© 2005 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
ANAHEIM -- The New York Yankees and the Rand McNally Angels of Los Angeles/Anaheim, two teams with clashing pasts but surprisingly similar presents, have been called back on the October stage for make-good appearances.
Both teams have made postseasons a recent habit, but not a very good habit.
They didn't leave the best impressions last year. While the Angels staggered into the postseason disarrayed and couldn't get in even one Division Series lick against Boston, the Yankees folded out of a 3-0 Championship Series lead against the same Red Sox.
So they have obsessed over a common revenge for 12 months, persevered through a season's obstacles to have redemption within reach -- but only one's mission will continue, at the expense of the other.
It's a best-of-five test of expectations, the Division Series starting Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET when Game 1 will light up Angel Stadium.
The Yankees, in the playoffs for the 10th straight October, embark on their quest for a 27th World Series championship behind Mike Mussina, the veteran right-hander truly at a you-never-know-what-you'll-get stage of his career.
"I feel the same I did the last couple of times. No difference," said Mussina.
No clue there: After taking a one-month time-out with elbow tendinitis, "Moose" pitched six innings of four-hit ball; next time out, he was rocked for five runs in 1 2/3.
The Angels, making their third playoff appearance in four years in search of a second World Series trophy, counter with Bartolo Colon, who gets another shot at backing up his big-game reputation with an October splash.
Colon battled a balky back on his way to 21-win status.
"There's some discomfort," he said, "but there's no time to think about it."
While both managers, the Angels' Mike Scioscia and Joe Torre of the Yankees, spent the late afternoon Monday finalizing their Series rosters, the pitching pairings are set for the week.
Chien-Ming Wang meets John Lackey here in Wednesday night's Game 2. When the scene shifts to New York, it will be Randy Johnson vs. Paul Byrd in Game 3 on Thursday, and Shawn Chacon and Jarrod Washburn hook up in Game 4. If a Game 5 is needed back here Sunday, we'll rewind Mussina-Colon.
This opener features a pitching matchup as rich in postseason experience as these teams can muster. Mussina will be making his 19th start in the playoffs, and is 6-6. Colon has also broken even (2-2) in seven prior starts.
Their respective teams are the hottest in the MLB playoff bracket. The Yankees have won 16 of 21, despite two weekend losses in Boston that denied them home-field advantage in this series. The Angels grabbed that edge by winning 14 of their last 16.
"You've got two hot teams in this series," Mussina said. "You just hope your team is the one that stays the hottest."
"In hindsight, this was the furthest thing from our minds," Scioscia said of opening up festivities at home. "You can characterize it as a mild surprise that we're here."
He meant as opposed to being in the Bronx. The Angels expected, and indeed were expected by others, to be division champs for the second consecutive year. So, too, were the Yankees, for the eighth straight year.
How they arrived here, however, differed. The Angels finished off Oakland five days before the wire -- valuable time spent resting, recharging and planning -- as opposed to a year ago, when they fell across the finish line and were promptly stepped on by the Red Sox.
In other words, the type of frantic, hold-your-breath finish the Yankees just went through.
Scioscia accepted an advantage there: "I think it's big. It is big for us. Last year, it was tough for us to reset because we had to go so long and so hard -- almost what the Yankees went through. We'll see how it plays out for them."
Torre, who personally was so emotionally drained he wept openly after Saturday's clinching, shrugged off that angle.
"What we needed to get here, we'll have no problem dealing with whatever we have to deal with," Torre said bravely.
Whether that includes the trouble the Angels traditionally pose Torre's men, only the coming days will tell.
But even discounting their four-game 2002 Division Series win over New York (a heavy discount, to be sure), the Angels have been a thorn in the side of Torre's Yankees. They are the only team with an edge (49-48) over the Bombers since 1996 and played them tough even from the depths of the AL West.
Now that they're on a level playing field, the threat is greater.
"They don't strike out much, [and they] put the ball in play, use the middle of the field," Mussina said. "We'll play our best game, and hope it's better than theirs."
If Mussina sounds a little jaded to you, he is not. He is, however, used to this spotlighted role. He will be pitching the Yankees' sixth Game 1 since 2001 -- he has dropped four of the previous five.
The Angels are dangerous right from the top. Chone Figgins, the leadoff batter, has abused the Yankees battery all season. He has hit .487 against their pitchers and stolen six bases against their catchers.
"There's nothing we can control," primary catcher Jorge Posada said of the Angels' team speed -- they led the Majors with 161 steals. "The pitching staff has to do a better job, but that's about it. There's nothing me and John [Flaherty] can do differently."
"We have to do our best to hold them down, keep them off the bases," Mussina said.
Conversely, Colon and his boys have the keep the Yankees in the yard. The Yankees and Angels may share the same recent successes and frustrations, but not the same game.
While the Angels manufacture runs, the Yankees manufacture oohs-and-aahs. They go for the big inning, and put up the big numbers. Alex Rodriguez (130 RBIs), Gary Sheffield (123) and Hideki Matsui (116) are the first trio of Yankees teammates to drive in 110-plus runs since 1938. Rodriguez (124 runs) and Derek Jeter (122) are the first set of Yankees teammates to finish 1-2 in AL scoring since 1961.
That's Murderers Row II. The Angels don't have any numbers to match that.
Opening games in short series are always critical. In this Series, the opening innings will be critical.
With a lead, the Yankees will be able to line up the fortress part of a bullpen (leading to Mariano Rivera) that has a brittle front end.
With a deficit, the Angels' style is less effective.
So it's on the starters, starting with Mussina and Colon.