On a thoroughly miserable night for baseball in the Bronx, the Angels out-slugged the Yankees 11-7 to grab a 2-1 series lead. It rained throughout, and though the grounds crew did an admirable job of keeping the field in order, there were puddles on the warning track and the fielders consistently had problems getting a good handle on the ball all night long. This was a game that Yankee announcer Michael Kay would no doubt call "unmanagable." It featured awful starting pitching, and some predictably sloppy fielding, however it also boasted some fine hitting, timely relief pitching and a few crucial defensive gems too.
Neither starting pitcher was sharp. Randy Johnson, in one of his worst games of the year, had nothing. In his biggest start as a Yankee, he decidedly came up empty. After getting two outs in the first, Vlad Guererro singled to right and then Benji Molina hit a high fastball (out of the zone but over the plate) into center for a base hit. Garret Anderson followed and golfed a long three-run dinger into the bleachers (the first of four terrific "guesses" he'd have on the night). In the third, Orlando Cabrera drove an 0-2 fastball that was around his eyes into right for a double. Two batters later, Molina--having the time of his life--hit his third home run in as many games, and the Halos were quickly up 5-0.
The hits that both Molina and Cabrera got off those high fastballs gave me the feeling that they knew what was coming. Whether or not Johnson was tipping his pitches, it certainly seems plausible. But as Joe Morgan said later in the game, it wasn't only that Johnson was missing his location: his stuff wasn't any good either. The combination chased the Big Unit from the game with two men on and nobody out in the fourth inning. He was booed loudly after the third inning and the fans gave it to him again (albeit less viciously) as he left the mound for perhaps the final time of the season.
Aaron Small came into the game and struck out Adam Kennedy. Next, Chone Figgins hit a hard grounder to second. Robinson Cano made a nice back hand stop, then slickly flipped the ball under hand to Jeter who threw to first to complete the double play. It was a highlight reel moment and one that temporarily changed the momentum of the game.
Paul Byrd pitched reasonalby well over the first three innings but Hideki Matsui greeted him with an opposite field home run to start the bottom of the fourth. Cano reached on an infield single and then Bernie Williams chopped a slow grounder through the right side for a base hit. Tino Martinez tapped out to first moving the runners along and then Jorge Posada pinch-hit for John Flaherty and bounced out to first driving in the second run of the game for the home team. Jeter followed with an RBI single and when Alex Rodriguez walked (after being down 0-2), Byrd's night was over.
Brendan Donnelly got Jason Giambi to hit a ground ball off the end of the bat right where the shortstop normally plays. But since the Angels had the shift on, the ball squirted into left and Jeter came around to score. Then Sheffield rocketed a low line drive to center. Figgins charged and made a diving catch to save a run and the lead for the Angels. It was the second ball that Sheffield rocketed to Figgins with nothing to show for it.
After Small worked a one-two-three fifth, Matsui walked and then came around to score on Cano's triple to the gap in left center. The rookie scored the tying run when Bernie Williams lifted a sac fly to left field. Scot Shields was now in the game and he struck out both Tino and Posada with some nasty breaking pitches to end in the inning.
Small could not hold the lead. A double by Juan Rivera and a single by Daren Erstad tied the game, and with two outs Chone Figgins, who was 0-11 in the series at that point, dropped a base hit in front of Bernie Williams to give the Angels the lead.
They wouldn't look back. The story for the rest of the game was the superiority of the Angels' bullpen. Shields loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth (infield single by Rodriguez, walks to Sheffield and Matsui), but got Cano to swing at the first pitch and fly out to left to escape unscathed. (Matsui got the best pitch to hit in the inning--a belt-high 2-2 fastball that he fouled off...Damn!) Meanwhile, the Halos added two more in the seventh and another two in the eighth while Kelvim Escobar locked the Yankees down for two innings (the only blip being a solo homer by Jeter). Anderson ended up with four hits and five RBI, and the Angels pulled off a beautifully executed squeeze that would have made Billy Martin proud.
In the end the Yankees could not survive Johnson's lousy start or the general ineffectiveness of their bullpen. Even Flash Gordon had nothing as the Angels ended the game with 19 hits. Clearly, Johnson deserves the biggest goat horns of the night for New York; I can only imagine how he'll be roasted in the papers tomorrow. And although not as much was expected from him, Paul Byrd didn't do much to dignify himself tonight either. As has become his custom, Robinson Cano helped his team with the bat and the glove, and also cost them with both as well (first pitch swining with the bases loaded in the sixth after the two walks as well as a critical error in the seventh). The Yankee offense wasn't so much to blame, but the pen couldn't hold the lead. Sound familiar? For the Angels, Anderson and Figgins were the brighest stars and they came up with huge performances.
The rain is scheduled to keep on coming through tomorrow. We should expect more slop tomorrow. These are not good conditions for baseball, but the Yankees cannot use the weather as an alibi tonight. In his most important game as a Yankee, Randy Johnson got pounded. That is likely what we'll remember about this one as time passes. Hopefully, they can rebound behind Shawn Chacon in Game Four and bring the series back to California. For now, the Yankees, and their fans feel soaked.