The first pitch Bartolo Colon threw in last night's game buzzed past Derek Jeter at 95 miles per hour for a strike. The second pitch he threw resulted in a Jeter groundout to third. Colon then struck out Alex Rodriguez on three pitches and got ahead of Jason Giambi with strike one. The Angel ace was dealing. After his seventh pitch was called for a ball, the first he threw on the night, Colon unleashed another 95 mile per hour heater that tailed down and in on Giambi.
Giambi, who at the beginning of the season appeared incapable of getting around even on low-90s heat, turned on the pitch and lined it into right for a single. Colon then got ahead of Gary Sheffield 0-2 and attempted to put him away with a similar pitch on the outside corner, but Sheffield stuck out his rear and poked the pitch into right for another single, pushing Giambi to second. Hideki Matsui followed with a seven pitch at-bat that ended with yet another single to right, loading the bases for Robinson Cano's first postseason appearance.
After a quick visit to the mound by Angels pitching coach Bud Black, Colon started Cano off with just his second ball of the night. The rookie second baseman then took a strike to even the count and fouled off another to fall behind 1-2. After Colon again evened the count with another ball, Cano hit a laser down the third base line foul, then creamed the sixth pitch he saw over Garret Anderson's head in left, clearing the bases and giving the Yankees a 3-0 lead.
As it turns out, that was all the Yankees would need. Despite Joe Torre's confidence, even Mike Mussina wasn't sure what he'd bring to the mound pitching on six days rest and coming off a dreadful outing in Baltimore (2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 R) last week. As it turns out, Mussina had everything working. His fastball hit 91 miles per hour, his control was excellent, and his knuckle curve was sharp.
After striking out Chone Figgins on a sinking fastball to start the game, Mussina surrendered a hard single on a hanging curve to Orlando Cabrera, then recovered to get Garret Anderson to ground out. He finished the inning with a perfect at-bat against Vladimir Guerrero. Staying away from the Impaler, Moose caught the outside corner twice with his first three pitches to get ahead 1-2. He then threw a perfect pitch low and away that Guerrero lunged at, practically picking it out of the dirt and tapping it back to the mound for a 1-3 groundout.
The Yanks picked up another two-out run in the second when, after Colon struckout Bernie and Bubba, the Captain delivered a classic opposite field Jeter single. Colon then fell behind Rodriguez 2-0. His next pitch was a fastball that sailed up and in, striking Rodriguez in the back just below the ribs (after the game Alex said, "It hit me in a good spot: my fat"). It was a frightening moment as Rodriguez writhed around in the batters box for a while before taking his base. Fortunately Rodriguez appeared to be okay (though he did go 0 for 3 on the night). Jason Giambi then made Colon pay by turning on another mid-90s Colon heater to drive Jeter home with a double, giving the Yankees a 4-0 lead.
Mussina looked less sharp in the bottom of the second. After striking out Darin Erstad by coming after him with a 90-mile-per-hour heater, he needed all 400 feet of Angel Stadium's center field to contain a Bengie Molina fly out. Juan Rivera then singled into right and Steve Finley followed with a grueling nine-pitch at bat that concluded with Finley creaming a pitch into the corner in right. Fortunately for the Yankees, Finley's ball bounced over the short wall in right for a ground rule double, thus holding Rivera at third base. Mussina then got Adam Kennedy to fly out to left to end the inning.
From there the two starters settled down, allowing just three more baserunners combined until the bottom of the sixth, when Vladimir Guerrero singled on Mussina's 98th pitch of the night. That brought Joe Torre out to the mound and Mussina, who hadn't thrown more than 81 pitches in his last four starts dating back to August 24, out of the game.
With a man on first, a four-run lead, and the weak-hitting lefty Darin Erstad due up, Torre decided to try Al Leiter out in the LOOGY role. Leiter threw ball one to Erstad, but recovered with a pair of strikes, one called and one swinging. On the latter, Guerrero broke for second, but got a terrible jump. Jorge Posada sprung out of his crouch and fired to Jeter at second, his throw beating Guerrero to the bag by a mile for the final out of the inning. The replay showed that Jeter actually missed Guerrero with the tag, but he also blocked the umpire's view with his body and the ball beat Guerrero by so much that Vlad didn't bother to argue.
Given another shot at Erstad in the seventh, Leiter struck him out on four pitches. Torre then turned to Tanyon Sturtze to pitch to the righty Bengie Molina only to have Sturtze surrender a moon shot to dead center to make it 4-1 Yanks. As Tom Gordon hurriedly warmed in the pen, Sturtze got Juan Rivera to ground out, finally yielding to Gordon after throwing a grand total of six pitches to two batters. Gordon's first batter was Steve Finley, who ripped a ball to the wall in right only to have Gary Sheffield track it down for the final out. Gordon then worked a 1-2-3 eighth aided by another inning ending catch at the wall by Sheffield.
