The Yankees have always seemed to have somewhat-surprising AL West rivals at various points throughout their history. For most of the first 20 years of divisional play, it was the Kansas City Royals, who they often brawled with and played four intense playoff series against from 1976-80. When both teams began to fade in the late '80s, the rivalry died down and soon the Yankees were in a different sort of rivalry against the amazing Oakland Athletics teams from 1988-92. The Yankees were awful and the A's absolutely destroyed them, winning 16 games in a row against them at one point. When the Yankees rebounded, their biggest AL West rival was the previously-poor Seattle Mariners, an often-heated clash which was chronicled last week. Toward the end of that stretch in the early 2000s, the Yankees also played some tight match-ups with the Athletics again, this time when both teams were good and they met in two tight playoff series in 2000 and 2001.
For most of the 2000s though, the Yankees' biggest non-AL East rival has been the Los Angeles Angels. Thanks to All-Stars like Tim Salmon, Troy Glaus, Darin Erstad, and Garret Anderson, the then-Anaheim Angels held the remarkable feat of being the only team to have a winning record against the Yankees during Joe Torre's managerial as tenure from 1996-2007. The Yankees went to the playoffs every season of that 12-year stretch, winning 10 AL East titles, six AL pennants, and four World Series championships, but they could just never seem to play well against the Angels, led by manager Mike Scioscia since 2000. Including two playoff series, the Angels went 67-58 in games against the Yankees, including a remarkable 34-28 mark at Yankee Stadium. For whatever reason, the Angels just had their number.
The rivalry faced its biggest spotlight in 2002, when the Yankees entered a Division Series match-up with the Angels as arguably the best team in baseball. Already in a high run-scoring environment, the Yankees' offense had the biggest bats of them all, as they scored an MLB-best 897 runs, averaging 5.6 runs per game with 223 total homers. Frequently forgotten about that team is that they had tremendous pitching, too. Their 3.87 ERA was fourth in the AL and their 3.62 FIP was the league's best. Their starting rotation in the playoff series was daunting, to say the least: Roger Clemens/Andy Pettitte/Mike Mussina/David Wells. They romped to the AL East title with 103 victories, their most since the incomparable 114-win season in '98. Although they had lost the World Series in 2001, they had still won four AL pennants in a row, a streak matched by just four other teams in baseball history.
The Yankees were the heavy favorites, but perhaps they underestimated the Angels, who were playing in their first playoff series in 16 years. Although the Moneyball A's were the story of baseball that year with their record 20-game winning streak, the Angels challenged them for the division title anyway. Oakland had to win over 100 games to clinch the division, as the Angels finished with the second-greatest record ever for a Wild Card team: 99-63. Their offense bashed line drives all over the places, and they finished a couple earned runs shy of the best ERA in the league. In Game 1, they played the Yankees as tough as they had throughout the Torre era, coming back to tie the score on three occasions and taking a brief eighth inning lead before Bernie Williams slugged the decisive three-run homer off Brendan Donnelly in the bottom half to give the Yankees a victory. It was an exciting game that seemed to hearken back to Yankees playoff wins of years past. It would also be the last victory the Yankees would have in 2002.
The next day, the Angels showed their mettle by jumping out to a quick 4-0 lead against Pettitte, knocking him out of the game in the fourth. The Yankees, undaunted, came right back and snatched a 5-4 advantage by the sixth inning. Playoff veteran Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez had stifled the Angels for four innings entering the eighth. Suddenly, he left a couple pitches up and that led to Anderson and Glaus going back-to-back off him. The Angels ended up winning the game and stealing home-field advantage. The Yankees came out swinging in Game 3 against Ramon Ortiz, running the score up to 6-1 by the third inning. Mussina and Jeff Weaver could not hold it, as the relentless Angels offense caught up to the Yankees and completed the comeback victory with big hits from Erstad and Salmon in the eighth against Mike Stanton and Steve Karsay. Yankees batters were hopeless against newcomer Francisco Rodriguez and closer Troy Percival. Fighting for their lives in Game 4, the Yankees cautiously carried a 2-1 lead into the fifth, but the normally-reliable Wells completely fell apart in an eight-run inning for the Angels. The rout was on, and despite some late Yankee runs, the Angels wound up winning, 9-5, shocking the baseball world with an emphatic four-game victory over the seemingly unstoppable Yankees.
They of course went on to win the ALCS against the Twins and a seven-game classic over the Giants in the World Series for the franchise's first (and so far only) championship. It was the first of four first-round exits the Yankees made during the 2000s. The Angels would be the cause of another.
Three years later, the Yankees and Angels met for a rematch with several of teams' main components still intact, though the Yankees' offense was now supplemented by Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. The Angels failed to make the playoffs as defending champions in '03 and despite adding AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero, they were swept out of the Division Series in three games by the Red Sox in '04. This '05 match-up between two 95-win teams and division winners was expected to be just as tight as it was in '02, and both teams met expectations. The Yankees scored three runs in the very first inning in Anaheim on a bases-loaded double by rookie second baseman Robinson Cano off Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon, and Mussina and the bullpen made it hold up. Rookie starter Chien-Ming Wang and John Lackey played to a 2-2 tie through six innings in Game 2, but a two-run single by Orlando Cabrera in the seventh gave the Angels a 4-2 lead. Both teams added solo homers, but now-closer Rodriguez saved the 5-3 win, sending the series back to Yankee Stadium with the teams split.
