The Rally Monkey would have no impact on this night.
CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez made sure that annoyingly cute primate wouldn't be able to whip up the Angels and their red-clad, thunder stix smacking fans into a frenzy.
Sabathia, pitching on three days' rest, allowed one run in eight innings, and A-Rod sparked the offense to lead the Yankees to a 10-1 victory over the Angels in Anaheim Tuesday in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, giving the Yankees a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The two Yankees players who had the biggest questions about how they would perform during the postseason have put the Yankees a win away from the World Series. For Sabathia, it's clear his past struggles were the result a heavy workload in the regular season taking its toll in the postseason. For A-Rod, his struggles were purely mental.
For both players, those troubles are officially a thing of the past.
Sabathia made five starts in a pressure-free September, going 4-0 with a 1.29 ERA. More importantly, he never threw more than seven innings in any of those starts and averaged 106.4 pitches a start.
He was fresh for the playoffs and results have been astounding: Going 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA and 20 strikeouts over 22-2/3 innings in three starts. He had been 2-4 with a 7.92 ERA in six previous postseason starts.
Tuesday's start may have been his most gutsy, taking the ball on three days' rest a day after the Yankees had given a game away to let the Angels back into the series.
In addition, since 1995 pitchers have not had much success pitching on three days' rest in the playoffs. In 85 starts, they had gone 20-34 with a 4.65 ERA in 458-1/3 innings. Sabathia had one of those starts for the Brewers last season, but it should be noted that it was his fourth consecutive start on three days' rest as he carried the Brewers to the NL Wild Card.
But any affect that short rest may have had on Sabathia this year appeared minimal as he dominated from the start, using his lively fastball and devastating change to keep the Angels off-balance.
The result was an impressively efficient outing in which Sabathia allowed just five hits and two walks, while striking out five and throwing 69 of 101 pitches for strikes. He could have gone the distance in this one, but with a big lead after eight, there was no need to ask any more of the ace lefthander.
The only significant trouble Sabathia ran into came in the fifth, when Kendry Morales hit a one-out homer to left that made it 5-1. Mike Napoli followed with a sharp single past A-Rod at third before Erick Aybar followed with a single to center to put runners on first and second. But Sabathia got Chone Figgins to ground into a forceout before getting Bobby Abreu to fly out to center.
Torii Hunter walked and Vladimir Guerrero singled to start the sixth, but Sabathia got Juan Rivera to ground into a double play on a play on which Jorge Posada lost track of the outs and started to leave the field. The Angels never threatened again.
The offense, meanwhile, struggled to get started. Coming off consecutive games in which the Yankees went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, it looked for a while as if those struggles would continue to be a major problem.
A-Rod led off the second with a walk and stole second before Posada walked. With three chances to bring a run in, the Yanks did nothing as Hideki Matui and Robinson Cano popped out and Nick Swisher flew out: RISP 0-for-3.
Mark Teixeira struck out to end the third with Johnny Damon on second: RISP 0-for-4.
A-Rod got things going again in the fourth with a sharp single and Posada followed with a double to put runners on second and third with no outs. This time, though, the Yankees would come through, but not before Matsui struck out: RISP 0-for-5.
With the infield back, Cano then hit a topper to second that Howie Kendrick fielded, but threw high to home, allowing A-Rod to slide in safely under the tag to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead, though they were now 0-for-6 with RISP, Cano reaching on the fielder's choice.
Swisher then walked to loaded the bases, but Melky Cabrera finally broke the RISP drought, grounding a single to left to bring in two, Cano just beating Napoli's tag to make it 3-0.
Then the umpires made their presence felt. Angels starter Scott Kazmir picked off Swisher from second, but second base ump Dale Scott blew the call and ruled Swisher safe. The play wasn't close. It was a hideous call.
Then after Derek Jeter walked, Johnny Damon hit a sacrifice fly to score Swisher, but on appeal, third base ump and crew chief Tim McClelland called Swisher out for leaving the base too early, ending the inning. The call wasn't close to being right and what's stranger is that McClelland wasn't even looking at Swisher when he left third, but proceeded to call him out anyway. Can you say, "Makeup call?"
