Yankees 4, Angels 2
-- Being a New York Yankee means certain inevitable things this time of year. It means the three-ring circus of media hordes, autograph seekers and ticket requests grows exponentially. It means always playing the prime-time game back east. And it means nothing you have done from the day you reported to spring training in February to the moment your regular season ended in the earliest days of October counts for anything anymore.
These 2005 New York Yankees are now one game into the only season that matters in their world, and they are undefeated. In a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Division Series, their sore-armed veteran pitcher outdueled the Angels' flame-throwing ace, and their greenest rookie took his first steps in the initiation process by which good players become Yankee legends.
That rookie, second baseman Robinson Cano, in his first postseason at-bat, cleared the bases with a double off Angels starter Bartolo Colon with two outs in the first inning, capping a sequence of events that occurred so quickly it seemed to stun the Angels into submission.
From there, the game belonged to right-hander Mike Mussina, who added 52/3 gutsy, scoreless innings to the odometer on his tender elbow, and the Yankees' bullpen. The "bridge" from the starter to closer Mariano Rivera, forever a source of angst in the Bronx, held up under the weight of past failures and playoff pressure. After Mussina's exit, lefty Al Leiter secured two outs, Tanyon Sturtze got one, and Tom Gordon navigated the eighth without incident.
Not even the 2005 postseason debut of the Rally Monkey on the Angel Stadium video screen prior to the bottom of the eighth inning could ignite an Angels comeback. Against Rivera, the Angels scored a run on Darin Erstad's chopper up the middle, bringing the tying run to the plate.
But the comeback died there, as so many have in Rivera's great career -- it was his 33rd career postseason save -- and the Rally Monkey went back to his hiding place until the next time he is beckoned.
"That," Rivera said, speaking of the bullpen's performance, "is the way it is supposed to work."
In stepping on this field Tuesday night, the Yankee veterans tried to forget what had happened the last time they played a postseason game here. On that day, Oct. 5, 2002, their dynasty came to an end.
To that point, they still seemed near invincible. In 2001, they had come within one inning of winning their fourth consecutive World Series title -- losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks on a fluky blown save by Rivera in Game 7. But here, against the Angels in the 2002 Division Series, Yankees pitchers were torched for 31 runs in losing the series in four games.
They say a Yankee doesn't truly earn his pinstripes until he has produced a moment of glory in October. Cano, 22, made his major league debut for the Yankees on May 3, batted .297 with 14 homers from that point -- all of it a mere apprenticeship in anticipation of Tuesday night's first inning, when he came to the plate for the first time as a playoff Yankee and dug his spikes into the dirt of the batter's box.
The bases were loaded at that point, the result of three straight two-out singles against Colon, who seemed rattled.
"I asked God, 'If we can get two runs here,' " Cano said, " 'that would be great.' "
At 2-2, Cano fouled off a nasty pitch, then sliced the next pitch, a two-seamed fastball, low and away, to medium-deep left field. It might have been an easy out had Angels left fielder Garret Anderson not been playing so shallow. Instead, it sailed over his outstretched glove and bounced to the wall, as the three Yankees' runners circled the bases.
Colon appeared incredulous that the play was not made in left, angrily slapping his glove as he watched it unfold. And when the inning finally ended, Colon stared long and hard at Anderson as they made their way to the Angels' dugout.
Mussina has been pitching in big October games for the better part of a decade now, from beating Randy Johnson in the 1997 Division Series to striking out 15 Cleveland Indians in that year's ALCS -- both as a member of the Baltimore Orioles -- to winning a 1-0 game at Oakland in the 2001 Division Series to tossing three scoreless innings of relief in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, which set the stage for Aaron Boone's famed home run.
On Tuesday night, Mussina did not seem quite right. At times he could barely disguise the fact his tender elbow, which caused him to miss the first three weeks of September, was hurting. The television cameras occasionally would catch him in a quick grimace.
"It's not bad enough," Mussina said, "to where I can't do what I want to do."
And anyway, it is October now, the only month that matters. So Mussina pitched on.