Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, right, celebrates with teammate… (Ray Stubblebine / Reuters )
Reporting from New York — The Angels roughed up Mariano Rivera twice in three days. They did not have to face Alex Rodriguez or CC Sabathia. They still lost the series.
So, since the Angels are a team with October aspirations, just how do they match up with the New York Yankees?
"If you go by payroll, they've got us beat," outfielder Torii Hunter said.
The city of New York went into full panic mode on Thursday, even though the Yankees beat the Angels, 6-5. Rivera had his third consecutive poor outing — this time giving up a three-run home run to Russell Branyan — forcing the fans of the spending champions to freak out about what might happen in the ninth inning come October.
The Yankees will be there, though. The Angels are still trying to chase down the Texas Rangers in the American League West, still wondering whether Bobby Abreu and Vernon Wells might resemble their old selves, still hoping to develop a team capable of absorbing a bad break or two.
The Yankees can outhit their mistakes.
The Angels have scored fewer runs than any team in the league except the Seattle Mariners. They cannot outhit their mistakes. They could not survive a seventh inning that cost them the game on Thursday.
The Angels and Yankees were tied, 2-2, but Fernando Rodney walked two of three batters, and Scott Downs relieved him.
Downs struck out Curtis Granderson, who torched the Angels for four home runs in the three-game series. Downs got what should have been an inning-ending ground ball from Mark Teixeira, but second baseman Maicer Izturis charged the two-hopper and dropped it for an error.
"I was going too aggressively," Izturis said. "Slow hop. I went too hard."
Robinson Cano followed with a game-winning grand slam. So, when Branyan — in his first at-bat in 19 days — delivered a pinch-hit home run against Rivera, the Angels were still one run short.
"That might be one of the few games this year — it is one of the few games this year — that not making a play defensively cost us," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said.
Scioscia often deflects talk of how a bad call or a bad play cost the Angels by saying how they need to be good enough to absorb the bad. The Angels were not good enough on Thursday, but Scioscia declined to discuss how his team compared with the Yankees in general.
"I don't think it serves any purpose to compare yourself to any other team," he said, "other than to say that, when we're playing at the level we're capable of, we can play with anybody in the league."
Hunter has 17 hits in his last 34 at-bats. But Abreu, who hit two home runs in the series opener, has a .255 on-base percentage since the All-Star break. Wells has a .220 on-base percentage since the break.
"When we get Vernon and Bobby to hit, it's going to be a lot of fun," Hunter said.
It is not entirely fair to say the Angels did not have to face Sabathia in the series, since the Yankees faced two rookie pitchers and did not have to face Jered Weaver or Ervin Santana. But the Angels have waited all year for Abreu and Wells, and the Yankees expect Rodriguez to return from the disabled list next week.
"That lineup is good," Hunter said. "A-Rod makes it 10 times better."