Los Angeles will send to the mound Joe Saunders, a lefthander with a 4.60 ERA who hasn't thrown a pitch in a game in 12 days. Moreover, Saunders would not seem to have the kind of stuff that matches up well against the powerful New York lineup. Saunders pitched to the fourth-highest contact rate in the league this year, so don't expect many swings and misses. He pitched twice against the Yankees this year, both times at home, and was touched up for a .291 average and .509 slugging percentage.
"For any pitcher going against them, it's more about throwing strikes, getting ahead and working ahead," Saunders said. "I think if you get behind those guys, you know, they're going to hurt you. If they're in hitter's counts, obviously they're going to hurt you pretty good and hit the ball pretty hard. For me and for us it's about throwing strike one, working ahead and getting them on the defensive and off the offensive."
That's sound philosophy to pound the strike zone against New York, but it's nothing Game 1 starter John Lackey executed or Saunders excelled at during the season. Lackey threw first pitch strikes to only 13 of the 28 batters he faced. Saunders threw only 44 percent of his pitches in the strike zone this year, the lowest rate in the league. His game is more about pitching to contact off the barrel on pitches that move out of the strike zone. If the Yankees stick to their game plan and force him to bring the ball into the zone, the Angels could be looking at another long, cold night.
2. The Angels had better do a better job competing in the elements in Game 2 or else they will be down two games to none by the time they warm up their toes back home. Chone Figgins, 0-for-the-postseason, took some ugly hacks. Erik Aybar looked extremely uncomfortable, failing to go after a two-out, first-inning routine pop-up that was clearly his -- forget the crowd; he made the unforgivable mistake of looking to another player, Figgins, to make a play rather than wanting to make it himself -- and didn't bother leaving his feet for a high chopper up the middle to keep a runner at second base. Vladimir Guerrero broke into a home run trot on a ball that hit the warning track. Juan Rivera played leftfield as if on a frozen lake. The Angels tied a franchise postseason record with three errors, and managed just four hits.
Remember, this is a team centerfielder Torii Hunter challenged to show more guts after a tough loss in Boston. East Coast baseball is like nothing else, especially this late in the year. It's loud, cold, rude and harsh. It is not for the thin-blooded.
3. Let's remember, too, that the Angels are in the way of a team that is no longer just hot, but bordering on an historically great run. The Yankees are 69-27 in their past 96 games, a .719 winning percentage. Only six Yankees teams have ever been that good for that long in the regular season; five of them won world championships, including some of their most iconic teams ever (1927, 1938, 1941, 1961 and 1998) and the sixth won 103 games.
Game 1 actually was a very unusual game for the Yankees. It was only the fourth time this year they won at Yankee Stadium without hitting a home run. And they didn't score after the sixth inning. The Yankees' ability to absolutely wear down opponents is why I believe this will be a short series; Los Angeles doesn't have enough power pitching at the back of a game to hold them down.
The Yankees are little more than a pretty decent team -- until they get into the last third of the game, when their war of attrition strategy takes hold. The Yankees are at their best, by far, the deeper the game goes. Check out the team's run differential when you break the game into thirds:
4. This bears repeating on CC Sabathia: he is exactly the kind of ace New York has needed for years. The Yankees are now 13-1 in his past 14 starts, and he has pitched into the seventh inning in all 13 of those wins. He threw eight innings in Game 1, which, with Mariano Rivera behind you, is the Yankee equivalent of a complete game. How long has it been since a Yankees starter covered eight innings in a postseason game? You have to go all the way back to Game 2 of the 2003 World Series when Andy Pettitte did so.
"He's been great all through the second half," Pettitte said. "All of his pitches are there. He has such quality stuff that I think he can go out there and just locate his fastball and win. His stuff is so good. Plus, I think the off days have really helped us [pitchers]. I feel strong. I feel unbelievable."
5. That wasn't vintage Pedro Martinez on the mound at Dodger Stadium Friday. He didn't turn the clock back to his prime, full as it was with three Cy Young Awards and swagger by the industrial barrel. It was a smarter, more cunning Martinez pitching without the high-octane velocity or the ability to miss bats. In its own way, what Martinez did to the Dodgers was more impressive, in terms of difficulty, than some of the dominating games of his prime.
Martinez threw 87 pitches, and the Dodgers swung and missed at only four of them. He struck out only three batters. And yet they managed only two hits and never reached even as far as third base. He left after seven shutout innings, his reputation as a master craftsman burnished brighter than ever. Only once before in his pitching career did Martinez throw at least seven shutout innings without striking out more than three batters, and that happened six years ago.
In eight days Martinez turns 38 years old, and that may be most impressive number of all. Inside the past 12 months, most of his pitching contemporaries have been driven to retirement, injury or humility, among them Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Jamie Moyer and Randy Johnson. And here was Martinez in the postseason sunlight of Dodger Stadium turning magic tricks, making pitches seem to disappear, especially that sublime changeup.
Martinez became the oldest starting pitcher in National League postseason history to allow neither a run or a walk. Only a pair of 38-year-old Yankees, Tommy John in the 1981 World Series and Roger Clemens in the 2000 World Series, threw such a clean postseason game while older than Martinez. The legend grows.