By Jon Lane
It’s cold (again) and rain – lots of it – is threatening the New York metropolitan area (again), but the Yankees are taking batting practice in preparations for Game 2 of the ALCS.
Courtesy of STATS Inc., the Yankees, Angels and MLB, here are a few nuggets to know and what to watch for.
First and foremost, the weather report: Weather.com’s hour-by-hour forecast pegs a 40 percent chance of showers at 8 p.m. and 55 percent by 9. We were supposed to get soaked last night, but it held off and CC Sabathia was awesome. In the event of a rainout, the current speculation has the teams playing here tomorrow at 4:30 and flying to Anaheim afterwards to play Game 3 Monday at 1 p.m. California time.
Starting lineups: As expected, Jose Molina is catching A.J. Burnett and batting ninth. For the Angels Maicer Izturis (2B) and Mike Napoli (C) are in for Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis, respectively.
Pitching matchup: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) vs. Joe Saunders (16-7, 4.60)
Burnett finished his first season in pinstripes very strong. Since September 18 he has 34 strikeouts and a 1.80 ERA. Joe Girardi this afternoon reiterated why Molina is in and Jorge Posada is back on the bench. “Molina caught A.J. in the last round,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you have to make sacrifices and our players have done that all year long.” Throwing to Molina, Burnett gave up a run in six innings in Game 2 of the ALDS and was 5-2, 3.28 in 11 starts as one-half of this battery. His final six starts of the season were all caught by Molina (3-1, 2.92).
And still wondering why Burnett and not Andy Pettitte is Girardi’s Game 2 starter? He was 5-3, 3.51 at Yankee Stadium and the Yankees were 12-4 in those starts.
Saunders went undefeated over his final eight starts (7-0, 2.55) and the Angels are 42-19 in his last 61 regular season starts, but hasn’t pitched since October 4 (five innings in a season-ending 5-3 win).
Historical precedents: Game 1 winners have won the ALCS 23 out of 39 times (59 percent). Since 1985 and the advent of the seven-game series, 12 of 23 (52 percent) have advanced to the World Series. However, the team losing Game 1 in six out of the last nine ALCS have rallied to win the league pennant. Since 1999, the Bombers have not lost Game 2 of an LCS, going 5-0 in that span. Their last LCS Game 2 loss came to Cleveland in a 12-inning game in 1998.
Stalled: A big storyline coming into the ALCS was the Yankees controlling the Angels’ feared baserunning. The best way to do that is keep the top of their order off the bases. Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu are two of the Angels’ best players. However, their one-two punch combined to go 0-for-8 in Game 1 with three strikeouts. Figgins is 0-for-16 in the postseason. Somehow the Angels swept the Red Sox in three games, but it’s imperative they get their sparkplug re-ignited.
Throwing out the first pitch: Tino Martinez.
On the Stadium jukebox: Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” Jacko’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
Highlights from Girardi’s press briefing: Look for roughly a 45-minute time limit for Burnett to sit around in the event of an in-game rain delay. If it gets past that, Girardi will go to the bullpen early. “You have to be smart about it,” he said.
On having any advantage over a warm-weather team at this time of year: “I don’t think it’s such a huge advantage because they do play in cold
weather cities in April. And we were fortunate — two of the teams in
our division (Blue Jays, Rays) that you play early have domes, and one of them is actually in
a warm place. And when we went to Boston earlier it was 80
degrees. It was one of our hottest days, so I really don’t think it’s
much of an advantage.”
Game 3 starter Andy Pettitte is still with the club. The team had not yet decided to fly him west ahead of time.
Back with a lot more later. On the field working pregame, Chris Shearn chatted with Kevin Long, Phil Hughes and Michael Kay.
7:21 p.m. So far, so good for an on-time first pitch. The grounds crew is prepping the field while fans slowly file in. Some reading material while you wait: Chris Shearn does his best Joe (9=8) Maddon.
7:41 p.m. Weather update: Chance of rain downgraded to 10 percent at 8 p.m., 20 at 9 and 30 at 10.
7:45 p.m. Beautiful rendition of our national anthem by NYC firefighter Regina Wilson.
7:49 p.m. Tino Martinez throws the ceremonial first pitch to Jorge Posada.A minute later the Bleacher Creatures applauded A.J. Burnett as he left the bullpen flanked by Jose Molina and Dave Eiland.
7:57 p.m. Nick Swisher salutes the Creatures with a fist pump. Burnett’s first pitch is a strike to Chone Figgins. Game time temperature is 47 degrees.
8:05 p.m. Torii Hunter earned himself a cheap two-out double when he fisted a blooper that landed just inside the right field foul line, but on his next pitch Burnett got Vladimir Guerrero to ground out to short. Nice start for A.J. Sixteen pitches, 13 for strikes.
8:19 p.m. Take away a couple a pitches low and a tad outside, Burnett looks sharp. He froze Kendry Morales on a breaking ball to open the second and needed only nine pitches total to work a clean frame.
