Monday October 26th, 2009

1. Let's be honest: The Angels didn't show well in New York. In three games at Yankee Stadium, Los Angeles went 0-3, committed seven errors, walked 17 batters and looked jittery. I am starting to believe that there really is something to my East Coast Baseball theory. West Coast teams went 1-6 this postseason in New York, Philadelphia and Boston. That makes West Coast teams 3-19 (.136) when they come to the Northeast for postseason baseball since 2003, and 10-38 (.208) in the wild-card era. The advantage may be that Northeast teams play in postseason-type environments all year long, where baseball means so much to the fan base that every 0-for-12 streak is a two-hour talk radio rant.

But nine walks in an elimination game? Come on. That's not good baseball for the Angels, especially given the generosity of umpire Dale Scott's strike zone. Los Angeles crumbled in the pressure of Yankee Stadium. The Angels became only the sixth team in postseason history to walk nine batters on their way to elimination, joining the 2000 Cardinals, 1974 Pirates, 1974 Orioles, 1971 Athletics and 1909 Tigers.

2. CC Sabathia was a great choice for ALCS MVP, but it's a little surprising that Alex Rodriguez was not named a co-winner of the award. His at-bats, even the mere presence of them, dominated how the series was played and managed. Rodriguez came to bat 30 times and the Angels managed to keep him off base only 13 times, and not once in his last eight plate appearances.

"He's very different," Angels outfielder Bobby Abreu said when asked how the 2009 Rodriguez compared to the one he knew as a Yankees teammate. "He has a lot of confidence right now at the plate. He's in a zone. He's like Barry Bonds. You can't pitch to him. Everything he hits is so hard. Man, he is so dangerous now."

It was pretty cool to watch what happened in the middle of the infield after the series-clinching out. Rodriguez, finally in the World Series at age 34, yelled so loud the gum popped from his mouth as both he and first baseman Mark Teixeira immediately ran toward shortstop Derek Jeter. The three of them jumped and hugged together -- that's $644 million worth of contracts wrapped up in three men, or more than the valuation of the entire Angels franchise, lock, stock and Rally Monkey, with more than $100 million left to spare.

It was also interesting to see the reaction of closer Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada: They walked toward one another before Posada lightly jogged the last few steps and then they hugged. No leaps, no throwing of equipment. Just ... satisfaction, at returning to the World Series for the first time in six years. Just another clincher for Mo Cool. It was the 13th time Rivera has obtained a series-clinching out.

And that leaves us with a World Series with the two men who have closed out more postseason series than any other pitchers in history. Here are the leaders for most times getting the last out of a postseason series:

1. Mariano Rivera, 13 2. Brad Lidge, 6 3. Goose Gossage, 5

3. That was quite a grueling outing by Angels starter Joe Saunders against the New York lineup in ALCS Game 6. He is a very good pitcher and hung in there the best he could, but the Yankees' lineup is so good it was like watching a kid with a water pistol trying to put out a fire. Here's all you need to know about how difficult it was for him: He threw 83 pitches. The Yankees swung and missed at one of them. One out of 83. And they didn't swing and miss at any of his final 68 pitches. He had nothing to put them away.

Saunders faced 22 batters and retired 10 of them. He finished with five walks and no strikeouts. Do you know how hard that is to do as a starting pitcher? To last long enough to give up five walks but get no punchouts? He became only the sixth starter ever in the postseason to walk five batters and strike out nobody -- joining Odalis Perez as the only pitchers to do it since 1924. He is only the second American League lefty to do so. The other? A dude on the 1918 Red Sox named Babe Ruth, who actually was the winning pitcher when he did so.

"When I got into trouble they found a hole," Saunders said. "You've got to be aggressive in the strike zone against them. It was tough for me, battling my command. When I made a good pitch, they found a hole."

4. Saunders' biggest mistake was when he walked Robinson Cano leading off the fourth while holding a 1-0 lead, opening the door to a three-run, series-deciding rally. Worse, Sanders had Cano in a 1-and-2 hole when he missed with a changeup and two fastballs to walk him.

Just how bad was that walk? Cano had 151 plate appearances this year in which he faced a 1-and-2 count. He wound up walking only once in those 151 times at bat.

Yes, the Angels coughed up two unearned runs in the eighth without allowing a hit, but the fourth inning was what knocked them out of the playoffs, and it all was set in motion by a terrible walk. Of the five runners who scored for the Yankees in Game 6, four of them did not have to hit their way on. They were put on base by a walk or an error.

5. One more bit of evidence why baseball is so hard to figure out: The Yankees won with their seldom-used version of small ball. The Yankees won three games all year when they didn't hit a home run at Yankee Stadium. But in three ALCS games they won twice at home without the longball.

"I actually think we pitched them pretty well in this series," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "I don't think pitching is why we lost."

In Game 6, not only did the Yankees not get a home run, they also didn't get an extra-base hit. It was only their second time -- and the first time they won -- without an extra-base hit at the new yard. It was just the ninth time in their storied history that they won a postseason game anywhere without an extra-base hit, and only the second time in a clincher. The other time they clinched a series with nothing but singles? A 1-0 win over the Giants in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series.

The Angels? It was painful watching them have to string hits together like prayer beads just to score a run. They hit one home run all series with a man on base. In their last 90 plate appearances of the series, they hit no home runs and took just six walks. Ouch.

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