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10/26/09 1:20 AM EST
Poor D squashes Halos' rally hopes
Eighth-inning errors end comeback chance in Game 6
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- The Angels were one run away from tying Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium. Then came the meltdown.
No word more appropriately describes what happened in the bottom of the eighth inning, as the Angels imploded with two errors on what should have been easily handled sacrifice bunts. Those errors opened the door to the Yankees' two insurance runs that all but put Game 6 to bed, earning the Yanks, who won by a 5-2 count, a World Series berth and the Angels a one-way ticket to the offseason. The trouble began when Scott Kazmir relieved Ervin Santana with Robinson Cano on first and none out. Nick Swisher put down a bunt to the right side, and first baseman Kendry Morales fielded it. But when Morales threw to first, second baseman Howard Kendrick dropped it, allowing Swisher to reach with Cano safe at second. "I just made a mistake," Kendrick said. "There's nothing to explain. I dropped the ball. I don't have any excuse for it." It was not the last mistake of the inning. Melky Cabrera stepped up and put down a sac bunt of his own. Kazmir fielded this one on the right side, but his throw sailed over a leaping Morales, who couldn't quite reach the lofted toss. The ball scooted away, allowing Cano to score, pinch-runner Brett Gardner to move to third and Cabrera to reach second. "I was kind of in-between," Kazmir said. "I wanted to step and throw, then I saw [Morales] was still on the move, so I wanted to ease up. I ended up airmailing it." After Derek Jeter grounded out and Johnny Damon walked to load the bases, Mark Teixeira lifted a high fly to deep center. The ball nearly carried out for a crushing grand slam. Instead, it fell into the glove of Torii Hunter, and Gardner easily tagged up for a sacrifice fly. The Angels got out of the inning without further damage, but enough damage was done. The Yankees took advantage of the Halos' miscues and scored two runs without getting a hit, while hitting just one ball out of the infield. For all intents and purposes, the game was over, as Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, who had given up a run in the top of the eighth to make it 3-2 New York, had no trouble protecting the three-run lead in the ninth. The defensive troubles were reminiscent of what transpired here in Games 1 and 2, when an Angels defense that is normally fundamentally sound came unraveled under the pressure of the ALCS. In Game 1, shortstop Erick Aybar and third baseman Chone Figgins somehow let an infield popup fall for an RBI single. And in Game 2, second baseman Maicer Izturis' throwing error on a fielder's choice allowed the Yankees to score the winning run in the 13th inning. This is the same Angels team that set a franchise record for fielding percentage and made just 85 errors during the regular season. And yet, in six games in this series, Los Angeles made eight errors. "We should have done better defensively," Hunter said. "I can sit here and make excuses all day. Just looking back, we didn't play Angels-style baseball. We might have played one game or two games the Angels way. We just got away from that a little bit, and they capitalized on every mistake we made." Especially in that eighth-inning meltdown in Game 6.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.