As per the October tradition, Torre then turned to Mariano Rivera to finish the job in the ninth. Rivera was greeted by a fly out to the warning track in dead center by Garret Anderson. Vlad Guerrero then worked a seven-pitch walk and stole second (this time he was clearly safe as it took an impressive leap by Jeter to keep Posada's throw from sailing into center field). Darin Erstad followed with a hard chopper up the middle that Robinson Cano attempted to backhand only to have the ball bound under his glove for a single, scoring Guerrero and bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Bengie Molina, who had homered in his previous plate appearance.
Molina hacked at the first pitch he saw sending the ball into the hole between third and short. Derek Jeter raced over and gloved the ball, spinning and throwing to Cano at second just in time to force out Erstad. Cano then turned and threw to first to try to double up the laughably slow Molina. Unfortunately, his throw tailed down and up the line and Tino Martinez, in for Giambi at first, was unable to scoop it for the final out (though he did keep it from skipping by him).
While it was clear that Cano should have gotten his body in front of Erstad's chopper, which at the very least would have kept Guerrero from scoring, the play on Molina's ball is open to more debate. The way I saw it, it didn't look like a play that was likely to result in two outs and I credit Cano with having the awareness of Molina's lack of speed to attempt to get the second out at first. Others might accuse Cano of not thinking double play all the way with Molina coming down the line, and indeed there was a slight hesitation before Cano turned to throw to first. That said, it was a fantastic play by Jeter to get the speedy Erstad at second. With his momentum going toward third base, Jeter's throw was all arm and Cano had to stretch for it, which is most likely what was most responsible for his hesitation.
At any rate, it didn't matter. Having failed to pinch-hit Robb Quinlan for Erstad against Leiter in the sixth and seventh, let alone start Casey Kotchman in Erstad's place, Mike Scioscia sent the left-handed Kotchman to the plate to face Mariano's cutter in place of the right-handed Juan Rivera. Representing the tying run, Kotchman took ball one, fouled off strike one, then had his bat sawed off at the handle by a Rivera cutter that he popped up to Alex Rodriguez to end the game, giving the Yankees a 4-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in the series.
HEROES AND GOATS
Robinson Cano despite his questionable fielding in the ninth and the fact that he saw just four pitches in his last three at-bats, going 0 for 3 in those trips, Cano delivered the game-breaking hit at the end of an excellent six-pitch at bat in the first. For that bases-loaded, bases-clearing double, as well as an excellent play ranging to his left to retire Figgins leading off the third, Cano gets the top spot.
Mike Mussina he only lasted 5 2/3 (though I think he could have gotten Erstad to finish the sixth), but he didn't allow a single run all night. Coming into the game a complete unknown, Mussina made Joe Torre look like a genius by allowing just five hits and walking none while striking out four and throwing 68 percent of his 98 pitches for strikes.
Gary Sheffield 2 for 4 with a key hit in the two-out rally in the first, also made a pair of tough running catches at the wall to end the seventh and eighth innings.
Jason Giambi 2 for 4, turned around a pair of mid-90s heaters for a two-out single that started the rally in the first and a two-out double that plated the Yankees fourth run of the game in the second.
Derek Jeter 2 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base, singled with two outs in the second and came around to score on Giambi's double, made that crucial play in the ninth on Molina's grounder to get the penultimate out of the game.
Hideki Matsui only reached base once, but it was part of that first-inning rally. He also made a nice sliding catch in foul territory to end the fifth with a runner on first.
Bengie Molina 1 for 4 with a home run that broke up the shutout
Steve Finley 1 for 3, saw 22 pitches in three at-bats (compared to 10 in four trips for Cano), his ground rule double was the only Angel extra base hit other than Molina's homer, and he hit another shot off Tom Gordon that Sheffield tracked down at the wall.
Vlad Guerrero 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base, scored the only other Angel run.
Bartolo Colon he eventually settled down, but he put his team in a hole right away.
Garret Anderson 0 for 4 and it could be said that with a better jump he could have caught Cano's double in the first.
Mike Scioscia terrible line-up construction and poor in-game management (specifically his deployment or lack thereof of pitch-hitters) forced his team to play this game at a disadvantage.
Chone Figgins the igniter failed to reach base all night and informed FOX that Rocky V is his favorite movie
Vlad Guerrero special double mention for that inning-ending caught stealing in the sixth.
Tanyon Sturtze Called upon to get two outs, he instead gave up the first Angel run of the game on a solo homer by Bengie Molina.
The Yankees got their split and look to go home with a chance to sweep by sending Chien-Ming Wang against John Lackey in Game Two.