. in Game 2. As one reader suggested, does Girardi gulp and bench Cano, a .320 hitter in the regular season, for Ramiro Pena, added to the World Series roster on Monday?

I wouldn’t, but Bill Madden reminded us of 1978 when the little-known Brian Doyle replaced the injured Willie Randolph late in the season and batted .438 against the Dodgers.

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Chase Utley is the Phillies’ MVP to date; his five home runs is tied with Reggie Jackson (1977) for the World Series record. But despite the Game 5 win, the Phillies have issues.

If Martinez can get them through Game 6, the big debate in Philadelphia is who starts a Game 7: Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ? Hamels has taken some unfair flack for his “I can’t wait for it to end. It’s been mentally draining. At year’s end, you just can’t wait for a fresh start.” (Disclaimer: He said this after saying he’d want the ball in a potential Game 7.) However, the city – and reportedly Brett Myers – is down on him and, let’s face it, Hamels has been hideous. Happ hasn’t started since September 29 (more perspective to the Burnett-Gaudin debate).

Lee would pitch on two days’ rest, but Thursday is his scheduled throw day, so my guess is the Phillies got with their ace left-hander and empty the bullpen from there.

Furthermore, who’s Charlie Manuel’s closer? Ryan Madson started the ninth inning of Game 5 with Brad Lidge on the bench. Madson got it done, but barely. Neither inspire confidence in big spots.

Business as usual

By Jon Lane
The Yankees down a game after Cliff Lee turned out their lights, what did Joe Girardi tell them before Game 2?

Nothing. He didn’t need to.

“Our club ha been resilient all year,” Girardi said. “The one thing that we’ve been able to do is we’ve went through some tough losses and we’ve seemed to bounce back. It was just business as usual for us today.”

The usual business came in the form of big hits from Mark Teixeira and Hideki Matsui. Ahead in the count, Pedro Martinez threw two curveballs. One was low and outside, and Matsui made the adjustment and put a good swing on it.

Two Matsui-related decisions, one immediate, the other in the offseason. Without the DH, the Yankees will have to determine if they want to put Matsui and his balky knees in the outfield, where Matsui said he’s confident he can handle a full workload. After the season, the major question is whether the pending free agent will return for another year in the Bronx.

Matsui was asked if he stops to look around extra carefully and enjoy it a bit more, considering this may be his final opportunity to win a World Series as a Yankee.

He and his knees be ready for outfield if Girardi decides and to play as long as needed

“I’m not thinking about my contract, so I really don’t have an answer for that,” Matsui said. “Even with the atmosphere changes, how I feel and what I do to prepare and my approach at the plate, those things just don’t change for me.

“I don’t feel like I really look at it in terms of success or failure. Obviously every year my goal is to be a World Champion, but I don’t look at it that way.”

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Mariano Rivera’s 21st World Series appearance moved him past Mike Stanton for second place on the Yankees’ all-time list behind Whitey Ford’s 22, Mariano Rivera threw 39 pitches in two innings, his World Series high, topping 35 in Game 3 against the Braves in 1996. He still extended his own record of 10 Fall Classic and 38 postseason saves. It was also his fourth two-inning save and lowered his career ERA to 1.09.

Despite the workload, Girardi is confident that with Friday’s off day he’ll be OK for Game 3 Saturday night.

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Was Derek Jeter bunting on his own in the seventh inning? With two strikes, yes, and then the sign was taken off.

“Derek Jeter is a very smart baseball man,” Girardi said. “If he feels he can do the job in that situation, I’m not going to bark at him. He felt he could get it done and he didn’t get it done.”

So why bunt instead of hit-and-run?

“I don’t really like to talk too much about strategy,” Girardi said.

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Stop the presses: Alex Rodriguez is 0 for 8 with six strikeouts in his first World Series appearance. Lay off the haterade, Girardi isn’t benching him.

“I know he’ll bounce back,” Girardi said. “We’ll get it going with him in Philly.”

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You knew Yankees fans would give Martinez a rude reception. Par for the course, but one fan stood out when Martinez exited the game after throwing six innings of three-run ball with eight strikeouts.

