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Lots of reasons to believe Angels will still make some playoff noise

NEW YORK -- As clubhouse post mortems go, the Angels' atmosphere after Game 2 here wasn't nearly as deadly as many. Even after they blew a second straight game in the ALCS that left them in the very unenviable position of being two games down to this vaunted Yankees team, the Angels don't seem defeated.

They're going to need to beat the best $200 million Yankees at least two out of three just to get back to New York for Game 6, and that's not going to be easy. But remember: this team has overcome more than any other just to get to this point.

"You better believe we'll be back here,'' a confident Angels manager Mike Scioscia told a couple writers as he departed the visiting managers' office on his way to the plane. "I'm leaving my briefcase here.'' (It's not believed he actually left his briefcase. But the point was made.)

The Angels threw out an uncharacteristic clunker in Game 1, and followed that by blowing chance after chance in Game 2, by blowing a save and also by ultimately throwing the game away. Yet, they made no excuses and talked a good game -- two positive signs -- as they left for the six-hour cross-country flight.

"There's a lot of baseball left,'' Torii Hunter said.

The Yankees can be an intimidating lot, especially when Alex Rodriguez is locked in like this (his game-tying home run in the 4-3, 13-inning Yankees victory off Angels closer Brian Fuentes made it three times he's foiled a closer with a game-tying blast in five playoff games). But let's not forget the Angels ran away in the AL West, which is tougher than you might think, after starting the season with more than half their rotation on the disabled list. What's more, they stayed together after the cruelest blow of all, the tragic death in April of their talented young pitcher Nick Adenhart.

This isn't a team that won 100 games (including their three-game sweep over the Red Sox) by accident.

Sure, this is also a team that left 16 men on base in Game 2, a team whose closer Brian Fuentes served one up on platter for A-Rod at the most inopportune time, and a team whose foolish throwing error by second baseman Maicer Izturis finally ended the evening five hours and 10 minutes after it started.

But this is a team that thinks positively, and a team with the best possible manager for a time like this. Scioscia, whose Angels beat the Yankees in both 2002 and 2005, isn't a fellow who gets flustered. One Angels insider said he hasn't blown up at the miscues here (and there have been a few, including shortstop Erick Aybar letting a popup drop in Game 1 and also failing to touch second on what should have been an easy DP in Game 2), and that this team has only caused Scioscia to blow up on rare occasion, like after a lackadaisical series in Tampa Bay.

"We played a good game tonight, we played really well,'' Scioscia actually said while alone in his office after the game. "We had opportunities. We ran the bases well. We just couldn't close out the game. We got the game where we wanted it. We just couldn't close it out. We did a lot of good things leading up to that last mistake.''

Here are some more reasons they may come back:

• They'll be more comfortable back in sunny Southern California. They won't complain about the weather, but this was no Disneyland here. Plus, I suspect that missed popup in Game 1 might have been caused by Aybar's cap with extended ear flaps (a few cold-averse players wore them, including Mark Teixeira and Johnny Damon on the Yankees). Aybar never said a word on the popup, and at the last second Chone Figgins blurted, "Aybar.'' Maybe Aybar never heard him. The Angels had the best road record in the AL during the season (48-33), but none of those games were played in conditions like these.

• That Yankees bullpen may be a tad depleted. Maybe, anyway. The rumor is Mariano Rivera is human. So that season high 2 1/3 innings in Game 2 might affect him a bit. Maybe it will, anyway.

• Perhaps they'll learn not to pitch to A-Rod. They succeeded in the 2005 playoffs by busting him inside. But now there appears to be no good strategy. It certainly wasn't Fuentes throwing a meatball of an 0-and-2 pitch to him with the Angels up 3-2 and Freddy Guzman and Brett Gardner on deck in the 11th. "I was trying to elevate. I just didn't get it up enough,'' Fuentes said ."He's very dangerous right now,'' Bobby Abreu said of A-Rod. "So we have to be careful with him.''

