With rain in the forecast and concerns over whether or not they’d be able to get the full game in, the Yanks and Angels started Game Two on-time only to experience nothing more than quick shower. Up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Yankees drew first blood in the second inning thanks to a two-out walk by Nick Swisher and a triple into the gap by Robbie Cano. They tacked on another run in the very next inning on a Derek Jeter opposite field homer, and with AJ Burnett in control, things were looking good.
Burnett, making just the second postseason start of his career, started the game off by throwing first pitch strikes to 13 of the first 15 batters he faced. He had wicked run on his fastball and was commanding it to both sides of the plate – an extreme rarity for him – and dropping his curve in for a strike. Good AJ was in the house, at least until the 5th inning rolled around.
Still maintaining that two-run lead, Maicer Izturis ripped a leadoff ground rule double into right, the hardest hit ball off Burnett all night. Mike Napoli, who for some reason I think is way better than he actually is, flew out to center on the first pitch, but Erick Aybar singled back up to the middle to bring the Halos within one. AJ lost the plate and plunked Chone Figgins – 0-for-October up to that point – to put runners on first and second with one out. Bobby Abreu flew out to deep left after a 10-pitch battle with Burnett, but Torii Hunter walked to load the bases with a pair of outs. Jose Molina, Burnett’s personal catcher, must have gone out to the mound a half-dozen times to talk over pitches that inning, but one pitch that wasn’t in the plans was a 55-ft breaking ball to Vlad Guerrero. The ball got away from Molina, and Aybar trotted in from third to tie the game.
Burnett managed to throw another inning-plus and his final line (6.1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K) was actually pretty good, but the lead was gone. His counterpart, lefty Joe Saunders, justified Mike Scioscia’s faith in him by twirling a gem despite some early struggles. He completed seven innings, putting just seven men on base and giving up just the two early runs. It was certainly not what Yankee fans had in mind when they found out he was starting over Scott Kazmir, but give the man props, he pitched very well.
With the score tied, the Yanks certainly had their chances to push a run or two across in regulation. Melky Cabrera led off the bottom of the 5th with a single, and was followed by Molina’s bi-weekly base hit. With runners at first and second with no outs and the top of the order due up, we were all begging Derek Jeter not to bunt. In retrospect, maybe he should have. Jeter bounced into a tailor made double play to kill the rally, although the replay showed that he was actually safe at first. Ssuch is life.
Two innings later, Swish ripped a leadoff single into left and was promptly lifted for pinch Brett Gardner. I intentionally left the “runner” part off there because Gardner never bothered to attempt to steal second. Instead, Robbie Cano banged into another double play, the third in three innings for the Yankees. Every time we thought “okay, this is when they make their move,” it seemed like the rally was instantly squashed. Talk about frustrating.
Not to be outdone, the Angels blew some prime run scoring chances of their own. Erick Aybar reached base when Cano mishandled the routinest of routine grounders with one out in the 7th, and he eventually moved on down to second after Phil Coke walked Figgins. With Aybar dancing off first, Coke certainly seemed distracted. He rebounded with a big strikeout of Bobby Abreu before giving way to teh bull in a china shop. Joba coaxed a weak grounder out of Torii Hunter, but Jeter had no play at first and just ate it. With the bases loaded and the dangerous but not quite as dangerous as he used to be Vlad Guerrero up to bat, Joba pumped three straight fastballs before getting Vlad to swing over a slider for strike three. The threat was over, and oh yes, there was a fist pump.
Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera combined for three nearly flawless innings of relief, with Mo needing just 25 pitches to record seven outs. They were followed by Al Aceves in the 11th, who was working on eight day’s rest and showed clear signs of rust. Aceves walked the utterly useless Gary Matthews Jr. – a guy making eight figures this year – to leadoff the inning, and two batters later Figgins flared a single into right for his first hit of the postseason and 3-2 lead. A Torii Hunter double play later, and the Yanks were looking at having to mount another come from behind win against Brian Fuentes.
With Fast Freddy Guzman and Brett Gardner hitting fifth and sixth after pinch running earlier in the game, Alex Rodriguez led off the bottom of the inning representing the last real threat in the Yanks the lineup. Fuentes started him off with two fastballs up in the zone, but Alex took both for strikes and faced a quick 0-2 hole. In year’s past, this spot was almost an automatic out for A-Rod, but he lifted Fuentes’ third fastball up into right field, and it found it’s way over the wall to tie the game. It may have been a cheapie, but the wind had been knocking balls down all night (and yesterday as well), so A-Rod had to put some muscle into it. A postseason of heroics continued, but more importantly, the Yanks were alive.
Even though it seemed like they were in trouble all night, the Yanks bullpen really did a tremendous job in this game. They combined to allow just five hits and four walks (three intentional) in seven and two-thirds inning, giving up the lone run by Aceves. The offense, on the other hand, seemed to hibernate at times. They went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base, not exactly how you draw it up in the playoffs. Let’s not forgot all the defensive miscues tonight as well, two by Cano. Thankfully, the bullpen did their part and held down the Angels just long enough.
Five hours after first pitch, Jerry Hairston Jr. pinch hit for Fast Freddy, and led off the 13th with a single right up the middle in his first career playoff at-bat. Everyone in the world knew Gardner was going to bunt Hairston over to second, and sure enough he did. The Greatest Manager Who Ever Lived ordered starter turned reliever Ervin Santana to walk Cano to get to Melky Cabrera, the man responsible for like, ten walk-offs this year. Usually we rip on people who swing at the first pitch after the pitcher walks a guy, but Melky placed the ball perfectly in the 3.5 hole, and instead of making the right play and going to first for the out, Izturis attempted to gun down the lead runner at second, throwing the ball away in the process. Hairston rounded third and scored, and the Yanks had themselves a walk-off, 2-0 series lead.
This was one of those gut punch games, meaning that whoever lost would feel like … well, like they got punched in the gut. The Yanks have all the momentum in the world going into Anaheim now, and will send Andy Pettitte to the mound in Game Three on Monday. Not even Mother Nature could stop them.