In a season full of dramatic ballgames, the context of the drama of Game Two of the American League Championship Series can only be described as What We Have Come to Expect.
"One relief pitcher left in the bullpen, one position player left on the bench, in a five-hour affair featuring pitchers getting into and out of jam after jam..." kind of sounds like the conclusion to the fifteen-inning epic the Yankees played against Boston at the beginning of August.
"Alex Rodriguez comes up to the plate with the Yankees three outs away from dropping a virtual must-win home game in a playoff series..." sounds a whole lot like the scene eight nights ago, but with Brian Fuentes replacing Joe Nathan as the main antagonist.
What you get, in the end, is the story of thirteen innings and five hours in the cold and the rain, a war of attrition plagued by sloppy defense and highlighted by clutch relief pitching that accounted for twenty-six total runners left on base.
What you get is the logical next place for the Palpitation Pinstripes (I'm more than happy to hear suggestions for a better nickname if you've got them) to take this recurring story of wild late-inning finishes and victories snatched from the jaws of defeat.
For the next day and a half, the Angels have to think about how they managed to let a game slip away that saw their opponents make three errors in the field, walk seven hitters and hit two more, and throw a few wild pitches.
They have to live with the fact that even though the Yankees gave them three extra outs misplaying ground balls—including one that Derek Jeter should have been able to turn into a double play, they scored no unearned runs. They have to note the most glaring difference in the game—that when they made their big mistakes, the Yankees jumped at their chances.
Fuentes throws a third consecutive fastball to Rodriguez on an 0-2 count—and leaves it over the plate. Not just in the vicinity, but high and over the middle.
Maicer Izturis makes a desperate throw to try to start a double play on a ball hit too far into the hole, and Jerry Hairston sees the throw go wide and immediately dashes for the plate while Chone Figgins is still trying to get a handle on it in short left field.
Meanwhile, cleanup hitter Vlad Guerrero comes up twice with the bases loaded and two outs, and the Angels score one run—on a wild pitch. Bobby Abreu looks at three called third strikes.
In close games in October, the team that's playing loose is the team that is going to win. After four years of watching every Yankee hitter grind his bat handle to dust and swing for the fences in every extra-inning at-bat, it's unbelievably gratifying to see someone else playing tight for a change.
The difference is having the experience, over and over again—until the pressure becomes negligible. Fifteen walk-off wins in the regular season is a nice story to be able to tell, certainly, but the force and effect of having been here before so many times this season is certainly calming the Yankees down here in October, and making them that much more dangerous to play against.
Bottom line: the Angels have to put up six runs against Andy Pettitte tomorrow afternoon, and remind the world and themselves that they can play at the Yankees' level. They have to win convincingly tomorrow, or they are going to get eliminated on their home field.
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