Chien-Ming Wang and John Lackey both brought their A-game to Angel Stadium last night, but Game Two of the ALDS wasn't decided by pitching, it was decided by defense, third-base defense especially. The Angels played errorless ball, lead by several outstanding plays by Chone Figgins at third and Darin Erstad at first. The Yankees turned a number of excellent plays of their own, but also committed three errors, two of which, including a crucial one by Alex Rodriguez, led directly to four of the five Angels runs. The result was a 5-3 Angel victory to even the series at one game apiece.
Things looked good for the Yankees early on. For the second straight night, the Yankees drew first blood on a hit by Robinson Cano, this time picking up a run on back-to-back doubles by Hideki Matsui and Cano in the second. Meanwhile, his first time through the Angel order, Chien-Ming Wang got all nine batters to hit a ground ball, only two of which found a hole and rolled through the infield for singles. After the second single, off the bat of ninth-place hitter Adam Kennedy to lead off the bottom of the third, Mike Scioscia put on a hit and run on a 1-0 count to Chone Figgins. Despite hitting his spots low in the zone through the first few innings, Wang's pitch sailed high, making it a perfect pitch for Posada to catch and throw to second. Figgins helplessly swung through the pitch and Posada nailed Kennedy at second. Wang then struck out Figgins and got Orlando Cabrera to fly out to right.
The Yankees picked up another run in the top of the fifth when Alex Rodriguez led off with a walk and moved to second on a Jason Giambi double to right center. Curiously, the Angels' middle infielders lined up to receive the throw home, leaving second base uncovered. Had one of them stayed on the bag, they just might have been able to throw Giambi out stretching, which would have made Gary Sheffield's groundout, which plated Rodriguez, the final out of the inning (though one could also speculate that Rodriguez might have been able to dash home had the throw gone to second, though it would have taken some especially savvy baserunning for that to have happened).
Giambi was forced to hold up on Sheffield's grounder, a bouncer in on the grass to third on which Rodriguez broke for home immediately, but he was able to move to third on Lackey's very next pitch, which bounced in the dirt and got behind Bengie Molina. Hideki Matsui then laced Lackey's next pitch to the right of Chone Figgins at third only to have Figgins make a tremendous diving stop and fire to first for the third out, robbing Matsui of an RBI. After the game, both Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez called Figgins' play the turning point in the game.
Indeed, the first crack in Wang's armor appeared following that play in the bottom of the fifth when the Yankee starter fell behind lead-off hitter Juan Rivera 3-1, Wang's first three-ball count of the night. Rivera swung and missed to run the count full, then lifted a home run to dead center to cut the Yankee lead in half.
The real turning point in the game, however, came the next inning when Orlando Cabrera led off the bottom of the sixth with an easy hopper to third base. Alex Rodriguez charged the ball and lifted his hands to catch it head high coming down from a hop, but he closed his glove too early and the ball trickled toward third base and into foul territory putting the tying run on base. Rodriguez seemed so surprised that he had botched the play that he reacted slowly to the ball rolling away and almost allowed Cabrera to take second.
Seemingly unfazed, Wang got Garret Anderson to pop out to Jeter in shallow left and Vlad Guerrero to ground out on another bouncer to Rodriguez, the latter of which moved Cabrera to second with two outs. Wang then got strike one on Bengie Molina, but fell behind 2-1, with Posada making an excellent scoop on ball one in the dirt. During Guerrero's at-bat, Posada kept motioning for a pitch low and away only to have the first pitch almost hit Guerrero in the ear and the next two stay low but tail in and over the plate. Wang's fourth pitch to Molina also missed Posada's target, floating up and in, where the Angel catcher was able to inside out it to right center, sending Cabrera home to tie the game.
Though the logic is somewhat backwards, you have to give Mike Scioscia credit for finally figuring out that Darin Erstad, who grounded out to end the sixth, shouldn't be hitting ahead of Moilna, a major line-up flaw that he corrected last night. Scioscia also gets credit for going to his bullpen early in this game. With his team down 2-1, John Lackey surrendered a one-out double to Bernie Williams in the top of the sixth that by all rights should have been an out, only Steve Finley completely misplayed it, allowing it to go well over his head. Bernie moved to third when Erstad smothered a would-be double down the line by Posada, turning it into a groundout. Lackey then got ahead of Tino Martinez 0-2 only to walk him on four straight balls. With runners at the corners, the top of the Yankee order due up, and his starter up to 98 pitches, Scioscia didn't hesitate to go to his pen, bringing in Scot Shields who got Derek Jeter to ground out to end the inning.
