Commentary

Angels put up a stinker in ALCS opener

Three errors and a few other botched plays by L.A. allowed Yankees to cruise to win

Originally Published: October 16, 2009
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Games like the one played on Friday night happen in baseball. Of course, they usually happen to the Pirates or the Royals, not a team playing for the American League pennant.

Fresh off sweeping the Red Sox in the Division Series, the Angels opened the ALCS as if they were fresh off a long winter of golf and scuba diving. Los Angeles had nearly as many errors (three) as hits (four), walked five batters, hit another, threw a wild pitch and trailed almost the entire nine innings of a 4-1 loss to the Yankees.

[+] EnlargeErick Aybar
William Perlman/US PresswireAngels shortstop Erick Aybar had a difficult time keeping a handle on the ball in the Angels' 4-1 loss to the Yankees in Game 1 of the ALCS.

On the other hand, the Angels never once tripped while walking back to the dugout after striking out against CC Sabathia.

"Honestly, it probably makes it a little easier to turn the page because we know we didn't play up to our abilities,'' Angels starter John Lackey said. "We can just chalk it up to that and come back and get them tomorrow. We know we can play better.''

The Angels made three official errors and should have been charged with another on the most embarrassing mistake of the night. With two outs in the bottom of the first, shortstop Erick Aybar and third baseman Chone Figgins let what should have been an inning-ending popup drop between them and allowed Johnny Damon to score from second base to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead.

A mistake like that is embarrassing in your company softball league, but there is probably nowhere worse than in front of a sold-out Yankee Stadium crowd in a playoff game on national TV.

Figgins said he initially called for Aybar to take the ball, but that the shortstop didn't hear him.

"It went up and one of us should have called it and made the play. As simple as that,'' Figgins said. "We've got to catch that ball in that situation.''

"Bad communications,'' Aybar said in Spanish through an interpreter. "I didn't hear anything. I saw him standing there and I thought he was going to catch it.''

"They have had a great feel in their range all year on the left side,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "On that ball there, they should be able to figure out one of the guys is going to call it, and you need more of a visual signal to make sure the ball is being tracked properly.''

Well, there's no need to single those two guys out. They had plenty of company. Left fielder Juan Rivera threw way off line to second base earlier in that inning, allowing Damon to reach scoring position in the first place. In the sixth inning, Lackey threw wildly to first base on a pickoff attempt, allowing Melky Cabrera to advance to second and then score on Derek Jeter's two-out single. Torii Hunter also botched a play in center field, though it didn't lead to a run.

Nothing was easy for the Angels. After holding the Red Sox scoreless in Game 1 in the Division Series, Lackey pitched from the stretch much of the night. Reliever Jason Bulger pitched a scoreless seventh inning, but not before loading the bases on two walks, a hit-batter and a wild pitch.

The Angels joined the Twins in postseason mistakes against the Yankees. In four postseason games, New York opponents have made five errors and multiple running mistakes. Then again, as Lackey said of the many Game 1 mistakes, "The way CC pitched tonight, it didn't really much matter.''

Staring at 0-1 and 0-2 counts much of the game, the Angels managed only five baserunners and one extra-base hit against Sabathia and struck out seven times against him. When Damon scored on the dropped popup to put the Yankees ahead 2-0, the Angels were essentially done for the night.

The Angels didn't blame the cold (mid to low 40s with a little rain at the start of the game) or the wind or the four-day layoff for their problems, saying they stunk perfectly well on their own. And they expressed confidence they'll put all that behind them in Game 2.

At least, they better.

"You've got to have amnesia,'' Hunter said. "I've been saying that my whole career, you've got act like you have amnesia and tomorrow we'll be right back to it again.''

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com