10/15/09 4:36 PM EST
ALCS meant to be Yankees-Angels
Top Junior Circuit teams meet in what could be long series
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
That all is true, the Yankees admit, somewhat wearily. But there are two major points that have been made from the pinstriped clubhouse in the Bronx -- one, those were different years and different players, and two, the Angels have pretty much played winning baseball against everyone else, too.
"Sometimes what's not talked about is how good of a team they've been over the last 10 years," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "World Series teams, ALCS's, winning their division, winning 100 games. They've been very tough on the Yankees. They're different than most teams.
"To me, they remind me of teams that when I came up and played -- it was like playing the St. Louis Cardinals; there was going to be a lot of action. One thing that you can't do is get caught up in the action. You have to continue to make pitches on them."
The Yankees have reason for confidence on that front, having taken three of the past four head-to-head meetings with the Angels, including winning a series in September at Angel Stadium -- their first there since 2004, and one that left the Yankees wondering if they'd be back in October.
"This is going to be a good matchup," Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said. "Both teams have great players, a good manager. You've got to play inning by inning, so you've got to focus all the time.
"This is a team that can run. They can play the game. You don't want to take chances and wait for the last innings to score runs. You want to start from the beginning, especially at home. It would be good to win these two games and then go play there."
The Yankees and Angels prepare for action under the lights at Yankee Stadium on Friday at 7:57 p.m. ET on FOX, kicking off the ALCS with CC Sabathia set to oppose John Lackey. And there is plenty of talk that the Yankees (103-59) and Angels (97-65), baseball's winningest teams of the year, are the best matchup that could have been hoped for.
"That's what everybody is saying," A.J. Burnett said. "Everybody that got this far is a good team. We just played a good team [in the Twins], so I guess the best of the best advance. We've got our work cut out for us, so we'll prepare and get ready."
Pitchouts and slide steps will take on importance for the pitching staff, because, one way or another, the Yankees have to figure out a way to cut down the Angels' speed game. It isn't impenetrable -- they stole 148 bases in 2009, but nobody was caught more (63).
"It's tough when you have [Chone] Figgins over there and he's jumping around and [Erick] Aybar and those guys," Sabathia said. "It's easy to make a bad pitch or hang a pitch to one of the guys in the middle of the lineup."
The Yankees still giggle when the Rally Monkey begins bouncing on the video screen at Angel Stadium and carrying on his late-inning shenanigans, but there's been little fun about the way the Angels have had the Yankees' number.
Since 1995, the Angels have been the only AL team to give the Yankees a losing record (68-80, .459), a testament to how Mike Scioscia's old-school style has given them headaches.
NOT SO ANGELIC
Those numbers don't make hard evidence for the Yankees, because they do not seem to put much stock in them. And it's not like that the Angels are exactly leaning on highlight videos of the 2002 and '05 AL Division Series, when the Yankees exited early under Joe Torre, to power them through to the World Series.
"We've had some success, but it was before I got here," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "But I promise you, this Yankee team isn't worried about the past, just like we weren't worried about it when we played the Red Sox. You have to go out there and play the game."
The mission statement that Girardi has drummed into his players' heads since the first day of Spring Training had four distinct stages. The first two have already been accomplished, winning the AL East and then advancing past the first round of the playoffs.
You can guess what the other two steps in that procession, which ends with a long-awaited parade down the Canyon of Heroes. But the Yankees know it won't be easy to get there, particularly faced with an ALCS that could go the distance.
"We can't be any further than we are now, so it feels good," Jeter said. "We still haven't reached our ultimate goal, which is to win the championship. There's steps toward it, and we've accomplished the first two. Now we need to try to win this."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.