“It’s a new Yankee Stadium, but the fans remain the fans,” Martinez said. “I remember one guy sitting right in the front row with his daughter in one arm and a cup of beer in the other hand and saying all kinds of nasty stuff. I just told him, ‘Your daughter is right beside you. It’s a little girl. It’s a shame you’re saying all these things.’ I’m a father myself. How can you be so dumb to do those kind of things in front of your child? What kind of example are you setting?”

Love Pedro or hate him, we continue to witness one of the greatest (if not the greatest) pitcher of this generation.

“I tell you what, he may not have 96 to 98 (MPH) he did back then when he was a little bit younger, but his command was every bit as good as it was back then,” said Jerry Hairston, who started over the slumping Nick Swisher due in part to his .370 lifetime average against the right-hander. “He was painting pitches at my knees, inner half (of the plate) basically at will on a couple of guys.”

Hairston, like A-Rod playing in his first World Series game, went 1-for-3.
 
“He’s always been a great pitcher and for him to adjust and adjust to what he’s got now, that’s a credit to him,” Hairston said. “He’s really pitched well this postseason and it was a tough win for us.

Game 1 wrap

By Jon Lane
Not much you can say about tonight. Cliff Lee was that good. There
was nothing the Yankees could do. The teams from 1927 and 1961 wouldn’t
touch the Phillies’ lefty on this night. Think back to Sandy Koufax
knocking the bats out of the hands of the ’63 team.

“I kept it simple tonight,” said Alex Rodriguez (0-for-4, 3 Ks). “He
kept it even more simple. He threw the ball well. When a guy throws
like that, you tip your cap and move on.”

A-Rod is still batting a healthy .388 in the postseason. Mark Teixeira
(.186), meanwhile, is back on the skids. After compiling five hits in
the final three games of the ALCS, Teixeira went hitless in four
at-bats. He evaded questions on what went wrong, deflecting all credit
to Lee.

“I think Tex is going to be fine. You take tonight out of it. With the
exception of [Derek} Jeter, we didn’t have any good swings at all.”

Any other night, CC Sabathia might have emerged victorious, but he
admitted he wasn’t at his sharpest (113 pitches/70 strikes). For the
fifth time in his playoff career, Sabathia allowed a pair of homers in
one game, the third time to one batter (Chase Utley).

“I felt pretty good,” Sabathia said. “I had three walks but I was behind a lot of guys. It was just one of those days.”

Phil
Hughes’ postseason troubles continue. He walked the first two batters
he faced to begin the eighth before getting the hook Both came around
to score. And while Lee put the game away a long time ago, those
insurance runs essentially quashed any hopes for the patented Yankees
comeback.

“He missed with his fastball a little bit tonight,” said Joe Girardi. “We’ll continue to talk to him. I mean, he’s been great for us all year. He walked two guys and ended up hurting us tonight, but we still believe in him.”

Hideki Matsui on facing Pedro Martinez:
“He’s always had good command and throws a wide variety of pitches,”
Matsui said. “I don’t know what to expect, but what’s going to be
important is to make sure we have a plan at the plate and make sure we
execute that.”

One more mountain to climb

yankees_250_102509.jpgBy Jon Lane
As you can imagine, it was bedlam in the clubhouse. Beginning with Hal Steinbrenner, the theme was not only the fact that the Yankees are winners of 110 games, but about how they won them. The character of this team has been remarkable, yet the mighty Phillies, the champs, are their lone roadblock.

The final journey begins Wednesday night, with George Steinbrenner likely to be in the house.

“We’re doing this for him,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “We want to win this whole thing for him. I feel like he’s here. He’s a big part of it.”

It’s a fitting conclusion to the 2009 season: The two best teams fighting for the right to be called champion, or in the Phillies’ case, a repeat champion.

“The fact that we have to go through the world champs to become champs, and they have their chance to defend it. Not too many teams get that opportunity,” said Johnny Damon.

CC Sabathia is ALCS MVP. You can’t argue with that selection, though. The big guy went 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA, allowing nine hits and two runs with 12 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched. Lest we forget that eight-inning masterpiece on three days’ rest in Game 4 that squashed the Angels’ momentum from the night before.

Being the character guy he is, Sabathia deflected credit to Alex Rodriguez and the team’s ability to remain loose through good times and bad. That had him believing from Day 1 that the Yankees were destined to play in the Fall Classic.

