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3-man rotation is show of respect for Angels

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Bob Klapisch

Bob Klapisch covers baseball for The Record in New Jersey and worked at the New York Post and New York Daily News. The author of five books, he was recently voted a top-five columnist in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

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NEW YORK

The hostility meter in this series will be surprisingly low, given that it's the last stop to the World Series. There won't be any hard glares, old scores to settle or feuds like the one simmering between Joba Chamberlain and Kevin Youkilis. The upcoming ALCS figures to be an old-fashioned war between two teams that clearly respect each other. But the Yankees are already bracing for this sobering reality: unlike the Twins, the Angels don't fear them. "To be honest, I think they look down on us," said general manager Brian Cashman. "They've had their way with us for some time, and now we have something to prove to them. It's not the other way around. "I think the Angels feared the Red Sox, but they don't fear us. I think they're happy they're playing us." That sentiment, shared throughout the Yankees hierarchy, is one reason the Bombers are poised to use CC Sabathia three times in this series, in Games 1, 4 and 7. It's a remarkable concession to the threat posed by the Angels; a $204 million team can't find a fourth starter it trusts with the season on the line. Then again, why wouldn't the Yankees be wary of the Angels? While everyone in the Bronx was hunkering for the possibility of a miniature Armageddon against the Red Sox, the Angels systematically took the Sox apart in three games. Everyone thinks the Sox are tough, but think of what it took for the Angels to complete a sweep of Boston in Fenway, against Jonathan Papelbon, no less. When Cashman says the Angels, "bring everything to the table" starting Friday night, he means offense (second in the AL in runs), defense (one less error than the Yankees despite handling 114 more chances) and a resiliency that starts with their manager, Mike Scioscia. Of course, Scioscia has long been a villain in New York, having been part of the 1981 Dodger team that beat the Yankees in six games in the World Series. And he singlehandedly ended the Mets' miniature renaissance in the '80s when he clobbered a ninth-inning home run off Dwight Gooden in Game 4 of the 1988 NLCS. Today, the Angels are a reflection of that toughness. They're the only team since 1995 to have a winning record against the Yankees, having knocked them out of the playoffs in 2002 and 2005. Since Scioscia began managing in 2000, his teams are 56-44 against New York. The Yankees, however, believe they've finally cracked the code of Scioscia's dominance, having split the 10 games with the Angels this year, including winning three of the last four. Still, the Bombers are taking no chances with their rotation, all but certain to skip Joba Chamberlain (or Chad Gaudin) in Game 4 in order to maximize Sabathia's exposure.
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The early scouting report emphasizes this key point: while the Angels' running game is formidable, defending against it shouldn't come at the expense of focusing on heart of the order, especially Vlad Guerrero and Kendry Morales. Even though the Angels were third in the major leagues in steals (148), their efficiency rating was nothing special. They were successful only 70 percent of the time, ranking them 21st overall. No team in baseball was thrown out more often than the Angels (63) and they were nailed seven times in 24 attempts against the Bombers (71 percent success rate). The Bombers believe that throwing a lefthander against Anaheim five times in a potential seven game series (Sabathia three times, Andy Pettitte twice) will serve a deterrent to the Angels' base stealers, and allow them to focus on limiting Anaheim's gap power. But that's where the Angels' athleticism becomes important. They're far less dependant on home runs than the Yankees, which could be an issue as temperatures continue to drop. For most of the regular season, the new Stadium was a breeding ground for HRs; we'll see how the Yankees adapt if the cooler, drier air keeps the ball from going over the fences. The man to watch, of course, is Alex Rodriguez, who treated the Division Series against the Twins like personal batting practice. He was 5-for-11 with six RBIs, including two home runs. It cannot be overstated here: if A-Rod is hot, he alone can take the Yankees to the World Series. Joe Girardi said it a million different ways during the week, but after the Yankees finished off their sweep of Minnesota, he said it best: "We wouldn't be this far along if it wasn't for Alex." Rodriguez the difference-maker has blended in, found friendship among his teammates and, in fact, is now part of the Yankees' inner core. Think that doesn't matter? Think of the Angels' chemistry. Remember how they memorialized Nick Adenhart at the outfield wall after clinching the West.
Whether or not you think destiny is a valid currency in October, no one would dispute the Angels believe in themselves now. And that's what makes this series so compelling, the fact that the Yankees feel the same way about themselves. A-Rod said, "We played like a team of brothers" after the way he rushed to protect Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning Sunday night in the Metrodome. A fan had jumped the railing, stopping play, and appeared to be heading for the mound. Rivera was too shocked to move, but A-Rod was at his side in an instant, deterring the fan who veered towards the outfield and was eventually caught by police at the center field wall. That told you a lot about Rodriguez's instincts. It says something about the Yankees, who'll need the unity in the trenches starting Friday. They know the coming war will be real. "This is an extremely balanced and deep team," Cashman said of the Angels, which was another way of saying don't count on anyone pulling off a sweep. Not in this round.
Tagged: Red Sox, Angels, Twins, Yankees, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Alex Rodriguez, Chad Gaudin, Jonathan Papelbon, Joba Chamberlain

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