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05/26/07 12:33 AM ET
Angels hammer Yanks in opener
Kotchman prevents as many runs as he knocks in
By Lyle Spencer / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- The Angels' strange magic and curious Bronx brew were evident once again on Friday night. They outslugged the Yankees, 10-6, on what unofficially -- and unbeknownst to most guests -- was Casey Kotchman Family Night at Yankee Stadium. The young first baseman put on a four-star performance for his mother, aunt, sister and girlfriend in the crowd numbering 50,363, banging a home run along with two singles and making a stellar defensive play for each finger on his glove hand, thumb included. "My mom grew up [on Long Island], so it was great that they were all able to come and watch me play," the ever-modest and low-key Kotchman said. "My family lives in Florida, so they don't get to see me that much. This was really nice. I saw them last night for dinner, and we spent some time together earlier in the day." Then Kotchman donned No. 35 and delivered a performance behind winning pitcher Jered Weaver (4-3) that must have stirred personal memories for a guy in the Yankees dugout. New York bench coach Don Mattingly has had his share of big games in The House That Ruth Built, and he had to respect what Kotchman did, even if he didn't really care for what it did to his club. The funny thing is, the Angels have had no trouble making themselves at home in Yankee Stadium, a chamber of horrors for most invaders. Whereas Kotchman's .444 average in the Bronx has been formed in limited at-bats (only 18), Chone Figgins -- a small man who plays big under the bright lights -- is a career .380 hitter at Yankee Stadium with a more representative 72 at-bats. "I can't explain it," Figgins said, grinning. "I wish I could. I'd take it with me to the other fields." Figgins' two-run homer was part of a four-run sixth inning that followed a three-run fifth, turning a 3-2 lead into a 10-3 cushion. The Yankees got three in the eighth on Robinson Cano's bases-clearing double, but Francisco Rodriguez wasn't required. Scot Shields finished after Hector Carrasco came on in relief of Weaver. Ever since New York manager Joe Torre arrived in 1996, launching a dynasty, the Angels are the only American League club to hold an advantage over the Yankees: 56-52, not counting playoff triumphs in 2002 and 2005, when they were a combined 6-3. "Believe me, there's no dominance," manager Mike Scioscia said before the game. But the Angels clearly have done better than "held our nose maybe a half-inch above the water line with them" as he suggested, not wanting to wake a slumbering beast. Most of the noise came from the Angels in support of Weaver, who needed 103 pitches to slash his way through the Yankees' highly disciplined lineup, holding them to three runs on seven hits and three walks while striking out five. "When we're at our best, being aggressive," Scioscia said, "no matter what field you're on, you have to make it your field." Vladimir Guerrero (two doubles, single, two RBIs) made his impact. Orlando Cabrera, with a double to go with a pair of walks, ran his hitting streak to 15 games. And Mike Napoli extended his streak to 12 games with a double, driving in a pair of runs with a bases-loaded walk and sacrifice fly. Kotchman's blast was his fourth, leading off the fourth inning against losing pitcher Tyler Clippard (1-1), and Figgins' two-run shot to right against Luis Vizcaino was his first of the season. Weaver was aided by four superb plays by Kotchman and one each by Cabrera, the superb shortstop, and Tommy Murphy in left field. Kotchman began his hit-taking with the first Yankees batter after Weaver took the mound with a 1-0 lead courtesy of Cabrera's and Guerrero's doubles. Johnny Damon grounded sharply wide of first, Kotchman smothered it with a dive and the Yanks went quietly. The next Kotchman gem came after Alex Rodriguez hit his 19th homer to lead off the second, the Angels having scored in the top half of the frame on doubles by Napoli and Shea Hillenbrand. Cabrera's laser arm misfired on Jorge Posada's grounder, forcing Kotchman to elevate and bring the tag down on Posada as he was nearing the bag. Kotchman made it three great plays in three innings when he scooped Cabrera's strong throw from the hole after the shortstop robbed A-Rod of a single and an RBI following Hideki Matsui's two-out double. The fourth Kotchman play, in the fifth, was his most acrobatic. With Derek Jeter on first, Kotchman reacted to a bullet over the bag and made a backhanded stab, depriving Matsui of extra bases. "Defense is always more gratifying than offense, in my opinion," Kotchman said, and his manager appreciated each and every play his first baseman made. "Casey saved as many runs with his glove as he knocked in," Scioscia said, getting ready to catch a red-eye for his son's high school graduation, turning the reins over to bench coach Ron Roenicke for Saturday and Sunday. The Yankees scored once in that fifth inning on Posada's RBI double, but the host team was frustrated when Murphy shot down Posada trying to score on Jason Giambi's single. "That's a tough lineup to get through," Scioscia said. "Jered had to use every pitch he had in every location to get through five innings." Carrasco shut down the Yanks in the sixth and seventh, Kotchman starting a 3-6-1 double play to end the latter. But the veteran right-hander was charged with three runs in the eighth after two walks and a single were cashed in by Cano on his blow to center. That came off Shields, who finished the job, getting the final six outs without further damage. And the Bronx magic endured another hard day's night.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.