“When Al went down, it was going to to make it tough,” he said. “We held it together for awhile until he got back. He made our lineup just that much better, our team that much better. It gave us a lot of confidence.

“It is really not a surprise that we are here. I hate to sound like that, but this is a really good team. Like I said, we get along, we have fun. This is what you get.”

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Like Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and a few others, A-Rod will play in his first World Series. Too many Hall of Famers never won a World Series ring, and never had a shot at one.

“I was just in the back with Mark Teixeira talking and a lot of great players have never had the honor to play in the World Series,” Rodriguez said. “So I thank the good Lord for putting me with the greatest organization and 24 great teammates and it feels really good.

“It gets tougher. Honestly, you think about this era with all these divisions and all these championship series and World Series, it’s pretty much more challenging now and it feels good to get in.”

arod_200_102509.jpgEight months ago, Rodriguez was a scorned public figure, exposed by his admittance of using performance-enhancing drugs while he played for the Texas Rangers, the tension-filled reaction press conference and the shady company he kept. Then he had a torn labrum in his hip, which threatened to sideline him for the rest of the season.

That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He went to Vail, Colorado, and had surgery, and spent the next few weeks rehabbing in seclusion. Once he returned on May 8, he homered on the first pitch he saw and hasn’t looked back. Despite playing in only 124 games, he still slugged 30 homers and drove in 100 runs, the last three coming on his final swing of the regular season — a home run.

“I wasn’t around for the first month and a half, but I knew that the guys we brought in this year, they were special talents and special people and all of them did a phenomenal job of playing in New York the first year,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something that a lot of people can’t do, including myself.”

Yet there were times he lifted the Yankees from life support this postseason. There were the home runs off Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes. There’s the 11-game postseason hitting streak, pretty darn good for someone once labeled the ultimate choker. His postseason tally to date: .438 with five home runs and 12 RBIs.

“Alex is an unbelievable guy,” Steinbrenner said. “It was just a matter of time before his ability would break out in the postseason. Nobody works harder than him in the offseason, nobody works harder than him in training and nobody, you’ll find, has more ability than him. It was just a matter of time.”

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Joe Girardi made some strange decisions, but he’s the 10th manager to lead the Yankees to a World Series and the 42nd person to play and manage in the Fall Classic (and the first since Ozzie Guillen in 2005).

Keep in mind how all season he had to work through an unsaid win-or-else edict. He knew that’s what he signed up for, and never hid or lost his composure through all the second-guessing. Now he’s four wins from escaping Joe Torre’s shadow once and for all.

“It’s very special,” Girardi said. “I’m extremely blessed to have this opportunity. I feel my life has been one big blessing. The things that I’ve gotten to do, God has really blessed me. But being here as a player and going through that, and the excitement and the anticipation, and then getting a chance to do it as a manager, I’m extremely happy for the guys in that room, for the Boss, his children, all the people that put all this hard work in to put this team together.

“I have that same feeling of excitement. 1996 was the first time for me. You think about all the work that all the people put in to have this opportunity, as a player all the work you put in in the offseason to get an opportunity. It’s much the same feeling.”

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Angels and what they had to endure this season. Shattered by the horrible death of Nick Adenhart, the team bonded while dealing with the tragedy to win another AL West title and push the Yankees as far as they did in spite of those brain locks on the bases and two throwing errors that sealed their fate in Game 6.

“The trials and tribulations that the guys in that clubhouse went through all year is something that you hope you never have to go through in your lifetime again,” said manager Mike Scioscia. “It was a special group in there to keep going. Special group in there to keep bringing Nick’s memory forward every day. Every day we came to the park and he’s still with us. And I’m sure we’ll have a little peace in that as we move forward. Right now this loss, obviously, hurts.”

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And so it’s on to the World Series. Six years ago yesterday was the last time the Yankees played in a World Series game, when Josh Beckett threw a complete-game shut out in Game 6.

The Phillies were the National League’s leaders in home runs (224), RBIs (788), runs scored (820) and slugging percentage (.447), and will make the Yankees pay dearly if they continue to squander scoring opportunities. On the other hand, the Yankees represent the toughest competition the Phils have faced this entire year and are a different team from the one that dropped two of three games to Philly on Memorial Day weekend.

But all that is for another day. The Yankees are partying all night while me and dozens of scribes pen the latest round of tales.