• The Angels are due to play cleaner defense. Their 85 errors in the regular season were fourth fewest in the AL. But now they have six this postseason, more than anyone. Izturis never should have tried that throw to second with one out in the 13th when an out at first would have sufficed. "I'm aggressive. But sadly, it cost is the game,'' Izturis told El Universal, the Venezuela paper. This is not a team to blow several in a row. So it won't happen again.

• The Angels can still make things happen like almost no one else. Despite possessing much less power than the Yankees, they scored the second most runs in the American League. But so far in this series, they have failed to force the action and failed to hit in the clutch. That isn't them.

A.J. Burnett threw another nice game with favored catcher Jose Molina behind the plate, allowing three hits and two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. So look for Molina to remain his personal catcher thoughout the postseason. Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Burnett have suggested it was Girardi's call to employ Molina. But of course it comes with Burnett's unspoken (at least publicly unspoken) approval.

A couple of the Yankees' more finicky star pitchers have had issues with Posada before, most notably Randy Johnson, who was eventually caught every game by backup John Flaherty. Others see the benefits of Molina but understand that the team is better off with Posada in the lineup. According to people in the Yankees' clubhouse, the two biggest reasons Molina may be favored by pitchers are 1) game calling (and more specifically, the speed of his game calling), and 2) framing pitches.

Word is that Molina is much quicker than Posada at calling for pitches when there's a baserunner at second base, enabling the pitcher to stay in rhythm, and also much more likely to accept a pitcher's wishes. Posada is seen as slightly stubborn about his opinion of what pitch should be called. Molina is also viewed as one of the best in the league framing pitches, and thus stealing strikes. One pitcher said Molina may steal up to three or four strikes an inning when he's at his best.

The reason Girardi employs Hideki Matsui as his DH over Posada is that Girardi and Yankees higher-ups believe Matsui is a slightly better offensive player. Girardi was merely being diplomatic when he claimed the reason Mastui's getting the starts at DH over Posada the games that Molina catches is because Masui is more accustomed to DHing. That was the p.c. answer, but not the right one.

In each of two different playoff games already, Yankees manager Joe Girardi has used eight different pitchers. Perhaps he'd use even more if he wasn't running out of them.

Girardi's playoff style is part Joe Torre and part Tony La Russa, which makes sense since he played for Torre during three victorious World Series and calls La Russa the best tactician he ever played for. La Russa was practically the inventor of the pitching change. And Torre learned early to manage with great urgency in the postseason from Don Zimmer, who's also a mentor of Girardi.

But Girardi has taken the urgency to a whole new level.

Girardi used Joba Chamberlain for only one out in the seventh inning, and he used vaunted closer Mariano Rivera in the eighth inning of a tie game (plus the next two innings, as well). Rivera's 2 1/3-inning outing was the longest of his season.

In the five games, Giarardi has made 19 pitching changes to cover 17 2/3 innings. That's a lot of calls, but a vast majority of Girardi's relief calls have worked.

New Padres owner Jeff Moorad did the right thing by interviewing Kim Ng, who's worked in some of baseball's better front offices (Dodgers, Yankees and White Sox) and who is hoping to become the first female general manager. Moorad met with Ng over lunch in Newport Beach, Calif., according to people who witnessed the meeting.

However, Ng is still viewed by outside observers as a long shot to get the job. MLB strongly urges teams to consider worthy minority candidates, and with Moorad becoming a new owner, he surely will comply with BudSelig's wishes.

Ng previously has been interviewed for GM jobs with the Dodgers and Mariners, and baseball insiders don't believe this will be the time for her to break through. Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer is thought to be higher on Moorad's list, and baseball people also believe Moorad will talk to a couple others in the next few days.

Beyond the Ng revelation it's been a fairly secretive process. It is believed that highly-regarded assistant GMs Rick Hahn and David Forst aren't showing interest in leaving their current jobs with the White Sox and A's, respectively. Moorad said in a phone interview that he had no intention of poaching anyone fof his old Arizona team, and a Diamondbacks person confirmed that's the case, meaning Jerry DiPoto is likely staying put.

The Padres played very well in the second half next year, but with the payroll expected to remain in the $40 million range, whoever does get the job has a major challenge on his -- or her -- hands.

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