Angels get pushed to edge
These were the games that prompted the Angels to trade for Scott Kazmir in August, his track record against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees and his affinity for “the big stage” making the pitcher a much-needed October commodity in Anaheim.
Of course, these were also the games the Yankees had in mind when they shelled out $161 million for CC Sabathia last winter, giving New York the kind of front-of-the-rotation horse it hadn’t had since 2003, when Roger Clemens wore pinstripes.
It seemed almost inevitable the two left-handers would collide in the playoffs, and when they did in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, Kazmir looked out of his weight class, in more ways than one.
Sabathia, an imposing mound presence at 6 feet 7 and 290 pounds, mowed down the Angels, giving up one run and five hits in eight innings to lead the Yankees to a 10-1 victory in Angel Stadium.
The Yankees took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and need one more win for their first World Series berth since 2003.
Pitching on three days’ rest for the sixth time in his career, Sabathia, who won Game 1 over the Angels, struck out five and walked two, his only blemish Kendry Morales’ solo homer in the fifth, to improve to 3-0 with a 1.19 earned-run average in three playoff starts this month.
Even if the Angels win Game 5 in Anaheim on Thursday night and Game 6 in New York on Saturday to force a Game 7, waiting for them Sunday night -- on regular rest in chilly Yankee Stadium -- will be Sabathia.
“We would love to see that happen,” Angels third baseman Chone Figgins said. “We have to realize we have a chance. We have to go down fighting. They just beat us plain and simple tonight. You can never dwell on a game like this.”
The 6-foot, 190-pound Kazmir, who was 6-5 with a 2.67 ERA in 15 games against the Yankees, struggled with his command, needing 89 pitches to throw four innings, in which he was tagged for four runs and six hits, walked four and struck out three.
“It’s very disappointing -- this is not how I wanted to pitch today,” Kazmir said. “I wasn’t getting ahead of hitters, and when I got behind, I wasn’t attacking the zone. It was ball one, ball two, get a strike here and there and try to work back into counts. That’s not how you face those guys.”
Kazmir needed to pitch flawlessly to stick with Sabathia, who did not allow a runner past second until the fifth inning and retired the last eight batters he faced. Of his 101 pitches, 69 were strikes. And a surprising number of them were off-speed pitches.
“He moved his fastball in and out, but he used his changeup more than usual,” Angels center fielder Torii Hunter said. “He kept our guys off-balance. . . . You have a guy like that throwing 95 mph, you’ve got to be ready for his fastball.”
The Angels have actually had success against Sabathia, who had a 5-7 record and 4.72 ERA in 14 starts against the Angels and lost to them twice this season. But Sabathia looks different now than he did in May and July.
“His changeup has really become a dynamic pitch,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “It’s really improved, and we had trouble adjusting to it tonight.”
Sabathia, who entered October with a 4-4 record and 7.26 ERA in eight postseason starts, isn’t the only Yankee who is shedding the label of playoff underachiever.
The Yankees had 13 hits Tuesday night, including a two-run home run, a double and a single by erstwhile October dud Alex Rodriguez, who is now batting .407 (11 for 27) with five homers, 11 runs batted in and nine runs in seven postseason games.
“He’s shorter with his swing, he’s more patient, he looks different at the plate,” Hunter said of Rodriguez. “He definitely wants it. He’s a bad guy. I wish I had him on my team.”
Rodriguez, who scored three runs, singled to spark a three-run fourth inning, hit his two-run homer off Jason Bulger in the fifth and doubled to lead off the ninth.
No. 9 hitter Melky Cabrera also had a big night, with a double, two singles and four runs batted in on a two-run single in the third and a two-run double in the ninth. Johnny Damon hit a two-run homer off Matt Palmer in the eighth, as the Yankees pulled away.
“They have good pitching, good hitting -- they’ve got it all,” Hunter said. “But as long as we have life left, we’re going to keep battling, try to get this thing back to New York. It seems like it’s impossible, but it’s not. We’ve won three games in a row before.”