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BILL SHAIKIN / ON BASEBALL

Mike Scioscia pushes all the right buttons

The Angels manager makes the appropriate calls at the appropriate times to help his team defeat the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

October 20, 2009|BILL SHAIKIN

Mike Scioscia joked that his hamburger did not taste very good the other night, on the long flight home from New York. Arte Moreno ought to have ordered Scioscia a juicy filet mignon Monday night, in tribute to the way his manager carved up the New York Yankees.

Seldom does a manager have this much impact on a playoff game. While the Yankees' Joe Girardi was pushing every button he could find, including the lose-the-designated-hitter button and the overmanage-the-bullpen button, Scioscia hit just the right amount of buttons, all just right.

Take it from Reggie Willits, who did not play. The TV guys shredded Scioscia for not using him.

"He's one of the best managers in the game," Willits said.

Scioscia stuck with Vladimir Guerrero, who hit his first playoff home run in five years, reached base three times and even took eight of the first nine pitches he saw.

He called a pitchout, on a 0-1 count, that nailed Brett Gardner, the Yankees' designated runner.

He deployed the slap-hitting Maicer Izturis to bat for Mike Napoli with a runner on third and one out, and Izturis lofted a run-scoring sacrifice fly.

All this before the ninth inning, when the score was tied and the next New York run could have doomed the Angels to an elimination game tonight.

The Yankees had two on, none out and Alex Rodriguez walking to the plate. As Scioscia headed to the mound, closer Brian Fuentes was none too happy to see him.

"I thought he was going to take me out of the game," Fuentes said. "I made my opinion clear about that."

No, not that.

Rodriguez had homered off Fuentes the other night, with Freddy Guzman on deck and Jerry Hairston ready to bat for him. This time, Scioscia ordered an intentional walk, with Gardner on deck and Hairston ready to bat for him.

The difference? Rodriguez led off the inning in New York.

"Two outs," Scioscia said. "If we were in Yankee Stadium and we were in the same situation, we would have walked him."

Fuentes struck out Hairston, the Angels did not score in their half of the ninth, and into extra innings they went. Girardi asked Phil Hughes, who has not gotten more than six outs since June 10, to get what would have been his fifth, sixth and seventh outs.

Hughes got none of them.

Jeff Mathis would be coming up, but surely he would not hit. This would have been why the Angels carried three catchers on their playoff roster, so they would not have to use a career .200 hitter with the game on the line, and perhaps with the season on the line.

They could have used Willits, a better bet for a walk, or a bunt single. They could have used Gary Matthews Jr.

Scioscia thought about both, but he did not push the pinch-hit button. In the New York bullpen, he had spied Mariano Rivera, preparing to enter at the first sign of trouble.

"If we get by Mariano, the game sets up a little differently," Scioscia said. "If we don't score there, you'll want Jeff's defensive presence behind the plate."

Mathis doubled. Scioscia did not push the pinch-run button, for Willits.

"With Mathis' speed, I didn't think there was any reason to pinch-run," Willits said.

Enter Rivera. Erick Aybar dropped a sacrifice bunt, but Rivera threw the ball past third base, down the line. Mathis held at third as left fielder Johnny Damon -- he of the Juan Pierre arm -- scrambled to retrieve the ball. Surely Willits would have popped up from a slide and scored.

"No chance," bench coach Ron Roenicke said. "Damon did a nice job backing up."

Scioscia again did not push the pinch-run button, or the run-on-contact button he so frequently uses with a runner on third base. Chone Figgins grounded to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who fell to the ground to get the ball, but third base coach Dino Ebel said even Willits would not have scored had he run on contact.

After two more ground balls, we went to the 11th inning. Rivera was gone. David Robertson got the first two outs. Girardi felt compelled to bring in another right-hander, Alfredo Aceves. Something about matchups.

Howie Kendrick singled. Mathis, still in the game, doubled home Kendrick. Not just another halo victory.

In his first 150 at-bats this season, Mathis had three doubles. In his last three at-bats, he has three doubles.

Scioscia can't take the credit for that. But he smiled when he recalled the last time he put the potential winning run on base with an intentional walk.

Barry Bonds. That worked out so well, they threw a parade for Scioscia and his team.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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