Yankees 4, Angels 2
Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
-- 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 in Game 1 of the Division Series on Tuesday night, their sore-armed veteran pitcher outdueled the Angels' flame-throwing ace, and the greenest Yankee rookie took his first steps in the initiation process by which good players become Bronx 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 thence, the game belonged to right-hander Mike Mussina, who tossed 52/3 gutsy, scoreless innings, and the Yankees' bullpen. Manager Joe Torre coaxed four outs from top setup man Tom Gordon and three more from closer Mariano Rivera to secure the victory. The Angels scored once off Rivera and brought the tying run to the plate, but Tuesday night marked the Yankees' first October visit to this building since the 2002 Division Series, which perhaps more than any other event signaled the end of their dynasty.
The year before, they had come within one inning of winning their fourth consecutive World Series title -- losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks only on a fluky blown save by Rivera in Game 7. But here, against the Angels in the 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. It was that way for Derek Jeter, who started early, as a rookie in 1996. And it has been that way for Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi and all the others.
Cano, 22, made his major league debut for the Yankees on May 3, batted .297 with 14 homers from that point on -- 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 an October Yankee, dug his cleats into the dirt of the batter's box and earned his first pinstripe.
The bases were loaded, the result of three straight two-out singles against Colon, who seemed rattled, so much so that pitching coach Bud Black felt it necessary to pay him a mound visit. At 2-2, Cano fouled off a nasty pitch, then sliced the next pitch 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.
As for the kid, Cano, he has the look about him, and there figures to be plenty more of these moments in his future.
Mussina, on the other hand, has been pitching in big October games for the better part of a decade now, from the win over Seattle's Randy Johnson in the 1997 Division Series to the 15-strikeout game against Cleveland in the 1997 AL Championship Series -- both as a member of the Baltimore Orioles -- to the 1-0 win at Oakland in the 2001 Division Series, which kept alive the Yankees' season, and the 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. He did not "finish" his pitches with a graceful follow-through.
But it was October now, the only month that matters, and Mussina pitched on.