10/17/09 12:40 AM EST
Defense abandons Halos in Game 1
Three errors, Yankees' Sabathia hold Angels back
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
The man mountain of a left-hander cruised to a 4-1 Game 1 decision that gave the Bronx Bombers a leg up in the American League Championship Series."He got stronger as the game went on," said Angels leadoff man Chone Figgins, hitless in four at-bats and 0-for-16 in the postseason. "He was awesome." In the category of silver linings, the Angels have come back to claim four of their past seven postseason series after losing the opener. His defense had Lackey climbing uphill right out of the chute, with the most glaring of the team's mistakes -- Gold Glove candidates Erick Aybar and Figgins turning into ice sculptures on a pop fly -- not even going down as one of their three errors. "That's out of character for us," said eight-time Gold Glove center fielder Torii Hunter, who committed one of the errors by mishandling Derek Jeter's RBI single in the sixth on the last pitch thrown by Lackey. "We play the game right. "We'll just have to make some adjustments, get the next one and go home 1-1." Two of the misplays came in the first inning. Following Jeter's leadoff single on a full count, Johnny Damon lined a single inside the left-field foul line. Juan Rivera hustled over and got there but uncorked a throw that sailed wide of the bag at second, enabling Damon to advance on his error as Jeter as steamed into third. After Mark Teixeira flied to shallow left on a 3-0 pitch, Alex Rodriguez stroked a sacrifice fly to center. Hideki Matsui then lifted a towering popup that fell in front of Aybar, enabling Damon to race around and score an unearned run. Neither the shortstop nor Figgins at third made a move on the gift single. "One of us has got to catch it," Figgins said. "Simple as that."
After Lackey escaped a first-and-third predicament in the third by retiring Matsui on a grounder, Vladimir Guerrero launched a towering double to the base of the fence in left-center. The wind appeared to cut down what looked like a home run off the bat.Advancing to third on Rivera's groundout, Guerrero scored when Kendry Morales lined Sabathia's first pitch to left field for a single. Sabathia was in complete control after that, with only one Angels baserunner reaching scoring position: Morales after a seventh-inning walk and infield out, second baseman Robinson Cano robbing Howard Kendrick of a hit. "I thought he used his fastball really well tonight, going in and out with it and mixing in his other pitches," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He pitched eight innings against this club and to only give up one run, that's quite a performance. He kept the guys that can create problems off the bases all night. He was sensational." Table-setters Figgins and Bobby Abreu, the ex-Yankee, were a combined 0-for-8 with three of the seven strikeouts produced by Sabathia. "CC was making his pitches," said Kendrick, who was 8-for-12 against Sabathia coming in and had one of the four Angels hits. "He got the job done, and we didn't."
Lackey had been dominant with 7 1/3 shutout innings in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against Boston, but this time he had difficulty finding a comfort zone."They did a good job of putting pressure on us," Lackey said. "I was out of the stretch a lot. We didn't play to our capabilities. It was a grind, for sure. I didn't have any long stretches of consecutive outs." After leaving two runners stranded in the fourth by striking out Jeter, Lackey was quickly in trouble with Damon's leadoff double to left-center in the fifth. A walk to A-Rod was followed by Matsui's bullet to left-center. It was run down by Rivera, whose relay to Aybar was sent home to the first-base side of the plate. In an incredibly athletic play, Mathis backhanded the throw, whirled toward A-Rod, whose momentum carried him over the catcher before being called out. Damon's run gave Sabathia a two-run lead. Errors by Lackey and Hunter extended the Yankees' lead in the sixth. Lackey walked Melky Cabrera with two out and then sailed a pickoff attempt past first baseman Morales, sending Cabrera to second.
Jeter slashed a line-drive single through the middle. Hunter, sensing a play at the plate, charged but couldn't handle a short hop. The ball got behind him for an error and allowed Jeter to move to second."The ball hit something and got by me," Hunter said, shaking his head in bewilderment. "It happens." In the top of the sixth, the Yankees had frustrated the Angels with two superb defensive plays. Damon robbed Abreu in left, charging his line drive, and Sabathia pounced on Hunter's bunt down the third-base line, throwing him out at first. Hunter and manager Mike Scioscia argued, to no avail, that Teixeira had to come off the bag to complete the play. "CC showed his basketball talent there," Hunter said, grinning. "The big man was great tonight. He showed why he makes all that money." The Yanks let a bases-loaded opportunity against Jason Bulger get away in the bottom half when he struck out Nick Swisher, and Matt Palmer left a runner at third in a scoreless eighth. Mariano Rivera, the "Sandman," put the Angels to bed in the ninth.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.