The Yankees also had a 3-0 lead in Game 2 and against the Angels in Anaheim, a three-run lead is far from safe. A-Rod made sure the Yankees' offense would not relent.
Teixeira led off the fifth with a single to chase Kazmir from the game. A-Rod then greeted reliever Jason Bulger by lining an 0-and-1, 94 mph fastball over the wall in left for a two-run homer to make it 5-0. It was A-Rod's fifth homer of the postseason and the eighth straight game he's had at least one RBI, tying the record of Lou Gehrig and Ryan Howard.
A-Rod's turnaround has been nothing short of amazing. Between Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS and 2007 ALDS against the Indians, he had played 16 playoff games and had exactly one homer and one RBI, those coming in the Yankees' final ALDS game in '07. It was clear he was pressing to carry the Yankees in those games.
This season, three of A-Rod's homers have tied games. He's been very relaxed and has been playing with a supreme amount of confidence. The result has been that he has finally been able to live up to expectations and has carried this offense. A bit ironic, no?
But after A-Rod's homer, thing went haywire. Jorge Posada walked and stole second as Matsui struck out against Jason Bulger. Cano then crushed a double that should have easily scored Posada, but Posada had gone back to second to tag as Hunter put on a good deke and wound up only at third. It was yet another example of Posada's poor baserunning instincts.
But the worst of Posada's running -- and of baseball's poor umpiring -- were yet to come.
Swisher next bounced back to reliever Darren Oliver, who trapped Posada off third. Posada properly got into a run down so that Cano could reach third, but when Posada was chased back to the base, Cano took his foot off third and Posada overran third. Napoli proceeded to tag both while neither was touching the base for what should have been a double play. Somehow McClelland blew yet another call, ruling Cano safe.
The umpires have been an absolute travesty in the playoffs and something has to be done. With each blown call, the integrity of the game take a major hit. This season, that integrity has received a black eye.
Commissioner Bud Selig, other baseball officials and managers such as Mike Scioscia and Joe Girardi can fret about rhythm of the game all they want, but if umpires are botching calls, then that rhythm is useless. The public cares more about calls being right than it does about any perceived rhythm of the game.
Baseball needs to do a better job of training and instructing its umpires and it has to expand its use of replay to include all boundary calls, not just homers, as well as plays at bases, especially scoring plays. The league may also want to include a challenge system for all other non-balls-and-strikes calls.
Fortunately for the umps, the Yankees did not score that inning. They did, however, score in the eighth on Damon's two-run homer to make it 7-1. They made it 10-1 in the ninth when A-Rod doubled and scored on a throwing error by Abreu before Cabrera later smoked a two-run double.
Chad Gaudin then came on pitched a flawless ninth, much to his credit. Gaudin had been held back in reserve throughout the playoffs as the long-man for extra innings or as a potential fourth starter. Yet in his first game action, he was sharp and did the job. He had ready made excuse for a poor outing, but just went out and executed. That's all you can ask.
So the Yankees have a 3-1 lead in this series, but we, as Yankees fans, know there is still a lot of work left to be done. Fresh in our memories is that 2004 ALCS when the Yanks blew a 3-0 lead against the Red Sox to become the first baseball team to lose a series in which it was up 3-0. Until the final out of that fourth victory is recorded, we can take nothing for granted.
A.J. Burnett will get the start in Game 5 Thursday. I hope he's sharp and can avoid that one bad inning so that the Yankees can win it in Anaheim and celebrate on the grave of that hideous Rally Monkey.
The sooner this series is over, the better.
Runners In Scoring Position
ALCS Game 5
Thursday at Angels, 7:57 p.m., FOX
Burnett (13-9, 4.04 ERA; Postseason: 0-0, 2.19 ERA in two starts)
vs. John Lackey (11-8, 3.83; Postseason: 1-1, 1.38 in two starts)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
The Rally Monkey would have no impact on this night.