A-Rod or CC for MVP?

arod_300_102109.jpgBy Jon Lane
Disclaimer: The ALCS is not over. Someone this morning asked me if I’m feeling good with the Yankees ahead three games to one. My answer: “No.”

It takes four games to win the LCS, the Yankees have won three. The last two ALCS have had teams with 3-1 leads and both went to Game 7. Two years ago, the Red Sox rallied to defeat the Indians en route to winning the World Series. Last year, Boston came back again, but fell short in Game 7 against the Rays.

Furthermore, Suzyn Waldman had a good line during Tuesday night’s broadcast on the Yankees Radio Network: “We’ve seen plenty of (Angels) rallies here. We saw rallies before the Rally Monkey existed.” I also don’t need to remind you what happened in 2004.

That said, the Yankees bashed the Angels, 10-1, and kept the monkey grounded in Game 4 led by outrageous performances by both Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia. If the series had ended last night, writers would have had to make a snap decision on an ALCS MVP. It’s very close between A-Rod and Sabathia. Here’s the breakdown:

A-Rod’s five home runs have him tied with Reggie Jackson (1977, all in the World Series) for the second-most by a Yankee in a single postseason (Bernie Williams clubbed six in 1996). He’s batting .375 with three homers, five RBIs and five runs scored in the ALCS, and .407-5-11, nine runs scored in the postseason. His slugging percentage in the DS and CS, respectively are both 1.000. Absolutely remarkable.

Sabathia, pitching on three days’ rest, neutralized a good Angels lineup over eight innings for the second time in the series, this time allowing only a run on five hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He’s 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA and took another big step towards completely erasing his prior October track record (4-3, 5.45).

It’s a tough call, but Mike Lupica makes his case for Sabathia, of whom he writes “continued to be the kind of star ace pitcher in games such as these that he was
hired to be, that he was paid a fortune to be. And clearly relishes
being.”

In addition, Sabathia has matured to where he is now a polished pitcher, says John Flaherty during a Podcast after Game 4.

If the Phillies close out the Dodgers tonight, and the Yankees eliminate the Angels tomorrow or Saturday, it’ll likely be Sabathia against Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the World Series. How’s that for a pitching matchup? But until then, there’s a lot more work to do for the Yankees to win their 40th pennant. Figure on the choice for MVP to be either Sabathia or A-Rod. Who’s yours?

Sabathia: Stay under control

By Jon Lane
CC Sabathia, officially named the Yankees’ Game 4 starter on Sunday, met the media before Game 3 in Anaheim. The big lefty is going on three days’ rest, which he made a habit of last season. This year though, with the Yankees affording the luxury of providing him extra rest down the stretch, there’s a lot more in the tank.

The plan has worked to perfection. Sabathia is 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA in his two postseason starts. While he admitted that when working on shorter rest you may not have your best fastball, it’s about how you approach the game mentally, and Sabathia has said more than once that the extra rest last month left him energized and recharged.

“You know that going on certain rest that you’re not going to have like your best fastball,” Sabathia said. “So you’ve just got to stay under control and make sure your my delivery is good, and make sure I go out there and throw strikes.”

Someone asked on whether Sabathia feels any different the day after pitching in cold weather. He doesn’t citing all those years pitching in Cleveland.

Other comments from the press briefings:

Joe Girardi on Chad Gaudin’s role going forward:

“He’s more of a long guy for us,” Girardi said. “We had him up in Saturday’s game. [David] Robertson was done, and Gaudin was warmed up, so by having Chad down there it allows us to mix and match more in our bullpen, being able to use maybe a couple guys in an inning and not worry if you go extra innings or a long game.”

You can watch Girardi’s full conference here.

Angels Game 4 starter Scott Kazmir was asked about opposing Sabathia, he summed it up by saying he knows he has to be very good, and facing Alex Rodiguez the way he’s been hitting.

“Anyone that’s seeing the ball as good as he is, it’s tough,” Kazmir said. “You know, you can just tell when hitters are comfortable out there. When they start hitting the ball hard to the opposite field, they’re really seeing the ball good and really feeling comfortable out there. So like I said, you’ve got to attack the strike zone and just get them in defense mode. If you get behind hitters like that, especially how good he’s seeing the ball, he’s going to hurt you.”

