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L.A. Angels' Comeback Victory Comes Amid Huge Postseason Slump

Johnathan KronckeCorrespondent IOctober 20, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 08:  Infielder Erick Aybar #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anahem bats during the game against the New York Yankees at Angel Stadium on August 8, 2008 in Anaheim, California. The Angels defeated the Yankees 10-5.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It's hard to look so bad for so long and still come away with a win.

But that's exactly how the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim wriggled their way back into this ALCS match-up against the New York Yankees, winning Game Three in walk-off fashion by a score of 5-4.

Unfortunately, the dramatic victory only masks a disturbing trend for the Angels in the postseason since winning the World Series in 2002: They can't hit with men on base.

In Game Two alone, the Angels stranded 16 men on the paths, including eight by Vladimir Guerrero and four by Torii Hunter, former offensive threats-turned little girls with plastic bats.

It's not just them, though. The Angels' current offensive funk is a team-wide effort.

In a season in which they lead the American League with a .285 team batting average, the Angels are swinging at a sub-.200 clip against the Yanks, a postseason tradition that has plagued this team for far too long.

Their lack of offense was one reason they lost to the Boston Red Sox for years, and it's certainly the reason they found themselves down two games to none in this series coming into Monday afternoon's contest.

And the trend continues.

Yankee starter Andy Pettitte pitched 6 1/3 innings and gave up only three runs, but not once did he have a clean inning. The Angels put runners on base at every turn, but could do nothing about it.

In the first two innings, lead-off singles were quickly erased by double-play grounders from key offensive threats in Hunter and Kendry Morales. 

In the third, Erick Aybar became the first of many Angels to be left in scoring position, stranded on second after Chone Figgins fouled out.

By the time a full nine had been played, the scored was locked up at 4-4—an absolute failure on the part of the offense, which left 16 men on base for the second consecutive game.

It got even worse in the bottom of the 10th.

Jeff Mathis stroked a lead-off double and eventually reached third base with nobody out. A few batters later, the Angels found themselves with a golden opportunity: bases loaded and only one out.

But they got nothing out of it.

Once again, with the game on the line, the big boys couldn't come through. 

Both Hunter and Guerrero dribbled ground balls to Mark Teixeira, who helped secure the final two outs of the inning without any damage whatsoever.

No hits, no sacrifice flies. Not even a bunt try, just to show they have the ability to make adjustments when more traditional methods fail.

In fact, there were no adjustments by the Angels of any kind in this game.

Guerrero went 1-for-7 in Saturday's pathetic extra-inning loss, leaving everyone but himself on base, and yet Manager Mike Scioscia still plugged him into the clean-up spot.

Asked why he would leave Guerrero in such a prominent place in the batting order, Scioscia said no one else had proven to be any better thus far in the series.

To his credit, Big Daddy finally came through with a big, game-tying two-run homer, his first postseason big fly since belting a grand slam against the Red Sox in 2004.

However, one man does not a team make.

If the Angels have any misguided notions about knocking the Yankees out of the playoffs in stunning fashion, they will need more than just Guerrero to step up.

Bobby Abreu had been uncharacteristically silent in the first two games before finally coming through with a couple of hits Monday. But even so, the veteran was not above looking like a rookie after a horrific base-running gaff in the bottom of the eighth.

The score tied at four, Abreu drilled a lead-off double into center field, only to be thrown out at second after making a big turn toward third and drifting well off the base.

How such a sound baseball mind as Abreu ended up 15 feet away from the bag is anyone's guess. What's important is that, once again, the Angels failed to take advantage of their situation.

It is only by the grace of Howie Kendrick and Jeff Mathis, who went a combined 5-for-7 with two RBI and three runs scored, including Mathis's walk-off double that drove in Kendrick, that the Angels are not on the brink of elimination.

As with any successful team, it's important to have your lighter-hitting players be able to take some of the pressure off the big bats and come through in the clutch.

But right now, they are the only one's doing anything.

Take a look at these batting averages: Figgins—.167; Abreu—.154; Juan Rivera—.077; Morales—.077. 

These are your run-producers, your offensive catalysts who get on base and who drive the runs in.

Or at least, they're supposed to be.

I said at the beginning of this series that the Angels and Yankees are fairly evenly matched on paper, and that what it will come down to is mental stability. Who wants it more, and who has the guts to go and get it?

Right now, the Angels could easily be up two games to one and have the Yankees on the ropes. They should have won both Saturday's and Monday's games, and by wide margins no less.

Instead, the Angels have struggled to get hits with men on base, struggled to hold leads late in games, and struggled to get their big bats going. And all of that has lead to a precarious position in the series.

They've prevented a sweep and forced a Game Five match-up in Anaheim. But they still trail the Yankees by a game, and must go through C.C. Sabathia on Tuesday if they hope to tie things up and send the series back to New York.

A tall order to say the least, but certainly not impossible.

The Angels have to take this dramatic win and use it to their advantage. They have to look at Game Three, at all of the offensive mistakes and men left on base, and then remind themselves that they still pulled out a win.

The Angels have beaten Sabathia before and are the only team in the last 10 years to own a winning record over the Yanks. Heck, this vaunted New York lineup has only scored four runs in each of the first three games against the Halos.

If L.A. of A. can get the bats going and start driving in a few of those countless men on base, this series will be far from over.

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