Angels-Yankees: An Icy Start to a Red Hot Series for The Halos


The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were cold.

No, it’s not a cheesy weather pun (see: headline). The Angels have simply been sidelined for too long, slogging through a five-day break between the first and second rounds of the playoffs.

They were just a little sluggish, that’s all. Or at least, that’s all I’d like to believe.

Because the only other alternative is that their in-game shivers had some deeper and more sinister origin than just the frigid New York temperatures.

From the moment Chone Figgins stepped in the batter’s box to lead off Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees, the Angels looked scared.

And the evidence quickly piled up.

Meek at-bats were only overshadowed by uncharacteristically sloppy defense on the part of the Angels, who bumbled their way to a quick one-game deficit in the series.

The aforementioned Figgins also had yet another bad playoff performance at the plate. His 0-for-4 night brought his production to an astounding 0-for-16 in the postseason this year, a bad sign for the Angels, who need their catalyst on base as much as possible to get the offense going.

But he was hardly alone his swing struggles in this game.

At the plate, even disciplined veterans like Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter were caught taking fat fastballs down the middle and swinging at balls out of the strike zone.

Yankee ace C.C. Sabathia certainly didn’t look like he brought his “A” game on Friday night, but with the way the Angels approached their at-bats, you’d never notice.

In fact, their impotent offense might have been the big story coming out of this game, if it weren’t for the egregious defensive gaffs that were on display, including perhaps the worst error that ever wasn’t.

To compound his poor offensive evening, Figgins failed to communicate with shortstop Erick Aybar on a routine infield pop-up that not only resulted in a cheap first-inning single, but an RBI as well.

That’s right, two professional ballplayers watching a pop-fly my grandmother could catch hit the ground counts the same in the record books as a line drive.

No error, no excuse.

Of course, that pathetic mishap might not have been so costly had Juan Rivera not fired a ball hit to him back into the infield…to no one in particular.

So, instead of having runners at the corners, a simple Johnny Damon single became men on second and third with nobody out.

When that ball crashed untouched back to Earth between Figgins and Aybar, the runner on second had only to jog on in, giving the Yankees a two-run advantage they never gave up.

They tacked on two more against John Lackey, who also didn’t bring his best stuff to the ballpark today. His fastballs were up, his curveball was down and away, and unlike the Angels, the Yankees took advantage of their opponent’s mistakes.

And therein lies the key to this whole series.

This much-ballyhooed ALCS match-up between the two best teams in the American League is more than just the sum of its parts; it is a match-up of mindsets.

Both teams want to win as much as the other, and each has an equally good chance—on paper.

The Yankees and Angels feature the top two offenses in the league, both have power and speed up and down their lineups, and the starting rotations of each are as daunting as any in baseball.

Neither is dramatically better than the other physically, which means this bout will be won by the team that believes it can.

After their stunning exorcism of postseason demons via a sweep of the Boston Red Sox, the Angels appeared to have the mental edge necessary to make the organization’s second trip to the World Series.

They played the Red Sox tough, with clutch hitting, stellar pitching, and even worked in a little come-from-behind magic to seal the deal in the deciding Game 3.

With Abreu’s guidance and Nick Adenhart’s memory to spur them on, the Angels appeared to be the team of destiny.

Until they stepped into Yankee Stadium, where they left their confidence at the door and replaced it with fear and uncertainty.

Out went the timely hitting and iron-clad defense, and in came the strike outs looking and dropped pop-ups, to say nothing of Torii Hunter’s first error in an Angel uniform.

Even before all that, though, I would have been very surprised to see the Angels beat the Yankees in this series. Don’t get me wrong, the surprise would still be a pleasant one, but it seems as though the Angels have gone as far as they can go.

Much to my dismay, I’m picking the Yanks to win in six.

But if the Angels want to even push the series that far, they still have to win two games, and that means tightening up on defense, loosening up on offense, and getting back to that casual, happy-go-lucky style of baseball that made them so successful all season long.

No one outside of that locker room expected them to get this far this season. Given all that the Angels have had to battle through and overcome, few picked them to win their division, let alone sweep the Sox, and that same doubt as trickled into the ALCS.

Like myself, most pundits have tabbed the Yankees to win this round and go on to claim their 27th World Series title.

That said, the Angels still have all the talent and drive in the world to overcome yet another obstacle and reach the promised land.

Remember, they’ve beaten the Yankees twice this decade in the postseason, and both times they lost the first game in the series.

Let us hope the long view of history repeats itself, while the short is forgotten quickly. If the Angels can put Game 1 behind them, Game 2 is theirs for the taking.