Game 1 ALCS: Live blog

jeter_275_101609.jpgBy Jon Lane
Not
raining (yet), but it’s windy and cold; I feel like I’m Canada. But the
bunting is draped, and a couple of Yankees are playing catch on the
infield. One of them is Alex Rodriguez, who is now taking fungo
grounders at third base.

Joe Girardi just met the media and A.J.
Burnett is chatting about the Angels and his Game 2 start. I’ll have
briefs from Girardi and Burnett, as well as Angels manager Mike
Scioscia and Saturday’s Halos starter, Joe Saunders, before first pitch.

There’s
already a buzz and the gates are opening in mere minutes. Memo to rain:
You’re not invited. Go away and stay away until Sunday.

No surprises in the Yankees’ lineup.
Johnny Damon is in left field with Melky Cabrera in center. Damon comes
off a 1-for-12 performance in the Division Series. You wonder if he
can’t get it going, or especially the Yankees are on the losing end
tonight, whether Girardi will replace Damon for Brett Gardner in Game 2.

Stick
around for much more from yours truly, and our multimedia team of Chris
Shearn and Joe Auriemma. I have a hunch there will be baseball tonight,
the first of many wars of attrition between these two clubs that both
can make the “team of destiny” claim.

5:20 p.m. Joe and
Chris are on the field working pregame. Chris did an interview with
Brett Gardner for a Stadium Spotlight that will be posted later.
Gardner, like everyone, was asked about this December weather. In
essence he said this is New York weather and this is what you have to
deal with at this time of year if you want to still be playing baseball.

Tony
Pena had to attend to business, but spent a few minutes talking off
camera. He lamented that it was 97 degrees today in his native
Dominican Republic, but added “When you play this time of year, you
have to play in this.”

Before I headed back inside I felt the
slightest of raindrops. No steady showers yet. Here’s hoping the rain
received my you’re-not-invited memo.

From there I stopped by the
Hard Rock Cafe. Three hours before first pitch and you could barely get
around the circle bar. Yankees fan Greg Parker was seated in a
tableless chair in the back of the restaurant. I asked him who do have
winning and why. “Yankees in 6 – because this is New York and they’ve
won 26 World Championships.” Sometimes “expert” analysis isn’t
necessary. The simplest explanations are the best.

5:42 p.m. Highlights from A.J. Burnett’s and Joe Girardi’s pregame breifing with the media:

Burnett
On fitting in this season whereas past newcomers have struggled to get acclimated early:
“The
pies aside, I’m a pretty quiet individual during the game and stuff,
aoft spoken guy. I don’t know, it just didn’t matter really who I met
or who I ran into. I just joked with them from the get go and getting
on them from the get go. It’s not hard to blend in with guys like this.
It’s a good group. The main thing is you can be yourself there in that
clubhouse. I think that’s what a lot of people have learned this year
is that they can be themselves.”

On having more of a comfort level pitching in the postseason after his debut last Friday:
“I
know a little what to expect, crowd-wise and everything. It’s still
going to be a crazy and exciting and emotional game. By all means I
know how important my start is. I have the least amount of postseason
experience, but I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to hopefully get
this win in tonight and follow CC. He’s going to come out with a bang.”

Girardi
On why Nick Swisher [5-for-43 lifetime against John Lackey and 1-for-12 in the ALDS] is in the lineup:
“We
watched his at bats. Sometimes when you give a guy a day off, you look
to give him a day off against a guy that maybe he struggled against a
little bit. But we watched his at bats the last couple of years, and
he’s hit some balls really hard. He does see pitches on John Lackey,
which is extremely important. And that’s why he’s in there.”

On whether it’d be better if the regular season is shortened and if off days added into the postseason are unnecessary:
“It’s
interesting. Every year that I had a chance to play in the playoffs
here, the weather was great. So I don’t remember having a day like
this. I mean, this is what baseball is. It’s a 162-game schedule. It’s
a grind, you know, if you shorten it by six games, the way it used to
be, well then you fall into this is the World Series week, and the
weather is not so good right now. It wasn’t great in Colorado. You
know, I don’t know what you do. You pray that Mother Nature blesses you
this time of the year and sometimes it doesn’t.”

