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BILL DWYRE

Angels freeze up in Game 1

The Angels' performance on a cold night at Yankee Stadium is 'uncharacteristically' brittle, costing them a 4-1 defeat in opener of AL Championship Series.

October 17, 2009|BILL DWYRE

A Nor'easter blew into Yankee Stadium on Friday night and apparently carried away many of the Angels' fine motor skills.

If they wrote a novel about this first game of the Yankees-Angels American League Championship Series, it would begin with something like: "It was a cold and crummy night . . . "

The Angels denied that their 4-1 defeat had anything to do with the weather. That denial is understandable, since they have to play another game here tonight, in weather forecast to be much worse. Also, to blame weather in sports is to be a wimp.

Johnny Damon, the Yankees left fielder who went two for five and scored two runs, perhaps had the benefit of victory in making a more candid assessment afterward.

"This weather can do a lot," he said. "It was OK for the first six or seven innings, but the last three, it really got cold. And the wind was tough. The ball Vlad [Guerrero] hit [in the fourth inning], I could have sworn that was going out, but the wind held it in."

They announced the temperature at game time as 45 degrees. If it truly was, it was the coldest 45 degrees on record. The guy sending the temperature readings to weather.com was apparently doing so while grilling hamburgers at a concession stand.

In addition to a press box full of sportswriters typing in stocking caps and gloves and looking as if they were covering the Iditarod instead of baseball, the game featured lots of ugliness in the Angels' performance.

It began innocently enough. The word Manager Mike Scioscia used was "uncharacteristic."

The Yankees were already a run ahead in the first inning when the "uncharacteristic" unraveling began. The run came on Alex Rodriguez's sacrifice fly, which started out as if it was going to clear the huge screen in center field and ended up in Torii Hunter's glove as he sprinted toward the infield. Think of it as an eight-iron becoming a sand wedge. That still was enough to score Derek Jeter from third and leave Damon on second.

Hideki Matsui then lifted a routine popup to the left side of the infield. Standing nearby were third baseman Chone Figgins and shortstop Erick Aybar. When the ball came to earth, they were still standing nearby and Damon, running with two outs, was closing in on home plate. The only positive for the Angels was that neither infielder got hit in the head.

Two errors later, that play seemed to represent the omen that this just wasn't going to be the Angels' night.

The Yankees played baseball and the Angels mostly played kickball. This marked only the third time this season that the Angels, who live on smart baseball and defensive proficiency, made three errors in a game.

"We cracked the door open," Scioscia said, "and they are too good a team to do that and expect to win."

The tack the Angels took afterward, understandably, was that this was just one game of seven, just a bad night, that bouncing back tonight is what they can and will do. Hunter said baseball players in this situation have to have "amnesia." Scioscia said, "We can play better, and we will."

Angels fans would expect nothing less, because a repeat would be the equivalent of two straight "Rocky Horror Picture Shows."

Besides Figgins and Aybar avoiding injury on the popup, Hunter charged a base hit and had it bounce over his glove, then starting pitcher John Lackey made a routine throw to first base wide of the mark and put another Yankee in scoring position.

Also, while the Angels weren't good, they weren't lucky, either.

Guerrero's bomb to left in the fourth would have been a home run anywhere, any time, except in the face of Hurricane Yankee Stadium. Juan Rivera, who played left field for parts of the night as if he were on a skating rink, hit one out in the seventh, but it was about 10 feet foul. On Lackey's errant throw in the sixth, Melky Cabrera dashed to second and barely had time to catch his breath before Jeter drove him in on the next pitch.

The Yankees, of course, deserve credit for playing well and taking advantage of a well-oiled Angels machine that, for some reason, threw a lug nut Friday night, much to the delight of the 49,688 fans.

The Yankees' ace, CC Sabathia, to whom they willed a piece of Fort Knox for games just like this, went eight innings and allowed only four hits.

"That's why he's the bulldog," said an impressed Hunter, who got one of the hits off Sabathia.

Tonight is a chance for redemption. Or, perhaps, frustration. Weather reports call for cold, rain and wind. Think Chicago in December. That could mean an extra day to contemplate Friday's ugliness, which would not be helpful to the Angels.

But hope springs eternal, if not for good weather, than for the right outcome for the Angels in this series. That also keeps alive the ultimate dream for Los Angeles baseball fans:

A World Series matchup between Arte Moreno's Angels and Jamie McCourt's Dodgers.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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