- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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NEW YORK -- The Yankees led the major leagues with 915 runs scored this season, and ranked first among the 30 clubs with 136 home runs at home. That offensive firepower helped produce a slew of late comeback victories, and allowed A.J. Burnett to keep his right arm in shape flinging whipped-cream pies between starts.
The fun continued in the American League Division Series. Even though the Yankees hit a collective .225 against Minnesota, they ripped the heart out of the Twins with big late home runs by Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira in Game 2. There always was a sense, particularly in the Bronx, that the New York hitters could summon the big fly at a moment's notice.
But home run trots aren't as abundant when the elements conspire against slugfests. When the temperature is barely 40, the flags are whipping in left field, the earflap concession is hopping and second baseman Robinson Cano has the entire L.L. Bean winter catalogue crammed beneath his game uniform, it's time for a subtler approach.
The Yankees forsook the bludgeon for a scalpel in their 4-1 victory over the Angels in Game 1 of the ALCS. Starter CC Sabathia was exceptional, throwing eight innings of precise, four-hit ball, and closer Mariano Rivera breezed through the ninth for his 36th career postseason save.
Dominant pitching: check.
The Yankees scored two early runs on a Rodriguez sacrifice fly and some hideous Angels defense, then tacked on two more runs on two-out RBI hits by Derek Jeter and Hideki Matsui. So they were adequately covered in the "timely hitting" department as well.
Finally, the Yankees made the lead stand up with some exceptional defense from Johnny Damon, Cano and Sabathia, who was more agile than a 290-pounder has a right to be in springing off the mound to field a Torii Hunter bunt in the sixth inning.
"That's one athletic play," Teixeira said. "I know CC was a heck of a high school basketball player, and he played football as well. He's not just a big pitcher out there. That guy can move."
In the end, there wasn't a whipped-cream pie to be found. This was a back-to-basics victory with more of a meat-and-potatoes theme. And no one in the New York clubhouse cared that the game made for less riveting television than the "Balloon Boy" saga.
More often than not, the teams that win in October pitch the best, make the fewest mistakes and simply find a way. In their quest for the franchise's first title since 2000, the Yankees will take their victories any way they can get them.
"In the postseason, pitching steps up," Teixeira said. "Teams don't have to worry about saving any of their relievers, so you're going to get their best pitchers every night. And you're not going to score a ton of runs."
Particularly when Sabathia is pitching. He entered this October with a reputation for October fades, but his velocity, command and the crispness of his pitches are evidence that Yankees manager Joe Girardi did him a favor by giving him extra rest between several starts in September.
Sabathia made a conscious effort to work both sides of the plate Friday, and that accentuated the effectiveness of his changeup. He has 15 strikeouts, one walk and a 1.22 ERA in his two postseason victories.
"All of his pitches are there," teammate Andy Pettitte said. "And even if one of them isn't, he has such quality stuff, I think he can go through a game just locating his fastball sometimes."
John Lackey, Los Angeles' No. 1, wasn't so fortunate in the series opener. His defense abandoned him in the first inning, and the Yankees made him work by taking an ultra-patient approach at the plate. The first 14 New York batters refrained from swinging at the first pitch. Of the 28 hitters Lackey faced, 24 laid off the first pitch.
The one notable exception was catcher Jorge Posada, who swung at the first pitch in his second and third plate appearances and made out both times. He must not have gotten the memo.
The Yankees forced Lackey to throw 114 pitches in 5 2/3 innings even though Lackey did his best to alter his patterns. He started the game by throwing eight straight fastballs to Jeter. Three innings later, he threw five curveballs in a span of six pitches to Melky Cabrera.
"I don't think we tried to do anything tonight that we haven't been doing all season long," right fielder Nick Swisher said. "We have certain guys on the team who like to swing early, and certain guys who don't. If those guys get up there and feel they're going to get a good pitch to hit [on the] first pitch, they'll go after it. The guys that don't, just take [pitches]."
The Yankees' patience didn't have a tremendous impact in the series opener. But it could eventually. No offense to Jason Bulger, Kevin Jepsen, Matt Palmer and Darren Oliver, but the Yankees plan to do everything they can to wear out the L.A. starters and exploit the Angels' middle relief contingent.
So far, so good for New York. The crowd of 49,688 at Yankee Stadium on Friday paid homage to Sabathia by chanting his name. Sabathia and Rodriguez picked up where they left off in the Minnesota series. And even though Cano took a little ribbing from his teammates for looking like an Iditarod participant, he made it through Game 1 frostbite-free.
"This is our town, and our city," Swisher said. "Weather or no weather, we feel good playing here. We've worked out in worse weather than tonight, so we're ready for the weather either way."
The Yankees are prepared to take whatever approach is necessary to win. If the Angels plan to make this a competitive series, they're going to have to find a way to be equally resourceful.
The Yankees got pitching, defense and hitting -- not a bad combination -- in their ALCS-opening win over the Angels at Yankee Stadium.