5:48 p.m. Latest from Weather.com – 10 percent chance of rain by 8 p.m. and 20 percent by 9. This is down from 60 percent this morning.

stadium_350_101609.jpg7:13 p.m. Some tidbits gathered while killing time:

The elevator to the press box has been down for the last couple of hours. The long and frequent hikes make for good exercise.

Thinking
about stopping by the Hard Rock? Prepare to wait. There are lines to
get in and for a table, at least a couple of hours from what I was told.

Pedro Martinez allowed two hits over seven shutout innings
during Game 2 in Los Angeles, but was stuck with a no-decision. Many
here watching, including yours truly and Yahoo! Sports’ Gordon Edes,
who covered Pedro in Boston for years, believe he’s the best pitcher of
this generation. The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead on Andre Ethier’s
bases-loaded walk in the eighth and Jonathan Broxton closed the deal to
even the NLCS at 1-1.

7:49 p.m. The national anthem was just played and I see sprinkles. So much for a future as an amateur weatherman.

Meanwhile,
props to readers checking in from Hawaii and Regina, Saskatchewan.
(Yes, I know of the area. Years ago in Las Vegas I played blackjack
with two guys from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Once I brought up Bret
“Hitman” Hart winning his first WWF Heavyweight Championship there I
was in.)

Nice ovation for former Yankee and current YES analyst
David Cone, who threw out tonight’s first pitch. It was low, but
whatever.

Right now blaring over the Stadium sound system: AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).

7:55 p.m. Facts & figures with a creative twist from Chris Shearn.

7:58 p.m. First pitch 7:58 (strike). Game time temperature is 45 degrees.

8:06 p.m.

Sabathia gets through the first allowing only a two-out single to Torii
Hunter, though he got a break from plate umpire and crew chief Tim
McClelland, who punched out Bobby Abreu on a backdoor curveball that
from the view of many here was way inside.

8:16 p.m.
Johnny Damon, 1-for-12 in the DS, singles to left field and advances to
second on the throw. Derek Jeter at third with Alex Rodriguez at the
plate after Mark Teixeira flied out to shallow left swinging at a 3-0
pitch. Lackey’s in trouble early, you can afford to be selective and
wait for something to drive.

8:21 p.m. These Yankees have been good and darn lucky. Hideki
Matsui popped up between short and third, except Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins, who called for it, looked at each other and said, “Do you want it?” Instead of an
inning-ending out, the ball dropped in front of Aybar and Damon scored
the Yankees’ second run. Good line from a writer seated to my right: “When did the Angels become the Twins?”

A-Rod’s sacrifice fly gives him seven postseason RBIs, one shy of his career-high eight set in 2004.

8:57 p.m.
The Amazing A-Rod now batting .462 in the postseason, but it was up to Matsui to make it count. Alas, a ground out to first ends the third. Matsui’s average has dipped to .182 (2-for-11).

9:24 p.m. 2-1 Yankees entering the fifth after Lackey whiffs Jeter with two on and two out. Both Lackey – incidentally wearing short sleeves – and Sabathia are showing why they’re not only good, but tough.

9:35 p.m. Damon is 2-for-3 tonight with a double. Now the Yankees have to cash in.

arod_200_101609.jpg9:45 p.m. Cha-ching! Matsui breaks his drought with an RBI double, but A-Rod is thrown out at home as he got aggressive upon seeing Juan Rivera lose his footing in left. Nice job by Jeff Mathis to survive the collision, but a 3-1 lead is pretty good the way Sabathia is working.

Lackey has thrown 96 pitches.

9:54 p.m. Nice sliding grab by Damon to rob Abreu of a leadoff single. The next pitch Hunter tried bunting his way on but Teixeira stretched to snare Sabathia’s throw at first base. Scioscia is arguing passionately with Laz Diaz, claiming Texieira’s toe came off the bag when the ball met his glove. Even if there was instant replay in baseball, that would be one of those inconclusive plays wouldn’t be overturned.

Sabathia, who has taken over this game, fans Guerrero to end the top of the sixth. He’s retired seven in a row and has thrown 80 pitches.

Metro NY’s Larry Fleischer with a good observation: For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are winning a playoff game with pitching and defense.

