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Angels wilt under ALCS pressure

A despondent Torii Hunter sat in front of his locker at Yankee Stadium with his shoes off and a blank look on his face. His Angels had just lost Game 6 of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees, which in and of itself was not a particularly surprising development. What was surprising was that the Angels had once again bumbled their way to yet another loss in yet another game they could have -- perhaps even should have -- won. After groping through the usual run of clich├ęs to describe the feeling of emptiness that accompanied his seventh title-less trip to the postseason in his career, he finally settled for this: "It sucks, actually. We should've played better defensively. We didn't play Angels-style baseball."

Amidst the proffering of what-ifs, Hunter shook his head. "I've always said, if 'if was a fifth, we'd all be drunk,'" adding, "I have no idea what happened."

He wasn't alone. A team that has been lauded for years for its fundamentals and solid defense did a pratfall on the biggest stage of the season. In a fitting bookend, the Angels made two errors that allowed two runs to score in their final inning of defense in the final game of the series on Sunday. Those mirrored the two critical miscues they made in their first inning of defense in Game 1, which set an ominous tone for this sloppy series and ultimately doomed any chance they had at upsetting the mighty Yankees. In the end, the only ones upset were the Angels, who bemoaned not only had they lost, but also that they had so many chances to win in this series and didn't capitalize.

"One play, or a couple of plays could change a whole playoff series," said Chone Figgins, still sitting in his dirty uniform at his locker. "They got the breaks."

Yes, the Yankees were fortunate, but what will haunt Figgins and the rest of the Angels this winter is that most of the Yankees' breaks were very much unforced errors on the part of the Angels. The Yankees were far from perfect themselves in Game 6; they left eight runners on base in the first four innings, hit into three double plays and left the bases loaded three times and even -- brace yourself -- saw Mariano Rivera give up a run in a save situation in a home playoff game for the first time ever. In other words, the game was there for the taking. "I said it was gonna be a dogfight," said Figgins. "They may have come out on top, but they know they wasn't easy."

As Figgins well knows, the Angels made it too easy on the Yankees. They had their chances to win -- all but Game 4 -- but they threw it away as surely as Scott Kazmir threw away Melky Cabrera's eighth-inning bunt that was the Angels' eighth and final error of the series.

It was one last indignity for a proud playoff team that barely resembled the powerhouse regular season version that won 97 games and swept the Red Sox in the ALDS. In all, only one of the team's errors did not contribute to a Yankee run in the series, and that list of gaffes doesn't even include the pop-up in Game 1 that fell between Figgins and shortstop Erick Aybar and allowed Johnny Damon to score from second.

While the Angels had at various points demonstrated sloppy base running, ineffective starting pitching, shoddy defense and a failure to hit with men on base, Game 6 was one terrible, imperfect storm that was just more of the same. More bone-headed base running. More fielding miscues. More missed opportunities at the plate. And more reason to wonder just what went wrong.

"At times, we played good baseball," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "At times, we shot ourselves in the foot." That comment was as applicable to Game 6 as it was to the entire series. Desperately in need of a well-rounded performance, they instead slipped up in every area. They got just 3 1/3 innings from starting pitcher Joe Saunders, who threw only one more strike than ball among his 83 pitches.

Their offense went just 3-for-15 with runners on base. Vladimir Guerrero made the second stunningly bad base-running mistake by the Angels in the series when he was inexplicably doubled off first base of a line drive to right by Kendry Morales in the second. And then there was the defense, which committed two crucial errors that helped the Yankees tack on a pair of insurance runs in the eighth inning.

On consecutive plays as the Yankees were trying to give away outs, the Angels instead managed to give them right back. First, Nick Swisher's attempted sacrifice bunt was fielded cleanly by Kazmir, but second baseman Howie Kendrick dropped the throw to first. Cabrera followed with another attempted sacrifice, and this time Kazmir air-mailed the throw into rightfield, allowing a run to score and moving two runners into scoring position.

By the time Rivera struck out Gary Matthews Jr. for the final out, the Yankee Stadium clock read 12:01. Anyone expecting them to turn into pumpkins at that moment was far too late. For this series, from the first inning to the last, they were pumpkins all along.

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