NEW YORK — It's hard to fathom a team with a $201-million payroll and the best record in baseball being an underdog, but that's how some paint the New York Yankees in their rivalry with the Angels.
A huge contingent of New York-based media members was in the Angels clubhouse before Monday night's game, and most of the questions centered around two themes:
Why have the Angels been so successful against the Yankees, and are the Angels in the Yankees' heads?
The Angels have a 78-64 record, including playoff games, against the Yankees since 1996, and are 32-18 in the last 50 games between the teams. The Angels also eliminated New York in the 2002 and 2005 American League division series.
Though the Yankees are 93-52 this season, you get the sense from their fans they want nothing to do with the Angels in the postseason, much like Angels fans would prefer to see anyone but the Boston Red Sox in October.
Do the Angels have some kind of mental hold on the Yankees?
"No," third baseman Chone Figgins said. "They've slugged it out and beat us. It's always a battle against them, and we've had our share of success, but I don't think it's because we're in their heads.
"We run the bases aggressively and we put pressure on you, but because it's New York . . . that stuff doesn't show up in Kansas City and Seattle. It shows up more because it's New York, and you're not expected to have a good record against the Yankees."
Said Manager Mike Scioscia: "By no means have we dominated those guys. We've competed well against them, but they're tough."
Certainly, the Angels are not intimidated by the Yankees. And as they head to Boston for a three-game series beginning tonight, they can't be intimidated by the Red Sox.
"We're not afraid of anybody," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "If anyone in here says they don't want to play the Yankees or the Red Sox, there's going to be a fight."
Mike Napoli is supposed to be the offensive force in his catching time-share with Jeff Mathis, but there's a good reason he has been getting more praise for defense lately -- at least before his throwing error in the eighth inning Monday night.
Napoli has four hits in his last 50 at-bats, an .080 stretch over 18 games in which he has one home run, four runs batted in, 13 strikeouts and four walks. His average, a robust .300 on Aug. 18, has slipped to .269.
"I'm just trying to have better at-bats and to feel better at the plate," Napoli said. "I need to start catching some breaks, drop a blooper in once in a while. I'm still confident. It's not like I'm at the plate thinking, 'What am I doing up here?' "
Napoli has been experiencing a little stiffness in his lower back, "and sometimes he gets a little too aggressive and doesn't trust his hands," batting coach Mickey Hatcher said.
Scioscia said his use of setup man Kevin Jepsen in the ninth inning, like he did in the Angels' 3-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on Sunday, will be contingent on when Jepsen had to enter a game and how many pitches he has thrown to complete the eighth.
"If Kevin is still fresh and has the ability to start an inning, we'll consider it," Scioscia said. "If there are some matchups that are advantageous, we'll take advantage of them."
Closer Brian Fuentes has struggled of late, and the left-hander is more effective against left-handers (.234) than right-handers (.269). The right-handed Jepsen has a 1.36 earned-run average in 28 games since July 1.