Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

AMERICAN LEAGUE PLAYOFFS ANGELS VS. NEW YORK

Issue Is Underage Blinking

Baseball: Angel 'kids' are new to postseason game, but they're confident they won't be intimidated by playoff-tested Yankees, or hostile Yankee Stadium.

October 01, 2002|BILL SHAIKIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — To the young and impressionable visitor, Yankee Stadium is a haunted house, especially in October. No one here expects the plucky little Angels to challenge the mighty Yankees anyway, and the player whose performance is most critical to the Angels' success sounded awfully young and impressionable Monday.

"I'm going to stand out there," Jarrod Washburn said, "and I'm going to say, 'Holy ... ! We're playing in Yankee Stadium, in October, against Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees!' And I'll say, 'This is pretty cool!' "

In the next breath, Washburn insisted he could control his emotions, and he'd better. Washburn starts tonight, against Clemens, in the Angels' first playoff game in 16 years.

The Angels adjusted their rotation so Washburn, their ace, would start the series opener. No question, really. He won 18 games, most by an Angel pitcher since 1991. He beat the Yankees this year. He went 13-3 on the road. He gave up one home run in September.

Beyond statistics, the Angels rave about Washburn's fearlessness. Clemens has been so good, for so long, that he started against the Angels in their last playoff game--in 1986, for the Boston Red Sox.

Clemens has no fear, and he is not above putting a little fear into the hearts of opposing batters by throwing fastballs high and tight--the higher and tighter, the better.

But this is all new to Washburn, in a stadium in which he should not succeed, facing a lineup against which he should not succeed. Washburn throws virtually nothing but fastballs, and the Yankees have hit more home runs than any other playoff team, 71 more than the Angels. With the spacious outfield here and all the fly balls likely tonight, center fielder Darin Erstad ought to put on a prime-time fielding clinic.

And, at Yankee Stadium, the bleacher creatures do not just sit in the bleachers. Tonight--yo, it's nothing personal--Washburn will be the most hated man in New York.

"I love it," he said. "Even in high school, every time we went to someone else's place, I was always the hated guy. I've always loved it, and I have no idea why."

Said closer Troy Percival: "It's hard to explain why he won't be affected, but he won't be. He'll probably be out there thinking about going hunting."

If Washburn loses tonight, the Angels might be thinking about going hunting as soon as next week.

Kevin Appier, who starts the second game, has lasted a total of 15 innings in his last three starts. Ramon Ortiz, who starts the third game, hasn't lost since Aug. 9, but the Angels wouldn't take the chance of starting him at Yankee Stadium because he is so excitable.

"Jarrod is more calm out there," catcher Bengie Molina said. "He's the right guy for the part. He gets pumped up, but at the right times. Ramon, you've got to be with him all the time, telling him to calm down."

The Angels lodged modest objections to the local perception that they are little more than first-round fodder for the Yankees. The Yankees won 103 games, four more than the Angels, but the Yankees played Tampa Bay nine more times than the Angels.

"This isn't a fluke," Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said. "These guys know they're a good team, they've shown it and they're ready to move on. When a team wins 99 games, I don't think you can put any other tag on it but championship caliber."

First baseman Scott Spiezio offered a polite retort to the Angels-are-just-happy-to-be-here conventional wisdom. "If you lose in the playoffs," he said, "no one remembers you were there."

Washburn remembers opening day, when he started for the Angels, on national television. He was fired up, so much so that he figured his adrenaline would fuel his fastball. The first five batters reached base, and Washburn put the Angels in a 4-0 hole in the first inning.

"I threw a little harder," he said, "and a lot straighter."

Scioscia said Washburn got a "rude awakening" that night and has learned his lesson. Pitching coach Bud Black, who played for the Kansas City Royals, compared Washburn's mental strength to that of former Kansas City stars George Brett, Hal McRae and Bret Saberhagen.

"Some guys really relish going into a hostile environment," Black said. "He feeds off a hostile environment, where so many players might let it affect them in a negative way.

"His mental makeup is what sets him apart from so many other players."

The environment cannot get more hostile. Tonight, it's feeding time.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|