10/15/09 4:30 PM EST
For Yankees, home is where the start is
Angels not sweating forecast, Bombers' success in Bronx
By Mike Bauman / MLB.com
The new Yankee Stadium will be the venue for the start of this ALCS on Friday night at 7:57 p.m. ET on FOX -- weather permitting. The Yankees meet the Angels, the team that has given them more trouble by record than any other in recent history.
It is a compelling matchup of the two teams with the two best records this season. The Yankees have greatly improved their pitching. The Angels have greatly improved their offense. The teams split 10 games in the regular season. You look diligently for a potential edge in one direction or another, and there is not one gigantic factor separating the two clubs. Maybe the ballparks will make a difference.
The Yankees had the best home record in the Majors this season, 57-24, and why not? The mark tied a Major League record for most victories by a club in its first season in a new ballpark. Ironically or not, that record had been set by the Boston Red Sox, in 1912 when they moved into Fenway Park.
Yankee Stadium turned out to be a hitter-friendly facility. Baseballs hit to right-center in particular seemed to get a second wind, carrying for unexpected distances. The Yankees have plenty of left-handed pop, anyway, but they set a franchise record for home runs, home runs at home, and another record with five players who had at least 25 home runs. The three operative words here appear to be boom, boom, boom.
The opposition has taken notice. Many visiting players this season had two areas of astonishment upon playing in the new Stadium. One was that this was such an exact replica of old Yankee Stadium, except that the creature comforts were vastly improved. The second was that the ball appeared to jump out of the place.
Angels catcher Mike Napoli, asked what he found to be the difference between the two Yankee Stadiums, replied: "The ball flies a little better here, definitely. It's not much of a pitchers' ballpark anymore. The ball flies better."
There is no conspiracy theory here, no belief that the Yankees schemed to build a homer haven. They had some of the game's most productive hitters, anyway.
"I think they have some very good ballplayers on this club," said Angels general manager Tony Reagins. "I may be speaking out of turn, but I don't know if they envisioned the ball flying out of here as much as it does. With the power that they have in that lineup, if it continues to play this way, there are going to be a lot of offensive numbers put up that are impressive. Unless something changes, like the dimensions, I think we're going to see that kind of offensive output."
Regular-season home-road splits for Yankees, Angels
|Homers at home||136||90|
|Homers on the road||108||83|
Now comes the ALCS to the Bronx, and the Game 1 forecast includes wet and windy, not to mention somewhat chilly. The Yankees do not need postponements. They do not need to lose off-days. The more often they get to pitch Game 1 starter CC Sabathia, the better off they will be.
But just on being accustomed to playing at least occasionally in crummy weather -- advantage Yankees. The Angels play their home games in one of country's most benign climates (and in a park that is known as "fair," favoring neither pitchers nor hitters in a dramatic way.)
The Angels are not a bad-weather operation. But in this setting, in these postseason circumstances, they say they will not come undone because of an unfriendly climate.
"Your adrenaline and everything will be going," Napoli said. "I mean, it's the playoffs. Yeah, we don't play in it, and you don't like to play in the cold and rainy weather. But we're going to strap it on, go out there and play hard and try to play our game."
Angels manager Mike Scioscia said that bad weather slowing his club's running game would not be as much of a handicap as it would have been in recent seasons because the Angels have developed a more versatile offense.
"If it slows down our running game, I think we still have some things we can do," Scioscia said.
For most of his career, Sabathia pitched in Cleveland. He's worked in the cold before. Angels Game 1 starter John Lackey is a native Texan who now resides in southern California. He did pitch in the North while in the low Minors. Lackey suggested Thursday that in an event of this magnitude, "the last thing on my mind will be the weather."
"I'm not going to be intimidated by anybody," he said. "That's why I'm throwing tomorrow.
He doesn't sound like a potential hypothermia victim.
Still, there is home-field advantage, and the Yankees have it. Having played well enough to get this edge, starting Friday night they need to play well enough to make it work.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.