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ALCS Game 2 Recap: Lucky Thirteen

Well, I jinxed myself when in my recap of Game 1 of the ALCS I mentioned that a low-scoring pitchers’ duel is so easy to summarize. So of course Game 2 had to be a crazy extra-innings classic full of missed opportunities and twists of fate.

It began with A. J. Burnett and lefty Joe Saunders. Burnett’s fastball was moving, and Saunders’ power sinker was getting ground balls. They each gave up two runs. Saunders blinked first, when Nick Swisher worked a two-out walk. It’s a good sign for the Yankees when Swisher walks, and perhaps it means he is getting back on track for the postseason. He came around to score immediately when Robinson Cano hit a triple that split Abreu and Hunter perfectly. The next inning Derek Jeter hit another postseason homer, another into the right field porch. Burnett’s armor cracked in the fifth. With the weather radar showing imminent pouring rain on the way, the Yankees wanted to get through the fifth with the lead, but Maicer Izturis led off with a double, then scored on a one-out single by Erick Aybar. Aybar himself came around as a result of Burnett’s struggles, first stealing a bag, then moving up on a walk, and scoring on a wild pitch.

The game would stay 2-2 for a long time. The Yankees would threaten in the 5th, 6th, and 7th, and suffer double plays in all three innings. Both teams also had more than their usual share of defensive miscues, probably thanks to the cold weather, but both managed to keep their mistakes from scoring.

Coke, Joba, and Hughes all had big strikeouts in key spots, and then Mariano finished the 8th with a single pitch, getting Aybar to ground out. Mo then pitched the ninth and the tenth, but try as they might, the Yankees couldn’t push across the winning run. Then in the eleventh, the Angels struck back. With the rain starting to pour down heavily, Alfredo Aceves walked the leadoff man Gary Mathews, Jr. who had come in as a pinch hitter in the 8th. Aybar bunted him to second, bringing Chone Figgins to the plate.

Figgins was 0-for 18 in the postseason coming into the at bat. He finally came through with a big RBI double, scoring Aybar, and pumping his fist when he reached second base. But after intentionally walking Abreu (who was hot in the ALDS but who has been completely neutralized by Yankee pitching so far), Aceves finally got the Angels to ground into a double play, bringing the Yankees to the plate trailing by one run.

On came Brian Fuentes, the Angels’ closer and author of a league-leading 48 saves this year. The first man he faced: Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod hadn’t done much at all yet this game, showing 0-for-4, but of course in two of the previous four postseason games he had hit game-tying homers in the late innings.

Well, he did it again. A fly ball that just cleared the wall in the short post in right, blowing the save and setting up another classic in the Bronx. Ultimately it would come down to the thirteenth inning. The only pitcher not used by Girardi was Chad Gaudin, while for the Angels they had former starter Ervin Santana, who had ben demoted to the bullpen earlier in the season, on the hill.

Girardi sent Jerry Hairston, Jr. up to pinch hit for Freddy Guzman, who had pinch run in the ninth, but had struck out in the eleventh looking overmatched. Hairston laced a single into left. Gardner bunted him over. The Angels then intentionally walked Robinson Cano, to face Melky. Loyal fans in the upper deck held up a sign that merely read: “WE WANT PIE.”

Melky hit a ground ball in the first base hole. Izturis slid and grabbed it, but the ball was wet, his fingers were cold, and he threw the ball to second base trying to get the force out there, which would have put runners on the corners with two outs. But he threw the ball away, so that even with a dive Aybar could not get it, and Hairston scampered home, to the delight of almost 50,000 freezing cold fans. (The rain which had begun at the top of the eleventh had not let up.) Hairston was immediately mobbed at home plate, pummeled into the ground by his jubilant teammates, and then treated to the traditional whipped cream pie in the face during his postgame interview.

Other notes on the game:

Jeter was intentionally walked in the tenth with a man in scoring position. That man was Melky who had been called safe on a double play at second when the Angels were not given the “neighborhood play.” On the other side of the umpiring coin, Jeter was called out at first on a double play in the fifth when he had actually beaten the throw. Replays showed that on the “neighborhood play,” Melky’s foot actually did touch the bag before Aybar completed the dance around him, yet 95% of the time, the out would have been awarded. Replays also showed Jeter was safe.

Mark Teixeira’s defense at first base has earned him many stars in my scorecard. Tonight there were two more in the fourth inning, when the Angels would have gotten a rally going if not for the great defense. Torii Hunter led off the inning with a shot that A-Rod made a great play on, then gunned the ball to Teix, who had to make it great at his end as well. Replays showed the umpire got the call right. The very next batter was Vlad Guerrero. During the at bat, Jose Molina took a foul ball off the mask, and after he shook it off somewhat he got back behind the plate. The very next pitch, Vlad swung and missed, but Molina couldn’t squeeze it, and had to search for the ball. Talk about lucky breaks–Guerrero himself kicked the ball into Molina’s line of sight as he ran, and Molina was able to throw to Teixeira just in time to nip him. Another great play by Teix.

Fuentes can join the club of closers who faltered this postseason, along with Papelbon, Joe Nathan, and Huston Street. Mariano Rivera threw 25 pitches in this non-save situation, and will be rested and ready for game three, thanks to an off day tomorrow.

Some numbers: the game took 5:10, used fourteen pitchers, and 432 total pitches to get through.

I was reminded strongly of Reggie Jackson tonight, when thinking about both Jeter and A-Rod. Jeter, because he is now at third on the all-time postseason home run list, passing both Mantle and Reggie, and A-Rod because he has been coming up with clutch home runs at a prodigious rate this October. And like A-Rod, Reggie was a guy who heard the boos, was reviled in the press, was ragged on for being overpaid, too sensitive, too self-centered, etc. etc. Reggie cut through all the bullshit with those big swings of his bat. A-Rod is finally doing the same.

A final note on A-Rod. I rarely quote stats from FOX TV because they are usually meaningless or common knowledge. But I liked this one. Alex Rodriguez in 2009 hit 30 homers and had 100 RBIs, and 15 of the 30 homers, and 50 of the 100 RBIs, either tied a game or gave the Yankees the lead. This is very definitely not the pattern shown in some previous years, but who cares about previous years right now? The magic number is six.

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