Leave it to Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia and the Angels to usher in the return of enthusiasm and drama after their remarkable 5-4, 11-inning comeback victory over the Yankees in Game Three of the American League Championship Series.
Four runs wasn’t enough to beat the Los Angeles Angels this time. Following the sting of losing two games in New York, the Angels are receiving plenty of positive buzz for their determination and savvy decisions used to seize momentum in the series.
The Yankees still have a 2-1 advantage in the series and Scioscia and Joe Girardi bring interesting managerial storylines into a crucial Game Four matchup.
Pressure on Girardi Not Scioscia
While Angels manager Mike Scioscia and Yankees manager Joe Girardi both won their divisions, they are fighting different battles on the road to the World Series.
Scioscia, recognized for his managerial acumen, has plenty of playoff experience and has brought the Angels franchise unprecedented success including the team’s only World Series championship in 2002. Girardi is managing his first postseason squad, replacing a manager who won four World Series championships and made 12 consecutive playoff appearances in New York.
With every postseason triumph, Scioscia writes another page in franchise history. Girardi has to maintain a balanced approach, knowing that there won’t be much adulation in winning and there will be much criticism in defeat. The Yankees already have 26 titles and there is an expectation—not a hope—for a 27th championship.
Of the four managers remaining in the 2009 postseason, Scioscia, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joe Torre, and the Philadelphia Phillies’ Charlie Manuel have all won the World Series. All have multiple playoff appearances and it’s clear that Girardi has the most to prove in October.
The Yankees arguably have the best team money can buy and Girardi is under immense pressure to win the World Series. The Angels spend a lot of money on their players, too, but the scrutiny is more positive for an Angels franchise that appreciates Scioscia’s eight winning seasons and six playoff trips in his 10-year run in Los Angeles.
Scioscia at His Finest in Game Three
The Angels’ star players have struggled to produce offensively in the ALCS so far, but clutch pitching and shrewd decision-making from Scioscia helped the team win Game Three and reinvigorate a team that had dropped two games in New York.
Brian Fuentes, the Angels’ All-Star closer who led the majors in saves, could have been down and out after giving up a game-tying, 11th inning home run to Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez in Game Two. Fuentes was ahead in the count 0-2 and the bases were empty when Rodriguez went yard.
Scioscia could have blamed Fuentes for the loss after the Angels had claimed a 3-2 lead in the top of the inning.
Starting pitcher Ervin Santana, an All-Star in 2008, had problems adjusting to his relief role in the playoffs, giving up two hits and loading the bases in the 12th inning of Game Two before surrendering another hit and an intentional walk in the 13th inning. This all prior to Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis’ game-clinching error that gave the Yankees a 4-3 win.
Scioscia could have lost faith in Santana after his shaky outing.
But Scioscia, a manager respected and admired for his steadiness under pressure, didn’t lose confidence in Fuentes or Santana and his devotion paid off in the Angels’ Game Three win.
In Game Three, at the top of the ninth inning, with the score tied 4-4 and the powerful Rodriguez at the plate, Scioscia had Fuentes use a different strategy. The bases were empty again, but this time, with two out and the game knotted, Fuentes intentionally walked A-Rod before striking out the next hitter, Game Two hero, Jerry Hairston Jr.
Later, in the top of the 11th, Scioscia went back to Santana. He didn’t disappoint, posting a three-up, three-down inning.
The Angels’ batters finally came through in the bottom of the inning and the Angels avenged their 4-3, 13-inning loss in Game Two.
The Angels defense had an error-free game after committing five errors in losing the first two games of the series. Los Angeles' designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero had left 13 men on base in the series, but went 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI in Game Three.
Still, many of Scioscia's batters are still struggling and the Angels' skipper will need some of them to step up for the rest of the series.
Scioscia proved why he's one of the best managers in the game, but the Angels and Yankees haven't decided anything just yet.
After Loss, All Attention on Girardi
Girardi is coming off an excellent regular season in which the Yankees won 103 games. Though he hasn't received a lot of credit for his team's success, he has endured much of the blame for the team's setbacks.
He won his first five postseason games and his only postseason loss was a one-run, extra-innings defeat on the road to the playoff-tested Angels.
For many, that was one loss too much, and now he’ll have to endure the other, tougher side of October.
No one said being the manager of the storied New York Yankees would be easy. After suffering his first postseason loss, Girardi is facing the wrath that helped drive Torre out of town.
With two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Three, Girardi played the numbers game in inserting righthander Alfredo Aceves against Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick after Yankee righthander David Robertson had retired Angels left fielder Juan Rivera and first baseman Kendry Morales in order.
Girardi didn’t have a plethora of options at the late juncture in the game, but going to Aceves with two outs in the inning was highly questionable and led to the team’s loss.
In addition to Robertson pitching well to open the inning, Aceves had allowed the potential game-winning run in the 11th inning of Game Two, yielding an earned run on a base hit, and two walks (one intentional).
Kendrick singled, catcher Jeff Mathis doubled home the game-winning run, and Girardi lost his perfect record in October in excruciating fashion.
Girardi has already decided to start CC Sabathia on three days’ rest in Game Four, a choice that could be feast or famine.
If Sabathia pitches well and the team wins, the Yankees will have a commanding 3-1 lead and the looming option to choose their best rotation for a potential trip to the World Series. Sabathia has been highly dependable after signing a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Yankees in the offseason, winning a major league-leading 19 games in the regular season and winning both of his postseason starts.
But there’s always another side to the story, the risk of overusing the team’s best pitcher.
If Sabathia and/or the Yankees don’t lose Game Four, the series will be tied 2-2, and the left-handed workhorse would be more likely to pitch in a potential Game Seven. Sabathia pitched on three days’ rest several times, leading the Milwaukee Brewers to the playoffs in 2008, but he struggled on three days’ rest in the 2008 postseason, surrendering five runs before exiting in the fourth inning.
Girardi has his chance to show his mettle, and though a World Series championship won’t quell all of his detractors, he has to make the right choices with his expensive roster.