Angels on a Mission, But Has Anyone Noticed?
Let’s get this straight. The Angels are the only team with a winning record in the regular season (56-44) against the Yankees over the last decade. They are the one club that has bumped New York from the playoffs twice in that same time period. Individually and collectively, they’ve gotten to the Yanks one rock in the rotation, CC Sabathia (who will start Games 1, 4 and 7), as good, if not better, than any other lineup in baseball.
Oh, and they vanquished their own demons — those big, bad Red Sox — in truly Red Soxian fashion en route back to the pennant stage of the playoffs.
Yet, given all that meat and potatoes, next to no one has given them a shot against the mighty Bombers from the BX.
This is where it gets interesting, because there’s one group of people — other than Angels fans — that actually believes the Halos might just pull this thing off. Nope, it’s not the nation (better than 60 percent of the country has the Yanks). The sportswriters? Guess again, or simply tweet Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, Buster Olney, or every single ESPN guy who they like in the series. Give up?
It’s Yankee fans.
Take it from an ardent Boston supporter and firmly entrenched New Yorker: Yankee fans don’t want anything to do with the Angels. They haven’t for some time now. And whether or not they’ll admit it (some will), Yankee fans — gulp! — were actually rooting for the Red Sox to stage another cardiac comeback against Anaheim.
Now, was part of that sentiment rooted in the 2004 ALCS, which was the last time New York was a series (and out) away from the World Series? Naturally. The Yankees, just like their fans, have yearned for the last five years to exact cold revenge on Boston for The Collapse.
But surly as they can be, Yanks fans have also become increasingly pragmatic as the years have mounted without the raising of that elusive banner No. 27. They want to win to again, pure and simple. Want to have that parade down Broadway for the first time since pre-9/11. After missing the playoffs for the first time since ever (OK, 1993) last season, in 2009 they started to pick up a whiff of a previously unknown sensation: desperation.
Considering the last eight years have schooled them on the knowledge that success in October is nowhere near as cut and dry as it once seemed, they would have liked nothing more than to have travelled the least bumpy road back to Broadway. As it was this October, that road would have gone via the Mass Pike and Lansdowne Street.
Who can really dispute that? Once they hit their stride, the Yankees abused the Red Sox in every which way, winning 9 of 10 after dropping the first eight. On some days they clobbered them, others they shut them out. Even snatched a few away late for good measure.
So on the one hand was the team they were certain they would have defeated, and in doing so would have avenged the most humiliating loss in the history of the game. (Can you say two birds, one stone?) On the other hand was the one team that has consistently had their number throughout their mortal years and is firing on all cylinders after its most satisfying triumph since Game 7 of the 2002 World Series.
That, ladies and gentlemen, pretty much sums up why the Yankee faithful were either boldly or silently hoping that Jonathan Papelbon could record the final strike in Game 3 of the ALDS and plant the seeds of another Sox rise from the dead.
When that didn’t happen, everyone from Washington Heights to South Jersey began to realize that things weren’t going according to the plan. Other than those folks, though, no one else has seemed to appreciate the implications of an Angels-Yankees battle for the pennant.
Like the fact that Chone Figgins (.313), Bobby Abreu (.333), Torii Hunter (.544 SLG) and Mike Napoli (.333) have all had their fair share of success against Sabathia. The fact that Maicer Izturis (.500) and Howie Kendrick (.667) have absolutely owned the burly southpaw, going a combined 13-for-22 vs. CC in their careers. The fact that as a whole, the Angels lineup has similarly abused A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. The fact that their combined average against the three Yankees starters in 2009 is .317.
And above all, the fact that every one of those guys, in addition to every other player in that uniform, will be (and has been) playing every game of this season in memory of their fallen teammate, Nick Adenhart.
This team is on a mission that’s far bigger than baseball, and given the ferocity and determination with which they’ve torn through the ’09 campaign and the Red Sox in Round 1, it’s simply absurd that so few people believe in them.
The Angels aren’t worried about that, though. They believe, and that’s really all that matters.