Why do Yankee fans loathe the Angels so? There's the simple fact that no other team, not even the Red Sox, has a winning record against the Yankees since Joe Torre's arrival in the Bronx in 1996. Derek Jeter is fond of saying that boos on the road are the same as cheers at home. Yankee fans hate the Angels because the Angels have tortured them over the past decade. Indeed, with last night's win, the Angels won the season series from the Yankees for the fourth year in a row. Here's another simple fact: Since the end of World War II, only two teams have defeated the Yankees more than once in the postseason. The first is the Dodgers, against whom the Yankees hold a 7-3 advantage in postseason play (all World Series, of course, the most recent coming in 1981). The other is the Angels, who are 2-0 against the Yankees in the postseason, knocking them out in the first round twice in the last five years.
Quick note on last night's game: Phil Hughes said after the game that he knew from the get-go that he didn't have his stuff. Given that, it's pretty impressive that he was able to hold the Angels down after giving up that bases-clearing double to Jeff Mathis on a hanging curve in the second (though Hughes was charged with five runs in total, Luis Vizcaino had as much to do with the last two as Hughes did). Hughes was also really bothered by the five walks he issued. He said he wasn't sure he'd ever given up five walks total in back-to-back starts before, let alone in a single start. Looking over his minor league record without the benefit of game logs, he could very well be right. Hughes walked just 66 men in 54 minor league appearances (53 of them starts).
As for tonight, here's hoping Mike Mussina has his stuff (or his scuff). He sure as heck didn't in his last start in the opener against the Tigers. Moose had four strong start before that however and, unlike Hughes, has walked just four men over his last five starts, that disaster included. Mussina last faced the Halos in late May, turning in a strong outing (6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 6 K, 0 HR), only to have the Yankee offense struggle and Scott Proctor blow the Yankees' slim lead. Sometimes it seems that could describe every game the Yankees have played against the Angels over the past four years.
The Yanks really have their work cut out for them tonight as they face one of the hottest pitchers in the league. Kelvim Escobar is second in the AL with a 2.68 ERA, but he's been far better than that over the last two months. In his last start in June, Escobar allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings to the Orioles. Since then he's posted a 1.56 ERA, averaged 7 1/3 innings per starts, and allowed one, count it, one home run in eight starts (congratulations, Travis Buck). Escobar has allowed more than one earned run in just two of those eight starts and in his last outing he struck out nine Blue Jays in seven innings and walked none. The Yankees last faced Escobar the day before Mussina's start in late May and saw more of the same: 7 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 0 HR. Yes, Escobar is pitching over his head, but only slightly. His BABIP is a favorable, but not fluky, .289, and he's been succeeding beyond his usual level by suppressing hits and homers. He has not, however shown the increase in groundball rate that might explain those decreased rates.
There are some positives the Yankees can latch on to. First, 15 of the 17 men who have tried to steal against Escobar this season have been successful, that's a tremendous 88 percent success rate (on his career, baserunners have stolen at an 80 percent clip). Second, though Escobar has dominated his last eight starts, the Angels have only won five of them due to poor run support. Over that stretch, the Halos have scored just 3.5 runs per game on Escobar's behalf. Of course they just dropped seven on the Yanks last night, but you gotta have something to cling to, right?
With Jorge Posada having caught five games in a row including ten innings last night, Jose Molina starts behind the plate against his old team tonight. The hot-hitting Andy Phillips is at first. Jason Giambi will DH.