8:30 p.m. 1-0 Yankees on Robinson Cano’s triple. Those two-out walks (this to Nick Swisher) kill you every time.
8:46 p.m. The natives were getting restless, but Burnett survived a two-out walk to Chone Figgins to retire Bobby Abreu on a fly ball to center.
8:52 p.m. Derek Jeter – again. HR to right field, the first of the ALCS. 2-0, Yankees. Jeter’s second of this postseason and the 19th of his career. He passes Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle for sole possession of third place on the baseball’s all-time list.
9:04 p.m. Teixeira is having an amazing defensive game. First he does his best Henrik Lundqvist impersonation, saving A-Rod from a throwing error. Then he stretches to his left to catch Jose Molina’s throw to first after Guerrero’s swing and miss hit dirt and ricocheted off his leg.
9:07 p.m. Burnett in four scoreless IP: 12 of 15 first-pitch strikes.
9:41 p.m. Good A.J. electrifies an audience. Bad A.J. sucks the life out of it. A bases-loaded wild pitch just tied the game. David Robertson is getting warm. Guerrero’s ground out mercifully ends the top of the fifth, but Burnett threw 33 pitches and started every batter except one with a ball. He’s thrown 90 in the game and Molina is due up second. If we see Posada, that’s the cue Burnett’s night is over.
9:45 p.m. Nope, Molina is batting. Watch Good A.J. return to retire the side in the sixth.
9:52 p.m. Replays show Jeter was safe on his double-play grounder. Another impeccable job by the umpires this postseason.
10:01 p.m. What did I tell you? Three up, three down in the sixth. That’s 105 pitches for Burnett. It’s looking like Joba Time in the seventh.
10:08 p.m. Not a good past two innings for the Yankees. There was the never-ending fifth, and in the sixth Teixeira reached first on a throwing error, but A-Rod flied out and Hideki Matsui grounded into an double play.
10:12 p.m. Burnett is starting the seventh. Hang on a second. Andy Pettitte is yanked from Game 3 of the DS with 81 pitches in 6 1/3 superlative innings and Burnett is still in this game – AND he’s facing a lefty hitter after retiring the righty Napoli. Someone please explain.
10:14 p.m. Phil Coke now coming in to face Figgins. To give Burnett credit, there would have been two out if not for Cano’s error. Burnett gets a nice ovation and responds with a tip of the cap.
10:26 p.m. Joba Time: Loud applause as Joba enters to “Shout at the Devil.” Nice job by Coke rebounding from his walk to Figgins to strike out Abreu, a professional hitter. Joba Chamberlain to face Torii Hunter with two on and two out in the biggest confrontation of the game.
10:37 p.m. Save the Joba to the bullpen debate for the offseason. That was a great job whiffing Guerrero with a nasty slider to leave the bases loaded and the game tied at two. It has been a nail biter, just ask Kate Hudson.
10:53 p.m. The Yankees are morphing into the Twins. A sure inning-ending double play ball is booted by – of all people – Derek Jeter. That would have restored faith in Phil Hughes, whose ALDS ERA was 9.00.
10:59 p.m. Faith restored. Hughes fans pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr., but Girardi isn’t fooling around. Mariano Rivera is in the game with two out in the eighth to face Erick Aybar with runners on first and second.
11:01 p.m. Mariano the Magnificent. The Angels have stranded 10 runners and are 2-for-10 with RISP.
11:11 p.m. Figgins can’t buy a hit. Johnny Damon robs him with a stumbling catch to open the ninth.
11:16 p.m. Hey Yankees fans:
Your team led the Majors with 15 walk-off wins and had one in Game 2 of
the ALDS. Teixeira, A-Rod & Matsui in the ninth.
11:45 p.m. Amazing. What was supposed to be a double-play is instead one out and the winning run at second because Aybar straddled the bag and failed to step on it. The Angels are putting Jeter on intentionally for lefty Darren Oliver to face Johnny Damon. Fans are already chanting Damon’s name.
11:53 p.m. Does anyone want to win this game? The teams are a combined 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and have left 17 men on base (11 by the Angels). Teixeira is 0-for-5 and hasn’t hit a ball out of the infield.
12:01 a.m. From the impeccable timing department: It begins to rain four hours after first pitch and Chone Figgins snaps a hitless streak of 19 at-bats with an RBI single off Alfredo Aceves to put L.A. ahead 3-1. Damon has no arm in left and Aybar can fly, but the throw was closer than you’d expect. Still, this is shaping up to be another galling loss to Scioscia’s Angels unless the Yankees can summon that walk-off magic one more time.
12:11 a.m. Unbelievable.
12:17 a.m. Onto the 12th of an endless game and it’s raining a bit harder. Bellow all the A-Rod superlatives you want, but Aceves and to make it stand and someone has to make it count.