10:05 p.m. The Los Angeles Twins of Anaheim give away another run. After Cabrera moved to second on Lackey’s throwing error, Jeter singled him home and advanced to second on Hunter’s error. Lackey’s night is done. He battled, but I’m very surprised on what I’m seeing from what’s normally one of the most fundamentally sound teams in baseball.

From Larry the stat guru: Tonight is the first time the Angels were charged with three errors in a postseason game since Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS, also the only time this has happened in the Scioscia Era.

10:16 p.m. Robinson Cano, ski mask and all, robs Howie Kendrick of a hit that would have put Angels on first and third with one out. Pitching + defense = playoff victories.

sabathia_200_101609.jpg10:21 p.m. Sabathia has worked seven, breaking his postseason high set just last Wednesday (6 2/3 IP). His seven strikeouts are one short of his high also set last Wednesday.

10:45 p.m. Sabathia (98 pitches) out to start the eighth and nobody warming in the bullpen. Could he go the distance? *Alas, soon as I hit save Phil Hughes started throwing.

10:54 p.m. Sabathia works a clean eighth and at 113 pitches it looks like Girardi will go to Mo in the ninth. Tremendous performance by the big lefty; 49,688 people were chanting “CC! CC!” And this comment from Girardi before the game was appropriate:

“CC is one of those guys that’s relaxed on the day he pitches. And I admire that.”

11:08 p.m. Exit Sabathia. Enter Sandman. A perfect blueprint.And FYI, Brett Gardner in center and Cabrera moves to left. Assuming Rivera is Rivera, I’ll check back with you after working the clubhouse.

The morning report: In the event of rain …

By Jon Lane
These Yankees have proven to be a victorious concoction. The psychology of winning has been contagious not only to the team’s young, homegrown prospects, but veterans who have yet to experience the postseason.

Everyone has risen to the occasion, especially Alex Rodriguez, which has Chris Shearn and Joe Auriemma feeling good about the Yankees’ chances in the ALCS. You can listen to their breakdown in an all-new Off the Wall Podcast. Known in the YES circle as “The Godfather of YESNetwork.com,” Joe offers more takes on the latest Pinstriped Podcast.

Joe Girardi is taking a chance starting CC Sabathia on three days’ rest in Game 4, but it’s the best option, writes Steven Goldman. Of course, Mother Nature rules all, even Goldman, Girardi, Sabathia, the Steinbrenners, mystique and aura. The forecast beginning today through the weekend stinks; heck today it’s 20 degrees below normal for this time of year.

If there’s a rainout Friday or Saturday, Chad Gaudin will likely get the call for Game 4. As far as logistics and scheduling, well ….

The teams lose the off day on Wednesday and would play straight through Thursday before a break on Friday if the series reaches six games. However, there’s a scheduled off day on Sunday for a couple of reasons. First, the Dodgers and Phillies play Game 3 of the NLCS Sunday night. The Yankees and Angels could play Sunday afternoon, but FOX is covering this series and there’s a conflict with the NFL. A game Sunday night would compete with Dodgers-Phillies and, worse, force the teams to take a red eye to California and play a 1 p.m. (PST) game the next day.

Another thought: Move the games up a day. Play Game 1 on Saturday (again, rain rules all) and Game 2 in New York Monday afternoon, and then fly west for Game 3 which would be bumped to Tuesday night at 5 p.m. California time. Games 4 and 5 (if necessary) are played Wednesday and Thursday, and you’re back on track. Of course, television will have a say in that.

Here’s a take from Mark Feinsand: Push Game 3 to Tuesday and make Monday an off day. Games 3-4-5 then eliminates Wednesday’s off day. Furthermore, Feinsand writes that if Game 1 is postponed, those tickets would be used for Saturday and the Game 2 tickets would be good for Game 2, whenever it is.

Moral of the story: I hate rain.

East vs. West showdown

ALCS.jpgBy Jon Lane
Yankees fans were able to party early when the Angels rallied off Jonathan Papelbon and eliminate the Red Sox Sunday afternoon. Alas, be careful what you wish for.

En route to their first World Championship, the Angels knocked out the Yankees in four games in the 2002 Division Series and have been a thorn in their side since. Three years later, the Halos took it to the Bronx Bombers again, this time in five games, and have frequently given the Yankees fits during the regular season, owning a 35-23 edge since 2003.

