Fresh off a humiliating sweep in Oakland, the Yankees are heading down the coast to take on the Los Angeles Angels. This weekend will mark the Yankees only regular-season road series against the Angels in 2013. That's probably a good thing, since the Los Angels of Anaheim has proven to be a house of horrors for the Yankees over the past decade, even way back when they had a real, live offense. The series also might prove to be a momentous one, depending on how the Angels finish out the season.
LA currently sits in fourth place in the AL West, a half game below Seattle. If the Astros had stayed in the NL, the Angels would be in the division cellar right now. With the Angels payroll bloated by consecutive off-season spending sprees, and the on-field returns diminishing by the week, there has been some speculation that longtime manager Mike Scioscia's job could be in jeopardy. He's already received the paradoxically troubling "we won't fire you (right now)" public display of support from owner Arte Moreno.
If Scioscia is canned at the end of the season, it will mark the end of an era - not only for the Angels, but for the Yankees. Though they play on different sides of the continent, the Mike Scioscia Angels have been inextricably linked to the Yankees since Scioscia's first game as manager - a 3-2 Yankee win on April 3, 2000, the final championship season of the Joe Torre era. Yeah, that was 14 years ago. I feel old, too.
From a Yankees perspective, it might be fitting for Scioscia to leave the Angels after this season. With the immiment retirement of Mariano Rivera, uncertainty surrounding Derek Jeter, and the kind of offensive ineptitude that hasn't been seen in a generation, it is becoming more and more evident that this could truly be the end of an era for the Yankees. If that is the case, if the Yankees are truly going down, then they might as well take the managerial scourge of the past generation with them.
I dunno about y'all, but Scioscia has long been the opposing manager I most despise. Jim Leyland now has the most postseason success of any manager facing the Yankees in the Wild Card Era (Yankees are 0-for-3 against Leyland-coached teams), but few Yankees fans have been able to muster any hatred for such a lovably gruff character. Besides, the teams Leyland defeated the past two years were clearly the Yankees in decline. Going back further, to the so-called "glory years," it's still hard to find a more detestable manager than Scioscia. The Red Sox were (and always shall be) the Yankees greatest nemesis, but Terry Francona might have been the most likable dude in that entire organization. Bobby Cox would have been a good fit, if the Yankees and Braves had played in the same league. And, honestly, it took me a good five minutes of contemplation (fighting a strong urge to use Google) to remember just who in the hell managed those late-nineties Indians teams (Mike Hargrove, right?).
In many ways, Scioscia was the perfect managerial foil, particularly for those Joe Torre teams. He was pretty much the polar opposite of the laid-back Torre - nary a game passed without the sight of Scioscia rage-waddling out of the dugout to get in the face of the ump following a bang-bang play at first. To my heavily-biased eyes, Scioscia represented everything I hated about big league managers - those who feel the need to leave their personal stamp on every single inning of every single game. Scioscia seemed to have an uncontrollable urge to argue every call, close or not-so-close, to play National League baseball in the American League, to tinker with lineups that didn't really need any tinkering. His fetish for defensive catchers is legendary at this point, and would make even Joe Giradi blush. Many fans have interpreted this managerial style as "doing whatever it takes to win"; personally, I always found it to be an obnoxious grab for attention.
Of course, my seething hatred of Scioscia and his methods probably stems from the fact that they worked so well for so long against my team. How many times during the mid-aughts did Yankees fans have to hear that old "Joe Torre has a winning record against every AL team except the Angels" talking point on ESPN? It was true, though.
Torre's Yankee teams had a 24-21 record against the Angels from 1996-1999, against a rag-tag collection of short-term managers, including Joe Maddon and Terry Collins. The Mike Scioscia Angels teams turned the tide - from 2000-2007, the Yankees were 33-38 against the Angels in the regular season and lost in the 2002 and 2005 ALDS. That 2002 series win helped cement Scioscia as a true Yankee killer - the four-time defending American League champs, after winning a tight Game One, gave up 4 runs late in Game Two, blew a 6-1 lead in Game Three and collapsed under the weight of an eight-run fifth-inning onslaught in Game Five.
The Yankees would bounce back against the Angels in 2003 with a 6-3 record (including 5-1 in Anaheim, which just seems astounding now), but that would be their last winning season against Mike Scioscia for the next five years. Here's the breakdown:
2005: 4-6 (Regular season), 2-3 (Playoffs)
The 2009 Yankees managed a 5-5 regular season record against Anaheim before finally breaking through in the 2009 ALCS. Joe Girardi, despite that 3-7 showing in his first year, is now 26-26 against Scioscia in his career as Yankees manager, including the postseason. That balanced record comes courtesy of a pretty drastic home-road split: 18-9 at home, 9-18 on the road. As it stands today, that 2009 Game Six loss at Yankees Stadium was the last playoff game managed by Mike Scioscia, a fact that I find simply delightful. The Angels' on-field results have fallen off, both against the Yankees and the league as a whole, since that series, and a small part of me will always hold out hope that the Yankees somehow broke him.
So remember to boo Mike Scioscia extra hard this weekend, Yankee fans; take the time to celebrate a worthy old foe, while you still can.
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