The Yankees were the favorites to win Game 3, given that they had Hall of Fame lefty Randy Johnson pitching for them. Acquired in the off-season to give them a legitimate lefty ace, the Yankees hoped the Johnson who dominated them in the '95 ALDS with the Mariners and the '01 World Series with the Diamondbacks would now do so for them. Unfortunately, he did not rise to the challenge--Anderson and catcher Bengie Molina both slugged homers against him, and the "Big Unit" was knocked out of the game in the fourth, trailing 5-0. To the Yankees' credit, they came back with a vengeance against Paul Byrd, Donnelly, and Scot Shields, scoring four in the fifth and two in the sixth to take a 6-5 lead. "Unbeatable" starter-turned-playoff reliever Aaron Small could not hold the lead though, as he gave up four hits and two runs to give the Angels a lead they would not surrender. They won 11-7, forcing the Yankees to the brink of elimination again. Behind 6 1/3 surprising four-hit, two-run innings from Shawn Chacon in Game 4 and clutch hits from Sheffield and pinch-hitter Ruben Sierra, the Yankees forced a Game 5 in Anaheim with a 3-2 victory. Sadly for the Yankees, Game 5 could be summed up in one video:
With two outs in the bottom of the second and the Yankees up, 2-1, Adam Kennedy hit a long fly toward right-center field, where neither Sheffield or center fielder Bubba Crosby properly called the ball. They collided, the two-run triple fell, and the Angels went on top. Against Rodriguez in the ninth, the Yankees put the tying run in scoring position with two outs for Hideki Matsui, but "Godzilla" grounded out to first base to end the game. The Angels had beaten the Yankees yet again, though this time, they too fell in the playoffs when the White Sox beat them in a five-game ALCS.
Redemption did eventually come to the Yankees for these two agonizing playoff losses, but it would take four years, a managerial change, a move across the street, and most importantly some crucial new free agent additions. In 2009, Joe Girardi was now at the helm. The Yankees recovered from missing the playoffs in '08 to win 103 games in '09, in great part thanks to free agent signings CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, who had played half a season with the Angels in '08. The Angels were no slouches in '09 either, recovering from the heart-wrenching death of young pitcher Nick Adenhart in April to win 97 games and their third straight AL West title. They had their own vengeance to pick in the ALDS, as the Red Sox had ousted them two years in a row, losing only one game in the process. Thanks to some excellent pitching from Lackey and Jered Weaver, and a blown save by Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Angels turned the tables with a three-game sweep to move on to the ALCS, where they met the Yankees, who swept the Twins.
This would be the first time the Yankees and Angels had met in a best-of-seven series, and the Yankees got off to a very promising start. A brain lock by the Angels infield led to two early runs in Game 1:
New ace Sabathia was spectacular, limiting the Angels to just four hits and one run over eight innings before Mariano Rivera closed the door on the 4-1 victory. The second game would be even closer, as behind solid efforts from A.J. Burnett, Joe Saunders, and the bullpens, the two teams played to a 2-2 tie after 10 innings. The Angels took a one-run lead in the 11th on an RBI single by Chone Figgins, but with a chance to knot the series up at a game apiece, Brian Fuentes blew the save as resurgent playoff hero A-Rod took him deep to the short porch in right field, his third late-game, game-tying homer of the playoffs:
The marathon continued until the 13th inning, when Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis threw a potential double play away and Jerry Hairston Jr. scooted home with the winning run. Two days later, the Angels and Yankees played another extra-innings battle, cued when Jorge Posada hit a game-tying eighth inning homer against Kevin Jepsen. After two quick outs by David Robertson in the 11th, Girardi made the curious decision to remove him in favor of Aceves, who promptly surrendered a single to Howie Kendrick and a walk-off double to light-hitting backup catcher Jeff Mathis. Girardi faced scrutiny after the game and the Angels were back in the series.
Any momentum the Angels held after Game 3 was quickly extinguished by Sabathia. Despite pitching on three days' rest, the big lefty showed no ill effects and somehow managed to duplicate his Game 1 performance with eight innings of one-run ball. The Yankees destroyed Scott Kazmir and won 10-1 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Angels stayed alive with a narrow 7-6 comeback victory in Game 5, sending the series back to New York, but Pettitte was superb in his Game 6 start. The Yankees gave him a two-run lead in the fourth, and the veteran lefty tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball. Rivera closed it out with a two-inning save, and he struck out Gary Matthews Jr. to clinch the pennant and at last avenge the two previous playoff losses:
The Yankees won the World Series over the Phillies for their 27th title. The Angels have yet to return to the post-season since '09. Since '09, the Yankees have played a little better than previously against the Angels, winning 20 of 36 regular season games entering tonight. Let's hope this era of somewhat-more reliable success against the Angels continues.
Deal with it.