Why the Angels lost to the Yankees

The Angels lost because the Yankees are the better team, and they played better baseball for six games. End of story. Sometimes it really is that simple.
I suppose I owe you a little bit longer article than that, so as painful as this is, here it goes:

Clutch-Rod is a better player than Choke-Rod

They look the same, but when the Angels beat the Yankees in 2005 Choke-Rod went 2-for-15 with zero RBIs. Had this player come up in Game Two, Brian Fuentes would have struck him out and at the very least, the Angels would be playing game seven as I write this. Clutch-Rod hit .429 with a 1.519 OPS this series, and induced more fear in a six-game series than fear-based Hall of Famer Jim Rice did in his entire career. (Anyone who wants to even debate this must show me an instance where Rice was walked intentionally with nobody on.)

In some of the recent series where Choke-Rod disappointed the Yankees, there was much talk about him not being right at the plate, pressing, and Joe Torre even dropped him to eighth in the batting order. This series, the announcers kept mentioning how focused and locked in he was. I don’t believe that there was some mental deficiency that prevented him from hitting before, or that he’s some sort of superman now over and above his typical, excellent level of play. He’s just a streaky hitter, and just happened to hit bad streaks in previous postseasons. Trying to beat the Yankees is tough enough—beating them with Clutch-Rod hitting his best is damn near impossible.

The Yankees starting pitchers pitched better

CC Sabathia had a tremendous pair of games. A.J. Burnett pitched a good game and a bad game, and Andy Pettite pitched a decent Game Three and an excellent Game Six. For the Angels, John Lackey pitched wonderfully in Game 5. His Game One was so-so. He was unlucky to have bad defensive support, as two of the four runs he gave up were unearned, but frankly he’s lucky that more runs didn’t score, given that he allowed nine hits and three walks in less than six innings, only striking out three. In addition, one of the errors leading to a run was his own.

Joe Saunders pitched an excellent Game Two and a pathetic Game Six, while Scott Kazmir was terrible in Game Five. Weaver’s Game Three start was mediocre, as he alternated between pitching out of jams and allowing solo homers, but things could have been much worse than three runs allowed. In total, if I were Girardi I would have been happy with five out of the six efforts by my starters, and if I were Scioscia I would have been satisfied with only two, by Saunders and Lackey.

Mariano Rivera

The Angels scored a run off him! However, it was too little and too late, and overall Rivera was his typical superhuman self, twice working out of jams with runners on third and less than two out.

The Angels defense was weak

In Game Two, the Angels lost on an error, which was a mental error more than anything as Izturis had no good reason not to take the easy out at first. They may have lost that game anyway, but the error made it certain. Two ugly errors on bunts changed the score in Game Six. In the end, they didn’t affect the outcome, just made the game a lot uglier than it should have been. The Angels made eight errors in six games. It happens sometimes, I’m sure they can find a six game regular season stretch where they were just as bad if not worse, but this was atypical. This team made only 85 in the regular season, and only one against the Red Sox.

I’m disappointed that the Angels are not going to the World Series, but they can look back fondly on so much of the 2009 season. They won 97 games despite a rotation that suffered both injuries and a fatality. They finally beat the Red Sox in the playoffs, something I’ve been waiting 23 years for, and did it in ideal fashion, beating a closer who had never allowed a postseason run. And while there the play against New York left a lot to be desired, they gave the Yankees a good scare, pushing the series back to New York and until the eighth inning bunt errors, I doubt many Yankee fans were feeling secure.

There were a lot of great moments for Angels fans to remember in 2009, and it’s likely the last time we’ll see the team as it was constituted. Several key players head to free agency, and between them and young players like Brandon Wood future Angels teams will look a lot different.

Best of luck to the Yankees as they go for their first ring in almost a decade, and may they silence the mocks of Red Sox fans who chant “Year Two Thou-sand.”

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14 years ago

“However, ignoring the fact that, in game 6 especially, Pettite was getting a much larger strike zone than Saunders cannot be ignored.”

That’s not really true.  What IS true is that Pettitte was getting the borderline outside pitches (against RHs) called for strikes, and he took advantage by placing pitch after pitch to that location.  Saunders didn’t locate the ball well to that or any other spot in particular.  If you look at Gameday, the vast majority of his pitches that were called for balls were well off the plate.  Apparently he WANTED to establish the inside strike against the 2 RHs (Jeter & ARod), however, even if Saunders had shown better control, there’s no requirement that umpire give one pitcher the outside and the other the inside.  It was the same for both:  the outside border was generally a strike; the inside was generally a ball.   

Keep in mind that Saunders only pitched 3.1 innings, and, of these, the Yankees only scored on him in the 4th inning.  Again, look at Gameday show me where there was any systematic problem where Pettitte was getting a wider strike zone than Saunders.  It was the same zone for both of them, but Andy did a much, much better job taking advantage of what the umpire was seeing.

14 years ago

Sean, good stuff.

A quick check at b-ref splits for Jim Rice shows no
bases empty IBB.

Sean Smith
14 years ago

I wanted to complain about the game six strike zone.  Heck, I was screaming at the TV the whole time.  But after the game I looked at gameday, and I have to admit, Pettite’s pitches were closer.  He pitched a great game, and deserves credit for such.

Richard Chen
14 years ago

Kendrick’s D has gotten a pass for some reason. Of course there’s the drop of the first sac bunt in the Yanks’ final inning, but I thought his weak throw home on the Yanks’ first run of game 4 sent that game down the toilet. I mean, the infield was in, and he got a two-(one-?)hopper right to him, and he couldn’t get ARod at home?  However, ARod did seem inspired in all aspects.

Jim C
14 years ago

Everything you say, especially about the Angels’ defense, is true. However, ignoring the fact that, in game 6 especially, Pettite was getting a much larger strike zone than Saunders cannot be ignored. The umpiring has been awful throughtout the postseason, but the Yankees benefited from the bad calls more than any other team.