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May 12, 2004

An Affair To Remember
by Larry Mahnken

The Angels came into last night's game with the best record in baseball, a nine-game winning streak, and a legitimate claim to being the best team in baseball. And right away, they showed why.

Chone Figgins (is there a sillier name in baseball?) got the first hit of the game with a pop-up to short center in the first inning, which Kenny Lofton inexplicably pulled up on, and it fell right at his feet. A Vlad double scored him one pitch later, and Troy Glaus hit a long homer two pitches after that.

But three runs wasn't going to bury the Yankees, and in the bottom of the third, the Yankees pushed across two runs to get back within one, before rain stopped the game in the top of the fourth with one out and a runner on third. The Angels scored the run after a moderate delay, and the game was promptly delayed for nearly two hours after only two batters.

The delay looked like it might be a killer for the Yankees, as it took starter Kelvim Escobar, who they've had great success against, out of the game, and brought on the dominant Angels bullpen.

But while the Angels' relievers are great, they also hadn't faced a lineup like the Yankees yet, and in the fifth inning, the Yankees scored two runs off of Kevin Gregg, who entered the game with a 0.42 ERA. The tie didn't last long, as Vladimir Guerrero hit a leadoff homer off of Brown, who stuck around after the rain delay.

Scot Shields shut down the Yankees into the eighth, when the Angels turned to Francisco Rodriguez, who entered the game with ridiculously great stats--0.00 ERA, 28/4 K/BB in 17 IP, and only nine hits allowed.

Rodriguez looked just as dominant as usual at first, sandwiching a fly-out by Matsui and a pinch-hit strikeout by Bernie around a single by Sierra. But Kenny Lofton slapped a single into left-center, and Derek Jeter ripped a base hit into center field to tie the game. Alex Rodriguez then gave the Yankees the lead when third baseman Shane Halter muffed his hard grounder, and he just barely beat the throw.

It was another great comeback for the Yankees, but Mo couldn't make it stick. He wasn't able to put the back end of the Angels' lineup away, and Bengie Molina smacked a two-run homer over the right-field wall to give the Halos a 1-run lead, and with Troy Percival looming in the ninth, the win.

But last night was a strange night, and Percival couldn't finish the job, either. Jorge Posada dunked a base-hit into right, Matsui walked, and Ruben Sierra continued to make me look like an idiot by nearly tearing Percival's head off with a line drive base hit to center, scoring pinch-runner Homer Bush.

Tom Gordon was able to get through the 10th without giving up a run, and the Yankees finished it off in the bottom of the inning, as A-Rod singled with one out, and Sheffield hit a line drive to deep left, which Jeff DaVanon tried to catch, only to miss and have it bounce off the wall, past him and back towards the infield. Rodriguez raced all the way from first to score the winning run, and the Yankees' were victorious again, 8-7, and improved to 11-2 since The Sweep.

It was their eighth come-from-behind win during that stretch, and the fifth in which they've come back in the seventh inning or later. While they shouldn't have to come back as often as they have, these types of victories are more satisfying, and inspire much more confidence than a wire-to-wire win.

As great as this win was, the Angels team they beat was hardly the Angels team they may have to beat in October. Garret Anderson, Jose Guillen and Tim Salmon didn't play, and Darin Erstad is out, too (not that losing Erstad is necessarily a negative for Anaheim). Francisco Rodriguez pitched three innings on Sunday and may have been tired last night, so the Yankees can't expect to get to him again. But then Kevin Brown wasn't throwing his best, so the Yankees might not have to.

It was a great game between great teams, and we can only hope that tonight lives up to what we saw yesterday.