Sloppy Angels freeze up in ALCS opener

BY foxsports • October 17, 2009

Bundled in a red hood under his Angels cap, Erick Aybar shifted a few steps to his right and gazed straight up in the sky at a harmless-looking popup. Then, he looked over at third baseman Chone Figgins. Problem was, Figgins was staring straight back. Neither infielder made a move to catch Hideki Matsui's first-inning pop, which plopped down untouched at the edge of the outfield grass for an embarrassing RBI single. It was one of several defensive miscues by the Los Angeles Angels, who froze up on a nippy Friday night and made three costly errors during a 4-1 loss to the New York Yankees in the AL championship series opener. "It was sloppy, man," center fielder Torii Hunter said. "It was just out of character for us. We go out there, we play really good defense and play the game the right way. It just didn't work out for us today." The Angels pride themselves on sound fundamentals, one reason they've reached the playoffs six times in the past eight years. They made 85 errors this season, fewest in team history, and their .986 fielding percentage matched a club record. But the AL West champions looked lost in the cold at Yankee Stadium. "We haven't seen our guys crack the door open for a team like we did tonight in a long time. And the Yankees are going to take advantage of that, and they did," manager Mike Scioscia said. "It was a poor defensive night." The trouble started in the first inning. Left fielder Juan Rivera made a wild throw wide of second base on Johnny Damon's broken-bat single, allowing Damon to reach second on the error. Damon scored when Aybar, normally a slick fielder at shortstop, and Figgins stood frozen on Matsui's two-out popup. "I was surprised no one caught it," Matsui said through a translator. "To me, that was a definite out." Aybar said he didn't hear anyone call for the ball. Figgins said he shouted Aybar's name when the ball went up, but it was probably too loud to hear. "I thought he was going to catch it," Aybar said. "We didn't communicate well." Neither player blamed the other. "One of us has got to catch it. Pretty simple," Figgins said. "The mistakes that we made cost us." Aybar, who is from the Dominican Republic, said it was the coldest baseball game he's ever played in. His hood covered his neck and ears, but he said that's not what prevented him from hearing Figgins. When the ball fell, starting pitcher John Lackey dropped into a crouch and screamed in frustration. "I don't know what happened there," he said. Lackey issued a two-out walk in the sixth to Melky Cabrera, who advanced to second on the pitcher's errant pickoff attempt. Derek Jeter followed with an RBI single and went to second on an error by Hunter, who has won eight straight Gold Gloves. "Cold has nothing to do with it," Hunter said. "Bad hop. Couldn't believe that happened, but that's baseball." Los Angeles made three errors in a game only twice during the regular season: Aug. 9 against Texas and Sept. 7 at Kansas City. The three errors Friday matched a postseason record for the Angels, done three previous times. The last was in Game 2 of the 2005 AL championship series against the Chicago White Sox. Accustomed to much nicer weather, Los Angeles will have to get warmed up before leaving town. Rain is forecast for Saturday, when left-hander Joe Saunders is scheduled to pitch for the Angels against hard-throwing A.J. Burnett. "It probably makes it a little easier to turn the page because we know we didn't play to our capabilities," Lackey said.