Do not trust the headline and the box score. The Angels did not lose the American League Championship Series on Sunday in New York.
They lost the series on a Tuesday in Vallejo, a small town 30 miles inland from San Francisco. The date, to be exact, was Dec. 9, 2008.
CC Sabathia had invited Brian Cashman to his home. Cashman, the general manager of the New York Yankees, did not leave until Sabathia had agreed to sign with his team and turn down the Angels.
That decision haunted the Angels this October, and it could haunt them for Octobers to come. This pennant was lost, and more pennants could be lost, for want of $21 million.
Sabathia was the most valuable player of this series. The Yankees were 2-0 when he started, 2-2 when he did not. The Angels averaged one run when he started, a little more than four when he did not.
The Yankees barely got to three starters. They shuddered at the thought of using four. If Sabathia had signed with the Angels, the Yankees surely would have signed someone else, but a playoff rotation of A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and, say, Derek Lowe is a far cry from a rotation headed by Sabathia.
The Angels would have countered with Sabathia, John Lackey, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders. The Yankees would have had the edge on offense, but the Angels would have been favored to win the series.
“There would definitely have been a difference,” Torii Hunter said. “He’s one of the best lefties -- if not the best -- and you get to start him three times in seven games. That would have been pretty impressive.
“If you face him three times in a seven-game series, you’re in for it.”
Hunter had lobbied Sabathia for weeks last winter, trying to lure the ace to Anaheim.
“He wanted to come,” Hunter said.
The Angels did not advertise their pursuit of Sabathia, simply repeating that Mark Teixeira was their top priority. But, after the Yankees opened the bidding for Sabathia at $140 million, the Angels matched.
That was their first and best offer. Sabathia was told as much. The Yankees went to $161 million, and won.
There is enormous risk in a seven-year contract, as Kevin Brown and Mike Hampton are proof of. The Yankees can swallow a bad contract without indigestion.
Yet, Sabathia was the one player the Angels could have signed to strengthen themselves and weaken the team that stood between them and the World Series this year, and probably for many years to come.
The Yankees did not desperately need Teixeira. They would score runs in bunches no matter what. They already had acquired Nick Swisher to play first base. They desperately needed Sabathia.
Tony Reagins, the Angels’ general manager, said he had no regrets about letting Sabathia get away for $21 million.
“We took a run. It didn’t work out,” Reagins said. “We can’t determine or dictate how another team is going to operate. They’ll do what is best for their team. We’ll do what’s best for ours.”
The Boston Red Sox could be old and fragile next year, at least at bat. The Yankees build around Sabathia, Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, all signed through at least 2015.
“They’ve got all those guys locked up for 20 years,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be a mountain to climb trying to get past those guys.”
The Yankees could throw another boulder or two on top of that mountain, if they want to. They could use another starter, and maybe they go hard after Lackey, or at least bid up his price. They could use a left fielder and leadoff hitter, so perhaps they go hard after Chone Figgins, at least if they can ignore his .086 postseason batting average.
So Hunter looked ahead to this winter, without saying what the owner Arte Moreno should do.
“That’s out of my jurisdiction,” he said. “That’s also a hot tamale.
“I’m pretty sure Arte wants to win a World Series championship, more than I do, more than Mike [Scioscia] does, more than everybody does. I’m pretty sure he’ll make some adjustments.”
The Angels missed out on the biggest one, the one who will start Game 1 of the World Series.