In the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, a Yankees team staffer on Wednesday afternoon began preparing the room for a postgame celebration. Out of a black case the man pulled the necessary tools to prepare TV cables for the live hit broadcasters were expected to do when the Yankees eventually secured their first American League East title since 2012.
He certainly figured his labor would bear fruit as soon as the Angels, a scuffling team that entered the day with 83 losses, were done in the Bronx that evening.
The man was wrong.
Spurred by strong pitching performances, the Angels beat the Yankees 3-2 to delay the Yankees’ glee. The Yankees hunkered down for three hours to see if the Dodgers would beat the Tampa Bay Rays. They went home without partying, their magic number remaining at one after the Rays’ win in 11 innings.
Manager Brad Ausmus would not have scripted it another way.
“It’s not fun to watch” another team celebrate, he said, “so [the win] doesn’t bother me. I’m sure they’ll get their celebration soon enough, but I’d rather not be here.”
A bounce-back outing from starter Dillon Peters, three perfect innings in relief from Luke Bard and scoreless appearances by rookie Ty Buttrey and closer Hansel Robles ensured Ausmus’ absence. So did the heroics of defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons, who dived to his backhand at shortstop to rob a hit in the ninth and help Robles earn his 22nd save. When Bard entered in the fifth, Simmons ranged near third base to stop Aaron Judge’s hard-hit ball from trickling into the outfield and was able to throw Judge out by at least a stride despite missing his first attempt at the ball.
“It’s so standard for him to be amazing that that’s the norm,” Ausmus said. “You almost expect it. Even when he doesn’t contribute with the bat he contributes to a win by making a play like he did in the ninth.”
Bard turned in arguably the best performance of his career against the league’s most prolific offense. Command of his fastball and a particularly sharp slider, which drew seven swings and misses and received six strike calls, was key in striking out five of the nine batters he faced.
“When you do that, it puts pressure on the hitter. You’re getting ahead in counts,” said Bard, whose 4.70 ERA Ausmus waved off because the reliever has accumulated only 44 innings this season. “It forces them to chase your two-strike pitches. It sounds simple but it’s not always that easy.”
Peters also credited basics for his ability to hold the Yankees to two runs, which scored when Judge smashed a two-run, game-tying homer on a fastball Peters accidentally grooved down the middle of the plate in the third inning.
“Living at top of zone was our game plan,” said Peters, who gave up 16 earned runs over his previous four starts.
Even when slugger Giancarlo Stanton, appearing in his first game since late June, stung the ball for a double in the second, Peters remained in control. He retired three of the next four batters in the second. He didn’t work a clean third or fourth inning, but he stifled threats to keep the score at 2-2.
The bullpen took care of the rest, holding on when the offense nearly ground to a halt.
Angels hitters reached in all but two innings, loaded the bases in the third and sixth, but went four for 14 with runners in scoring position. They took the lead in a sloppy defensive sixth inning by the Yankees. Reliever Adam Ottavino tried to get a forceout at home plate on a bases-loaded comebacker off Albert Pujols’ bat, but his throw sailed past catcher Kyle Higashioka.
Did the Angels, who have only seven wins since Aug. 19, feel extra motivation to win knowing their opponent would celebrate in front of them otherwise?
“We all knew that here,” Bard said. “We’re stepping into Yankee Stadium against one of the best records in baseball. But we know that. The guys that are out there, we want to win. We still want to win.”