Monday, May 28, 2007
Walk Of Life: Angels 4, Yankees 3
Howie Kendrick had a pair of hits, including a booming seventh inning double that could have scored Casey Kotchman but for (a) Kotchman's absence of speed, and (b) a moment of understandable hesitation. That got Joe Torre to the mound with the hook for starter Mike Mussina, replacing him with lately reliable reliever Scott Proctor.
Ron Roenicke then made the defining decision of this game, a memorable one that will put him in very high esteem in my mind for a long time to come: he brought in pinch-hitter Erick Aybar to replace Robb Quinlan to face the righty Proctor. Quinlan had gone 1-for-2 against Mussina, but his season line against righties is a rather dismal .244/.261/.489, and so Aybar, sporting a relatively robust but small-sample-sized .276/.323/.310. The focus, of course, was on the OBP, for after an 11-pitch at-bat, Aybar walked to drive in the tying run. It was so uncharacteristic of the Angels that even Roenicke confessed to being surprised:
"Two bases-loaded walks, not real good odds on that," Roenicke said. "That wasn't really in my mind."Unfortunately, I don't have Retrosheet play-by-play data to tell you the last time an Angel drove in a run on a bases-loaded walk, let alone the go-ahead run (improbably, Chone Figgins). However you want to slice it, Roenicke pulled some gold out of his hat.
That decision paid off twice, as it happened. With Mike Napoli at third and Aybar at second, Reggie Willits' hit a fly to medium center off new Yankee pitcher Brian Bruney. Since Johnny Damon has been sidelined lately with a gimpy hamstring, Melky Cabrera — who has a decent arm — was patrolling center, and thus was a legitimate threat to throw out any daring baserunners trying to score.
Napoli tagged and bolted for the plate as only a catcher can. Now, Napoli has decent speed if you add the caveat, "for a catcher"; but by himself, he was a dead duck. One of Aybar or third base coach Dino Ebel had Aybar motor for third. By the time Aybar was halfway to third, Doug Mientkiewicz had fielded Cabrera's return throw. Whether by intent or sheer dumb luck, Aybar, not Napoli, drew the throw, and the Angels scored what turned out to be the winning run rather than making the last out at the plate.
That extra run turned out to be important because Frankie Rodriguez had to face the top of the Yankees' order. He had his B command in this game, walking leadoff batter Bobby Abreu, giving up a single to Jorge Posada, and allowing a sac fly to Cabrera with men on second and third. But he finally nabbed "Captain Clutch" on a long flyball out to make the final out of the game, and the Angels once again beat the Yankees, 4-3, sweeping them at Yankee Stadium. The last time they did that was August 20-22, 2004.
But we aren't here talking about a win without mentioning John Lackey's fine effort, eight innings of two-run ball in which he held 1-5 batters to a measly 2-for-20. Oddly, it was little-used reserve catcher and former Angel system product Wil Nieves who did the damage, going 2-2 with a pair of RBIs against Lackey. He's really grown in to the ace role, and while maybe he doesn't tread the lofty ground expected of names like Johan Santana, Felix Hernandez, or Roy Halliday, he's the first pitcher in the majors to make it to eight wins. If he keeps this kind of performance up (and the Angels can keep supporting him offensively), a Cy Young might be in the cards.
Is that about right?