'Up and away' left Angels down and out in ALCS

Closer Brian Fuentes' high-and-outside fastball that Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hit for tying homer in Game 2 was an ill-advised pitch, but that's hardly the only issue Angels face in a series they trail, 2-0.

October 19, 2009|MIKE DiGIOVANNA

From center field in Yankee Stadium on Saturday night, Torii Hunter saw catcher Jeff Mathis call for an 0-and-2 fastball to New York slugger Alex Rodriguez in the 11th inning, with the Angels trying to protect a 3-2 lead in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Then he saw Mathis set up high and outside.

"I wanted to call timeout," Hunter said. "I saw it and thought, 'Nooooo!' Alex is one of the greatest players in the game. You know he's going to hit that pitch. There's a short porch in right field. . . . We threw two fastballs inside, and he didn't budge. Then we threw one away . . . that was weird."

The result wasn't -- not for those who have watched the Yankees' third baseman, who ranks eighth on baseball's all-time list with 583 home runs, pounce on such mistakes for the last 14 years.

Rodriguez lined the pitch from closer Brian Fuentes over the right-field wall for a tying home run, and the Yankees went on to win, 4-3, in 13 innings to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which resumes with Game 3 today at Angel Stadium.

Only three of the 20 teams that lost the first two games since the LCS was expanded to seven games in 1985 have come back to win the series: the 1985 Royals over the Blue Jays, the 1985 Cardinals over the Dodgers and the 2004 Red Sox over the Yankees.

The Yankees and Angels won't have to deal with harsh weather; clear skies and 70-degree temperatures are forecast after two games in New York were played in cold, windy, sometimes rainy weather.

"That sun is going to feel great," Hunter said. "Now, I can work on my tan again."

But the Angels, who held an optional workout Sunday after an overnight flight from New York, were still dealing with the fallout from a frustrating and sometimes ugly Game 2 loss.

Namely, will they get another clutch hit? Will Vladimir Guerrero ever make solid contact again? Can they play a crisp, error-free game, the way they did so often this season?

And the biggest question: What was Fuentes thinking, throwing such a fat 0-2 pitch to Rodriguez after the Angels had taken the lead on Chone Figgins' run-scoring single in the top of the 11th and with the less-than-immortal Freddy Guzman, Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano following Rodriguez in the Yankees lineup?

"Brian likes to elevate, and that's what he was looking to do," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "Obviously, he didn't elevate it as much as he wanted to, but I'm not going to second-guess it."

Whose decision was it to throw the pitch? Mathis' or Fuentes'?

"Any time you have the ball and you're on the mound, it's your decision," Butcher said. "Ultimately, he has to commit to a pitch and execute it. For the most part, our pitchers and catchers have been on the same page all year."

With no one on base, wouldn't a breaking ball in the dirt have been a better option? Or is Rodriguez, who'd struck out in his only previous plate appearance this year against Fuentes, on July 12 -- on a fastball -- more likely to chase up and away?

"I'm not going to tell you," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "There are a number of options a pitcher is going to have on each count, and one of the options Brian uses to put guys away is elevating the fastball.

"If Brian had tried to invent a knuckleball and thrown it there, hey, you might be second-guessing that, but certainly, elevating the fastball is an option he has, and Alex hit it."

Butcher didn't think it was fair to pin the loss on Fuentes, who gave up seven home runs during the regular season, all on fastballs.

"Everyone is talking about that pitch," Butcher said. "We left 16 guys on base. Obviously, it was a momentum shift, but we have to play better baseball, that's the bottom line."

The Angels went three for 15 with runners in scoring position Saturday, and they are hitting .154 (12 for 78) in two ALCS games.

Bobby Abreu, a terror in the division series, is hitless in nine ALCS at-bats. Figgins' single Saturday night ended an 0-for-18 playoff skid. Kendry Morales and Juan Rivera each has one hit in eight ALCS at-bats.

But the lightning rod for criticism has been Guerrero, who made a mess of the cleanup spot in Game 2, going one for seven with two strikeouts -- one on an A.J. Burnett breaking ball that bounced about five feet in front of the plate -- and stranding eight runners.

Guerrero, at 35, is nowhere near the force he used to be. Pitchers bust him inside with hard stuff and then go soft away with breaking balls, knowing Guerrero will chase.

But Guerrero hit a game-winning, two-run single in the division series-clinching victory over the Red Sox and a long double to the left-center-field gap in Game 1 against the Yankees, just enough for Scioscia to keep him in the cleanup spot for Game 3.

"Right now, we have a lot of groupings we feel can work," Scioscia said. "I don't think any purpose will be served by juggling the lineup. . . . With Vlad, it just takes one hit, one good swing, and this guy can get back on track."

Most Angels fans, judging from message-board chatter and e-mails to newspapers, have given up on Guerrero, whose contract expires after the season. Not Mickey Hatcher, Angels hitting coach.

"The scouting report on this guy has been the same for years, and he hit .300 with 25 homers for 11 straight years," Hatcher said. "Every time he has a bad game, everyone questions him, but he's always found a way to get it done."


Los Angeles Times Articles