For Yankees, it got late early
Trio of Angels relievers shuts down New York in Game 2
ANAHEIM -- Whenever John Lackey starts a game, two things often happen.The Angels bullpen will have a busy night. And the Angels will win. That scenario played out in Wednesday night's Game 2 of the American League Division Series, as a result a 1-1 deadlock as it makes its way East. Because of his tendency to high pitch counts, Lackey's tank empties suddenly. But after he got gassed in this one with two outs in the sixth, three relievers held the Yankees to one hit across the final 3 1/3 innings, holding them down until the Angels figured out a way to take a 5-3 victory. "The bullpen ... everyone on our staff ... we have so much confidence in them," noted second baseman Adam Kennedy. "We feel good about whoever is on the hill." The postseason always brings new wrinkles. All managers adapt to the urgent demands of short series and short rosters, frozen once a series begins. Thus you have veteran starter Al Leiter coming out of New York's bullpen, and Mike Scioscia using familiar faces in unique roles to secure Game 2. First up was Scot Shields, who came on to retire Derek Jeter -- with men on first and third -- for the final out of the sixth. Then Shields called it a night. This was the right-hander's 80th appearance of the year -- and the first time he came in to face only one man. "I know my job is to finish off that inning, and that [Kelvim] Escobar is already warming up for the next inning," Shields said. "I was lucky to get out of that, and hold the runner on third." Next, Escobar froze the Yankees with his diving sinker for two innings. Escobar's Angels career began with 40 consecutive starts, but he returned from a midseason battle with an elbow problem to assist in relief. "It was huge for us when he came back," Scioscia said. "The dynamics of our bullpen changed. After Kelvim stepped in, we had the extra arm to let everything fall in place. It was an important piece of the puzzle." Then Francisco Rodriguez finished up, and finished off the Yankees. This was Lackey's 16th start since the All-Star break, and he has lost only one of them. Personally, he has picked up only eight of those decisions -- but that bullpen usually has his back. "This was very important for us," said Rodriguez, who appeared as a phantom in the 2002 postseason, but now is an established closer with 59 saves -- 45 of them this season -- to his credit. "We didn't want to go on the road down two-nothing. "Now we can go and try to win in New York, and try to go to the next level." K-Rod did not have a spotless ninth inning, which opened with Jorge Posada's home run. But thanks to an eighth-inning homer by his own catcher, Bengie Molina, Rodriguez never had to deal with the potential tying run.
"Yes, the extra run was big," Rodriguez said of Molina's second homer in as many nights, which handed him a 5-2 lead. "It gives you one more run to work with. I come in with that and, mentally, it's different."Only two runs ahead, you'd go out there trying to hit corners. But with a three-run lead, I don't want to walk people. I tried to get ahead in the count, and I left a pitch right down the middle for [Posada]." He could afford it. Tino Martinez struck out, Jeter and Alex Rodriguez both grounded out, and the Angels had a textbook victory. Interestingly, it was K-Rod's first career postseason save. Three years ago, his phenomenon was fed by five postseason victories. The Angels then still had Troy Percival to close games.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.