Angels not intimidated by Bronx shrine
Success in New York during Torre era keeps hopes high
NEW YORK -- The majestic shrine that rises in the Bronx on the shore of the East River has awed and intimidated visitors for eight decades.The recent Angels are not among them. To them, it's the Fun House that Ruth Built. Ever since Joe Torre became the Yankees' manager -- just to put a concrete time frame on it -- the Angels have been the proverbial guests who knock, drop their luggage and pretty soon are running the place. Or as Torre himself once remarked, "You don't like people coming into your house and rearranging the furniture." Some have suggested that when the new Yankee Stadium is ready for occupancy and the classic one has to be leveled, they should just invite back the Angels to do it. Because they've done a pretty good job of demolishing it for years. An overstatement, to be sure. But the Angels do feel comfortable here, just as surely. Randy Johnson, the Yankees' Game 3 starter on Friday night, flew home on Wednesday. He split even before the teams did. But the Angels will catch up to him soon enough. "We have no pressure on ourselves. We are going to try to win two games in their stadium," said Angels catcher Bengie Molina. "We've done it before." Just like that, lightly shrugging off the prospect of entering The House on the pivot of a Division Series tied at one game apiece. "Been there, done that." Indeed, they have. The Angels have not lost a season series in Yankee Stadium since Torre became its caretaker in 1996. The arrangement has always been tight and competitive, the Angels during that stretch owning an overall 26-22 edge, with periodic peaks, such as a four-game sweep in 1999 and a three-game sweep in 2004. "When you go into Yankee Stadium, you have to make it your field," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, confirming Torre's dislike with a statement that the place's hallowed ghosts would surely consider sacrilegious. But Scioscia explained: "You have to keep playing your game, and hopefully, you do enough things right to end up on top. We're not going to focus on anything about the atmosphere." So, Aura and Mystique, you can take the night off. If there is such a thing as leading a series one game to one, an apparent oxymoron uttered with momentum and trends in mind, the Angels could claim that advantage. Of course, it can blow up with the thud of Randy Johnson's heaters into catcher John Flaherty's mitt. Molina's advice on the best way to prepare for the tall left-hander won't be encouraging to his team's fans: "[The] only thing we can do is probably pray a lot." Yet, if they somehow survive, it looks better for the Angels on the other side of Big Unit, with their own left-hander, Jarrod Washburn, awaiting to pitch Game 4 against Shawn Chacon. The Angels are also heartened to be in a deadlock without help from the biggest weapons in their offensive arsenal: Chone Figgins, who lights the fuse, and Vladimir Guerrero, who sets off the big bangs. Between them, they are 1-for-14, that one hit an inconsequential Guerrero single. And the Due Brothers swing from the right side (Figgins being a switch-hitter), about the only advantage, however slight, anyone can bring to the plate against Johnson. Truthfully, Johnson has made himself even more at home in Yankee Stadium than have the Angels. Only a .500 pitcher on the road this season, Johnson went 11-2 in the Bronx, where he has not lost since April, when the Blue Jays beat him. No wonder he was so eager to get back to New York. As were all of the Yankees, after an exceptionally long absence. After playing their last home game on Sept. 23 -- and leaving town with a one-game division lead over Boston and no guarantees of being back before next April -- the Yankees closed out the season with seven road games and opened the postseason with two more.
"We were hoping to get more done [in Anaheim]," Torre said. "But we're pleased to go home. We can put another load on Randy.""We've got Randy on the mound, and we play very good at home, so we'll see what happens," Jorge Posada said. "He's been our ace. He's the guy we want on the mound, and we're really happy he's going to pitch Game 3 for us." Posada shares the view of anyone who observes Johnson, which is what the Yankees' regular catcher also does. Because of an affinity the pitcher has nurtured with backup catcher Flaherty, Posada will not be behind the plate for a New York postseason game for the first time since 1999. That's such a long time ago, the man with whom Posada shared catching duties that October, Joe Girardi, could have a Major League managing job any minute. Posada could still be a presence in the game, if Torre chooses to deploy him as the designated hitter -- a risky tact, because the manager would lose the option of any late-game moves involving Flaherty, his only other catcher. Regardless, Posada's absence from behind the plate will mark a sort of passage. The veteran has no problems with this idiosyncrasy of the Big Unit, since he is focused on the Big Picture. "I know this is something he doesn't resent," Torre said, "because he understands it's been working. It's no blow to his ego." That will be the Angels' job, to deliver another blow to the Yankees' self-esteem by again disrupting their household. Ruth may have built it, but now it's up to Randy to brace it.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.