12:22 a.m. Memo to Marte: You have one job. Get it done.
12:25 a.m. He got it done. David Robertson coming in. Chad Gaudin the last man in the pen, just like last Friday.
By 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:
Season Series: Series tied 5-5
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.
Jose Molina (played for the Angels 2001-07)
Bobby Abreu (played for the Yankees 2006-08)
Juan Rivera (played for the Yankees 2001-03)
Yankees: Derek Jeter (.334)
Angels: Erick Aybar (.312)
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (39)
Angels: Kendry Morales (34)
Runs Batted In
Yankees: Mark Teixeira (122)
Angels: Kendry Morales (108)
Yankees: CC Sabathia (19)
Angels: Joe Saunders (16)
Yankees: CC Sabathia (3.37)
Angels: Jered Weaver (3.75)
Yankees: CC Sabathia (197)
Angels: Jered Weaver (174)
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)
By Jon Lane
Thurman Munson’s death resonates amongst Yankees players, alumni and fans just as strong as it did that tragic afternoon 30 years ago on August 2, 1979. I was only six when Munson perished, yet in years since, and especially researching and writing my tribute to No. 15, I felt like I too lost someone I knew. I found myself asking the same questions: Why did he have to fly that airplane? Why did a stupid tree stump — graphically explained in Marty Appel’s book — block his means of escape? Why did he have to die so young? Why?
Cory Lidle wasn’t Thurman Munson. He wasn’t a Yankee staple, nor was he a borderline Hall of Famer. But Lidle was a Yankee who had his moments during his brief tenure in the Bronx once he and Bobby Abreu arrived in a 2006 trade-deadline deal with the Phillies. And he was someone who I got to know, one player I associated with even when the tape recorder was turned off. Unlike Munson, Lidle was eager to speak with the media, yet like Munson he was an everyman, one who made the absolute best of his limited talent.
So friendly was Lidle, I’ll never forget the day of his Yankees debut. It was at Yankee Stadium and I was in the clubhouse before the game. The golden rule in covering baseball is never — EVER — utter one word to that day’s starting pitcher. These guys’ rituals varied, from David Wells blasting heavy metal over the clubhouse sound system, to Orlando Hernandez dancing to whatever was playing over his iPod, to Randy Johnson staring into his locker, Pantera playing softly on his radio, and trying to burn a hole through the wall.
The rule was simple: Don’t go within 25 feet of that game’s starter, or risk complete embarrassment and humiliation for doing something so stupid. Yet here was Lidle walking towards his locker. I was in the middle of his path and in near panic looked to get out of his way – quickly. He looked towards me, lifted his head, smiled and asked, “How you doing?”
Lidle pitched six innings to defeat the Blue Jays, 6-1, and afterwards the noted sweet tooth — then Phillies reliever Arthur Rhodes ripped Lidle in the press, explaining that he ate ice cream during games, in response to Lidle’s description of a nonchalant clubhouse — found his locker littered with ice-cream sandwiches. After the media dispersed I asked about the beginning of the next phase of a well-traveled. He proceeded to pull me aside and say, “Let me tell you about my debut at the Astrodome in May of 1997 ….” The bulk of the media reported delicious irony. Lidle remembered the details of the first three batters he faced as a New York Met.
Cory Lidle and passenger Tyler Stanger were killed on October 11, 2006 when a plane registered in his name crashed into a building on New York’s Upper East Side, mere days after Lidle – he had cleaned out his locker after the Yankees were eliminated in the ALDS and took some heat in light of comments suggesting the team was unprepared – told me and several writers off the record about a planned cross country flight to California. After taking off, the first leg was to be an aerial tour of Manhattan.
I found out while home one day and fielding a phone call from my mother-in-law. She told me to turn on the TV because a Yankee was in a plane crash. It took about a minute to put it together before I told myself, “Oh no. Not Cory. Don’t tell me it was Cory.”
I ended up asking similar questions I would about Munson. Three days ago he told us he was taking that trip. Why did he have to fly? Why?
Lidle wasn’t Munson, but he was a Yankee, a husband and a father in the prime of his life. My old colleague and mentor Phil Pepe was haunted by the eerie similarities between the two tragedies. In a column penned one week after Lidle’s death, Pepe retold the popular story of the late-night meal during which Munson extended him an invite to take a trip in his beloved jet.
I chatted with Lidle before he left the clubhouse for what was likely the final time as Yankee. He was a pending free agent and unlikely to return, so I told him it was great to know him, wished him luck and hoped that we’d reconnect down the road. His response was something that three days later hit me – and hit me hard:
“It’s all good, man. I have my wife and my family, so everything is great. I have my whole life ahead of me.”
Once I saw the image of a burning building on the news with the confirmation that Lidle was on that airplane, I was shattered. Yankees fans honor Munson to this day, deservedly so. I honor Munson, a person I never met, in my own way, and I thank God for the brief time Lidle was in my life.