Angels master the game of 'small ball'

The Angels played a Turn Back The Clock approach in Game 2 and it worked wonderfully for them, writes Jim Caple.

Originally Published: October 5, 2005
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The way the Angels beat the Yankees in Game 2 Wednesday was so old school, the Rally Monkey should have been endorsing Chesterfield cigarettes.

The Angels hit and ran. They bunted. They pitched out. They made diving defensive plays that would make Brooks Robinson weep. Heck, the man with the game-winning single even wore his socks high. "It's not a big deal, just trying to do it for the people at home,'' shortstop Orlando Cabrera said of his hosiery. "It's just fashion, if you want to put it that way.''

There's been little fashionable about little ball in the American League practically since before Bob Sheppard's voice changed. This is the league of tape measure home runs and guys with shoulders as broad as Montana, yet the Angels took the lead in the seventh inning thanks in part to consecutive sacrifice bunts. Consecutive bunts? That's not little ball, that's baseball that can only be seen under electron microscopes.

Orlando Cabrera
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonOrlando Cabrera drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the seventh inning with a single to left-center.

Oh, it's not as dramatic as a walkoff home run that shatters the light towers but when you do it right, this style can be very effective. And even when the Angels don't do it right, they keep right on doing it. They lost Game 1 when Garret Anderson had a ball sail over his head for a three-run, game-deciding double when he was playing in to cut off a possible single and Vladimir Guerrero was thrown out attempting to steal after he made a bad read.

But so what? This is how the Angels win. So they went right back at it in Game 2 and even though little ball didn't always work -- they had a failed hit-and-run in the third inning -- it did for the most part in their 5-3 victory.

As Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of his successful pitchout that caught Alex Rodriguez stealing in the seventh inning, "You get lucky sometimes.''

Meanwhile ... there were the Yankees.

Playing more like the Kansas City Royals than the team that has won eight consecutive AL East titles, the Yankees made three errors while blowing a two-run lead and a chance to go home up 2-0 in the series. So instead of Chien-Ming Wang making the cover of every newspaper in Taiwan, the rookie went home with three unearned runs and a loss in the first postseason start by a Taiwanese player.

Wang didn't help himself with a throwing error in the two-run seventh inning. Rodriguez didn't help him either when he botched an easy high hop to third base in the sixth, leading to the game-tying run. "That was as routine a play as they get,'' Rodriguez said. "And I didn't make it happen.''

A-Rod deserves the American League MVP, but he's off to a poor start this postseason. He's walked three times and been hit by a pitch but he hasn't gotten the ball out of the infield yet, extending his postseason woes since New York's collapse last year against Boston.

Not that the Angels are driving the ball, either. Guerrero has one single. Anderson is 0-for-8. And Chone Figgins, the leadoff man who is supposed to get things started for the Angels, has yet to reach base this series.

Figgins' play in the fifth inning, however, might have turned the game around. With New York leading 2-0 and Jason Giambi on third base, Hideki Matsui smashed a ball down the third-base line for a possible double. Instead, Figgins flung his 5-foot-7 frame as far to the line as possible, reached out his glove and snagged the ball just as it was bounding past him. He scrambled to his feet and fired to first base just in time to nail Matsui and end the inning.

"If you're not going to get the big hits,'' he said, ''then you have to make the plays.''

Rodriguez called it one of the best plays he's ever seen, and while A-Rod always says things like that, he was sincere this time. This was a play so dazzling it could have been seen from space.

"Nothing that guy does surprises me,'' said first baseman Darin Erstad, who made a dandy scoop on the other end. "It's hard enough to play one position let alone five. He's just incredibly consistent. If they give away gold gloves for utility players, he'd win it for sure.''

Juan Rivera homered to lead off the bottom of the inning, the Angels tied it after A-Rod's error in the sixth and they took the lead in the seventh on an infield single, a bunt, an error, another bunt, a popout and (finally) Cabrera's two-run single to left-center.

And just like that, the series is tied heading into Game 3 in New York. The Yankees may have played poorly, but they have the game's tallest cure waiting at Yankee Stadium -- the 6-10 Randy Johnson.

"It's big. It's a swing game,'' Rodriguez said. "We'll go back to New York and see what happens.''

The Yankees flew back to New York after the loss. Given their overall approach on this unofficial Turn Back The Clock night, the Angels might have taken the train.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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