Scioscia leads Halos with steady hand
Consistent track record against Yankees speaks for itself
NEW YORK -- The defining moment in the Angels' decade-long run of excellence under Mike Scioscia's commanding direction came on Oct. 2, 2002, at Yankee Stadium.
It starts on Friday night at Yankee Stadium, with the first pitch at 4:37 p.m. PT on FOX.
"This team," Abreu said, wiping champagne from his eyes in a wild Fenway Park celebration, "it never gives up. It never surrenders. These guys always believe in each other."
The cast was almost entirely different -- only John Lackey and Chone Figgins remain among active players -- but that same quality surfaced in Game 2 of the 2002 AL Division Series. The Yankees had used a four-run eighth-inning rally to snatch Game 1, 8-5, the night before.
Showing their resilience, responding to Scioscia's confident manner and steady, firm hand, the Angels bounced back to pin an 8-6 decision on Joe Torre's troupe. They bombed the Bombers with four homers while unleashing a dizzying running game that featured a stolen base by a kid named Figgins, just up from the Minor Leagues.
"That, obviously, was a huge win for us," Scioscia said. "Our guys came back and showed they weren't intimidated."
Riding the momentum home, the Angels scored nine times in each of the next two games, eliminating the stunned Yankees.
The rest, as they say, is hysteria, Rally Monkey-style.
There's just something about that first postseason series of the Scioscia era -- the mental toughness lifting the Angels to a momentous triumph against the heavily favored pinstripers -- that has infused succeeding Scioscia clubs with self-assurance when they engage New York's finest.
Since Scioscia's arrival in 2000, the Angels own a 53-38 record against the Yankees. That includes two AL Division Series showdowns, the West Coasters claiming six of nine in '02 and '05. The Yanks took it to a fifth game before losing in Anaheim in '05.
The teams split two games in each series in old Yankee Stadium. The Angels batted a combined .323 with 21 homers in those nine ALDS games.
Never one to take a bow, Scioscia refused to acknowledge seizing the upper hand against Torre, a man he respects as much as anybody in the game.
"We just matched up well against the Yankees and played well against them," Scioscia said, refraining from any elaboration.
He goes into this series carrying the same high level of appreciation for all the problems posed by Joe Girardi's Yankees that Torre's four-time World Series champions presented.
"We've held our own against that club, but they're an incredible ballclub," Scioscia said. "You can't go too far back, but this year we went blow-for-blow with them and we split the games.
"They're a club that you really have to play well and match up against. They hit home runs throughout the lineup, and it's a tough one. And as far as our lineup, I think we have the ability to pressure the Yankees in a number of ways, and we'll have to do that.
"But I don't think it'll serve much purpose to look back at what happened this season with won-lost [records], runs scored, all that. What we need to do is understand our game the best we can no matter where we play."
Splitting 10 games this season, the Angels outscored the Yankees, 65-55 and outhit them with a .310 batting average and .473 slugging percentage, compared to .272 and .456, respectively, by New York.
Yet the Yankees own the home-field advantage, and they claimed three of four from the Angels in their splendid new home across the street from the historic House That Ruth Built.
The Bambino doubtless would have loved the new place, given how balls fly when lifted toward right field.
While the dimensions clearly seem to favor the Bombers, loaded as they are with power throughout the lineup, these are not the Angels of recent vintage -- all lightning, little thunder.
With Kendry Morales emerging as a power force (34 homers, 108 RBIs) replacing Mark Teixeira at first base, and with five teammates hitting 15 or more homers, these Angels can knock you out with one swing.
"We're known for our speed and athletes," Angels ringleader Torii Hunter said, "but we've got some pop, too. We can drive the ball."
Their 173 big flies represent the franchise's highest output since the 2000 outfit, Scioscia's first, launched 236.
Scioscia continues, however, to stress situational hitting and aggression on the bases -- and not just from the burners such as Figgins and Erick Aybar, two of the game's fastest players.
"[Scioscia] turns us loose," Abreu said, grinning. "He doesn't get mad if you get thrown out going first-to-third. The only time he gets mad is if you don't take it if it's there."
The Angels' attacking style clearly has been unsettling to the Yankees, who have gone 22-34 in their past 56 games against the Angels.
"That's not just another team," said Angels ace John Lackey, who turned away CC Sabathia on May 3 in Anaheim to finish a three-game sweep. "I definitely think as a club we play better to the better competition. You can't really explain it. It's just the way it happened."
Exorcizing their one lingering demon -- the October grip of Red Sox Nation -- seems to have brought the Angels at a new level of confidence.
They'll need it against a dominating Yankees outfit, but it's not as if they haven't been here before.
Seven years ago, Scioscia's troupe met a proud champion at the summit and prevailed, setting in motion a title run in the first of six postseason trips in an eight-year span.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.