Saunders rewards Scioscia's faith
Angels lefty shows why skipper tabbed him for Game 2
NEW YORK -- To some, Joe Saunders was a surprising pick to start Game 2 of the ALCS on Saturday at Yankee Stadium. After all, Saunders hadn't pitched in the Division Series, and Jered Weaver was magnificent in Game 2 of that set against the Red Sox.
But manager Mike Scioscia insisted that Saunders was the best fit for this game -- as a lefty sinkerballer going against the powerful Yankees lineup in the cozy dimensions of Yankee Stadium.Seven sparkling innings later, Saunders showed why Scioscia is often considered among the game's best managers. The left-hander had limited the Yankees to two runs on six hits in those seven frames, striking out five in the process. Saunders worked deeper into the game than Yankees righty A.J. Burnett, helping preserve the Angels' bullpen -- no small feat in a game that lasted 13 innings. His longevity was largely attributable to that sinker. The southpaw induced three double-play ground balls in his final three innings, preventing the Yankees from pulling ahead after the Halos had tied it at two in the fifth. "When I fell behind hitters, I got the key ground ball," Saunders said. "The defense played great tonight." Saunders was part of two of those double plays himself, including a big one in the fifth. The Yankees appeared on the verge of answering the Angels' two game-tying runs in the top of the inning when Melky Cabrera and Jose Molina singled back-to-back leading off. Derek Jeter, who entered the game 7-for-15 off Saunders and had already added a third-inning solo homer run, grounded weakly back to the mound for a 1-6-3 double play that short-circuited the scoring threat. It was the last at-bat the Yankees had against Saunders with a runner in scoring position.
"That was huge. Jeter's obviously done his thing in the postseason; he's gotten me a number of times," Saunders said. "For me to get that big out and turn that big double play was huge for us."Saunders was able to get Jeter there and the Yankees' other big hitters in crucial spots. New York's heart of the order -- Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui -- combined to go 0-for-9 off Saunders. He induced an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play from Matsui in the sixth and exacted revenge on Robinson Cano, who drove in the Yankees' first run with an RBI triple, with a double-play grounder in the seventh. But the Angels' demise on Saturday night came when they tried to pull off one double play too many. With runners on first and second and one out in the 13th, Melky Cabrera chopped the ball to second baseman Maicer Izturis' left. Izturis fielded the ball and pivoted quickly toward second, but airmailed the throw past shortstop Erick Aybar, allowing Jerry Hairston Jr. to score the winning run. While he admitted it was deflating, Saunders admired the way he and the Angels battled all night. And the native of Virginia is eager to get one more chance to pitch in the frigid New York weather in a potential Game 6. "I've pitched in cold weather my whole life. Cold weather is good for me," Saunders said. "I like pitching in the cold, and we're just going to come back and hopefully win a couple games at home."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.