The teams split 10 games this year, the last a thrilling 3-2 win September 23 that secured the Yankees’ first series win in Anaheim since May 2004. But when the Yankees and Angels open the American League Championship Series on Friday, the Yankees own the all-important home field advantage; including the postseason they’re 59-24 at Yankee Stadium in ’09.

“It’s going to come down who is going to pitch best, who is going to hit in the clutch,” said Jorge Posada. “You know, home field advantage is going to help a little bit. I think that’s the key to this series, having four games at home is going to change.”

Another critical difference is the postseason resurgence of Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod batted .455 with two homers and six RBIs in the three-game sweep of the Twins. And before you point out he had similar success against them in ’04 before the playoff flame out that dogged him since Game 5 of the ’04 ALCS, consider that Rodriguez was .333-5-9 in 10 games versus L.A. during the season.

The recent and distant past will be moot come Friday, but it’s a different time, Rodriguez is a different person and both are different teams.

“We have a huge challenge in front of us,” said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “Before we talk about a Freeway Series [against the Dodgers] we’re going to have to beat an incredible team in the Yankees. These guys just don’t give up.”

_______________________

The teams meet in a rematch of the 2005 ALDS, when after winning Game 1 the Yankees lost the series in five games.

Active holdovers from that team: Vladimir Guerrero, Chone Figgins, Juan Rivera, John Lackey, Scot Shields, Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders.

A snapshot look at the regular season matchup and respective team leaders:

Records
Yankees: 103-59
Angels: 97-65

Season Series: Series tied 5-5

Memorable Game
September 14: A night the Yankees beat the Angels at their own game and marked by Joe Girardi’s unorthodox decision to pinch-run Brett Gardner for Mark Teixeira in the eighth inning. Gardner slid into third on the front end of a double steal and raced home with what turned out to be the winning run on catcher Mike Napoli’s throwing error.

Old Friends
Jose Molina (played for the Angels 2001-07)
Bobby Abreu (played for the Yankees 2006-08)
Juan Rivera (played for the Yankees 2001-03)

Team leaders
Batting

Yankees: Derek Jeter (.334)
Angels: Erick Aybar (.312)

Home Runs
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (39)
Angels: Kendry Morales (34)

Runs Batted In
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (122)
Angels: Kendry Morales (108)

Wins
Yankees: CC Sabathia (19)
Angels: Joe Saunders (16)

ERA
Yankees: CC Sabathia (3.37)
Angels: Jered Weaver (3.75)

Strikeouts
Yankees: CC Sabathia (197)
Angels: Jered Weaver (174)

Saves
Angels: Mariano Rivera (44)
Angels: Brian Fuentes (48)

Projected Pitching Matchups
Game 1 (Friday, 7:37 p.m.): John Lackey (11-8, 3.83) vs. CC Sabathia (19-7, 3.21)
Game 2 (Saturday, 7:37 p.m.): Jered Weaver (16-8, 3.75) vs. A.J. Burnett (12-9, 4.10)
Game 3 (Monday, TBA): Andy Pettitte (14-7, 4.11) vs. Scott Kazmir (10-9, 4.89)
Game 4 (Tuesday, TBA): Sabathia/Chad Gaudin (6-2, 3.43) vs. Joe Saunders  (16-7, 4.60)

Yet another A-Rod believer

By Jon Lane
Line up the fearless forecasters. There’s Reggie Jackson, Joe Girardi and now Dennis Eckersley. Working as an analyst for TBS, Eckersley explains how Alex Rodriguez staying out of the spotlight helped him during the regular season. It’s similar to what I said before the season ended: The best thing to happen to A-Rod is that nobody is talking about him, especially remarkable considering he’s dating A-List actress Kate Hudson.

“The spotlight hasn’t really been on A-Rod,” Eckersley said. “When you think about what he went through at the start of the year with the steroid thing. He’s been laying in the weeds because there are so many stars in New York. He probably loves it. I think that will play into these playoffs. I think he is going to show up for these playoffs because I don’t think the pressure is what it was (before).”

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be a native Bostonian and Red Sox fan, offered this succinct analysis of A-Rod’s Game 1 performance: “That’s something new for Mr. April.” Yeah it’s one game, but it’s the time when reputations are made and stories are re-written. Rodriguez has to finish the job, but he won over some new believers Wednesday night.