Scioscia then brought on Kelvim Escobar for the seventh. Escobar walked Alex Rodriguez, who was leading off following his error in the bottom of the sixth, but erased him when Rodriguez took off for second with a 1-2 count on Jason Giambi. Again, credit Scioscia who had Escobar pitching out on that delivery, as well as Molina, who threw a strike that beat Rodriguez by ten feet. Escobar then struck out Giambi on his way to retiring five straight Yankees.
Meanwhile, the Angels broke through in the bottom of the seventh. Juan Rivera lead off with yet another bouncer to shortstop, but this one bounced so high, Derek Jeter had to wait under the ball as if it was a pop up and was thus unable to throw out Rivera, despite Rivera's stumbling on his way to first. With Jeff DaVanon in to run for Rivera (now 4 for 6 against his old team in this series), Scioscia had Steve Finley bunt. Finley laid down a beauty that died in front of the plate. Wang charged, but had to rush his throw and wound up pulling Robinson Cano off first. With runners on first and second and still no outs, Scioscia again sacrificed. Adam Kennedy's bunt took a high hop of its own, but Wang was able to get the out at first. He then got Chone Figgins to fly out to shallow center for the second out, holding DaVanon at third. Just one out away from getting out of the inning, Wang left his first pitch to Orlando Cabrera up in the zone and Cabrera laced it into center to plate both runners and give the Angels a 4-2 lead.
With Wang clearly losing his effectiveness, Joe Torre then brought in Al Leiter to face the left-handed Garret Anderson, who flew out to end the inning. Given Leiter's spectacular history against Vlad Guerrero (he's held Vlad to a .173 GPA over 43 at-bats), Torre left Leiter in to face the Angels' big bopper leading off the eighth. Again, Leiter did his job, getting Guerrero to fly out to left on two pitches. Then Torre got greedy, leaving Al in to face Bengie Molina in the hope that he could then retire the lefty Erstad to complete the inning. Leiter got ahead of the Angel catcher 0-2, but then evened the count at 2-2 at which point Molina golfed a breaking pitch into the first row of seats in left to make it 5-2 Angels with Francisco Rodriguez ready to pitch the ninth.
Rodriguez started the ninth inning with a pitch to Jorge Posada that was low and inside in the dirt. His next pitch was a fastball right down the middle and Jorge planted it deep in the bleachers in right center. But that was all the Yankees would get. Tino Martinez struck out and Jeter and Rodriguez both grounded out, ending the Yankees hopes. The final pitch of the game was a full-count curveball from Rodriguez that Alex hit sharply to Figgins at third, who made a nice backhand and a strong throw to first. As well it should have been.
HEROES AND GOATS:
Bengie Molina 2 for 4 with the game-tying single and a solo homer. He also gunned out Rodriguez in the seventh (though he was aided by a pitch out). Molina has two of the four homers hit in this series.
Juan Rivera 2 for 3 with a solo homer which accounted for the first Angel run, and an infield single which turned into the go-ahead run in the seventh. He's now 4 for 6 in the series.
Orlando Cabrera You can't really credit him for scoring the tying run because it was the result of Rodriguez's error and he should have been out, but you can credit him with the game-winning hit.
Chone Figgins He's 0 for 8 and has yet to reach base in the seires despite leading off both games, but his play at third last night could have been the difference in the game.
Kelvim Escobar If we're being honest, John Lackey was losing to Chien-Ming Wang when he was pulled with runners on the corners. He also walked five men in 5 2/3 innings. Escobar, meanwhile, shut the door on the Yanks, retiring five of the six batters he faced and picking up the win.
Jorge Posada 2 for 3 with a walk and a homer off Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth, he also threw out Adam Kennedy on a steal attempt.
Hideki Matsui It's not his fault that Figgins gloved that would-be double. He scored the first run of the game following a double Figgins didn't catch.
Robinson Cano He made an error on an easy play early in the game, but it didn't cost his team as he made a clean play on the very next ball to end that inning. His double was also the only RBI hit of the night for the Yanks other than Posada's home run.
Alex Rodriguez This is a tough call. He walked three times in five trips, stole a base, and turned at least one very nice play in the field. But he's also hitless on the series, got thrown out stealing on a 1-2 count with the score tied in the seventh, and made a crucial error in the sixth.
Chien-Ming Wang Another tough call. Wang allowed just one earned run on six hits and no walks in 6 2/3 IP, but he also made an error that was even more costly than Rodriguez's (even if the play was far more difficult), and made bad pitches to Molina and Cabrera that resulted in the game-tying and game-winning hits.
Garret Anderson 0 for 4 last night and 0 for 8 on the series. He has yet to reach base.
The Yankees travel home for the first time since September 25 today. Tomorrow, they send Randy Johnson to the mound to break the tie against Paul Byrd.