10/13/09 10:00 AM EST
For Yanks, history won't repeat itself
Ending Angels' hex is Bombers' challenge in ALCS
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
"I don't think you can rate losing," Derek Jeter said that day. "You either win or lose; it's black and white. One loss doesn't feel worse than another. We haven't won in a while."
Already, with another series against the Angels looming, the Yankees' regular-season troubles in Anaheim have been well-documented. Yet it is important to note, with the AL Championship Series starting on Friday at 7:57 p.m. ET at Yankee Stadium on FOX, that the Yankees have been no better against the Halos in the postseason.
Factoring in that 2005 ALDS loss and a 3-1 Division Series loss in 2002, the Yankees are 3-6 all-time against the Angels in postseason play. Their .333 winning percentage against the Halos is by far their worst in franchise history against any team they have played more than once.
In those two series, the Yankees hit a combined .266, while their pitchers produced a 6.08 ERA. Alex Rodriguez, who was around only for the 2005 ALDS, was 2-for-15 that October, without a home run or an RBI.
Half a decade later, of course, their reaction to all that is simply to shrug. The Yankees are a different team now, even from 2005 and especially from '02. Only Jeter, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte -- the four Yankees around for each of the team's four most recent World Series titles -- were with the team back in '02. The manager then was Joe Torre. Now, it is Joe Girardi. In '05, Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Hideki Matsui jumped onto the scene, but otherwise that Yankees team remained wholly foreign from this one.
NOT SO ANGELIC
And perhaps that is a reason for pinstriped optimism. The Yankees, now with CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, have more consistent starting pitching than they did in that era. Their lineup is just as potent, but their pitching has changed. And though their starters' statistics don't quite compare to the numbers they produced in 2002, that team spent its days leaning largely on a 39-year-old David Wells and a 40-year-old Roger Clemens.
It was a formula that did not translate well into October.
"Everybody said that we've struggled with the Angels, but this is my first year here, so I don't really know anything about that," Sabathia said after the new-look Yankees reeled off their third straight postseason victory in a sweep of the Twins on Sunday. "Hopefully, we can keep it going."
In 2002, the Yankees could do little to stop an Angels team on its way to the World Series, winning Game 1 but dropping three straight and allowing 26 runs over those final three games. Francisco Rodriguez, then a flame-throwing September callup, was the winning pitcher in Games 2 and 3.
The script changed somewhat three years later when the Yankees -- by most accounts a weaker team than they had been in 2002 -- managed to push the Angels to five games and a cross-country trip back to Anaheim. But Mike Mussina could not lift the Yankees in Game 5, checking out of the game in the third inning while Rodriguez and Matsui were busy going 0-for-9 at the plate.
Should the Yankees manage to overcome those past demons, they will follow a template established by the Angels themselves. Before sweeping the Red Sox in their best-of-five ALDS on Sunday, the Angels had been 1-9 against the Sox in three Division Series losses this decade. Sound familiar?
"It's going to come down who is going to pitch best, who is going to hit in the clutch," Posada said of this year's series. "Home-field advantage is going to help a little bit. I think that's the key to this series -- having four games at home is going to change things."
It would seem, though, that there is another key. Rodriguez, nonexistent in the Yankees' 2005 loss to the Angels, is currently enjoying the best postseason of his career, hitting .455 with two homers and five separate RBI hits in the ALDS. If he continues to slam the ball to all fields with authority, the Yankees will likely continue to win.
"It seems like he continues to get better and better, and hopefully, he'll continue," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "He's a big reason why we're here."
And he is a big reason why the Yankees aren't anticipating a third straight postseason letdown against the Angels.
"You play the games, man," Jeter said. "Whatever happened in the past, throw it out the window, because it doesn't mean a thing."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.