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Angels turn to ace Colon for Game 1

Angels set to start postseason with their best

ANAHEIM -- Taking a cue from Opening Day, Bartolo Colon will throw the first pitch of the Angels' postseason.

The right-hander was on the hill to kick off the season on April 5 against Texas, earning the win with 6 2/3 innings of work, and that effort sent the Angels on their way to a second straight American League West title.

The club will be expecting no less come Tuesday when the Yankees settle into the batter's box for Game 1 of the American League Division Series.

"It's certainly important for us to have gotten Bartolo into Game 1. That was something last year that was tough for us to reset the way we wanted because we had to go so long and so hard, almost what the Yankees just went through," said manager Mike Scioscia, referring to last season, when the Angels didn't clinch until the second-to-last day, holding Colon out until the second game. "I think setting your rotation is very big, and we were able to do that this year."

Following Colon will be right-hander John Lackey in Game 2, with Paul Byrd set to pitch on Friday, when the series switches to Yankee Stadium. Left-hander Jarrod Washburn will start Game 4, if necessary.

The decision to start Colon in the first game was readily apparent from that outing in April -- something the ace of the staff made clear throughout a season that established him as the front-runner for the race in the Cy Young Award, as he posted a league-best 21-8 record and a 3.48 ERA, which was eighth-lowest in the AL.

A year ago, a sore left ankle prevented Colon from pitching effectively during the first half of the season, and it showed. In 18 starts prior to the All-Star break last year, Colon was 6-8 with a 6.38 ERA. But he rebounded in the second half to post a 12-4 record with a 3.63 ERA over his last 16 starts.

Colon had no such setback this season, however, at least statistically. He went 11-5 with a 3.42 ERA in 18 starts during the first half, and 10-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 15 starts after the break.

"He's a true horse. Just about every team in baseball would love to have a guy like him," Washburn said. "He takes the ball every time, gives you everything he has and he dominates more often than not."

About the only negative to Colon's season was a lower back that tightened up during a start against the A's on Aug. 30 and affected him over the last month. That tightness turned to pain in early September, but he did not miss a start, thanks in part to an aggressive therapy routine and Colon's resolve to pitch.

Colon pitched only five innings in three of his last four starts, which was partly by design, but he said it should not present any major issues on Tuesday. He threw off flat ground during Monday's workout.

"My back, I still feel it. There's some discomfort, but there's no time for me to think about it right now," Colon said through an interpreter. "I pitched with it the last few starts, and it's done. Forget about it and get started tomorrow."

Colon has made two starts against the Yankees this season, earning a split, and is 4-4 against them in his career. He allowed five runs over seven innings to open a four-game series here in July this season, and benefited greatly when Vladimir Guerrero hit a grand slam, turning a 5-2 deficit into a 6-5 win. The Angels ended up winning three of four games that series.

But on April 26, Colon was on the receiving end of one of the greatest individual performances in Yankees history. Alex Rodriguez hit three homers off Colon in the Yankees' 12-4 win. Rodriguez also drove in 10 runs that night, which was one shy of the franchise record and AL mark set by Tony Lazzeri in 1936.

"I've got to be careful with Alex, obviously, but I think whatever happened in the past with Alex is in the past," Colon said. "I look forward to tomorrow -- it's a brand new start with all the players and all the hitters they have."

Rodriguez will likely bat second in the order between Derek Jeter and Gary Sheffield, but it won't end there with Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, et al, to follow.

"I think all of them are dangerous," Colon said. "One thing that comes into mind, to me, [is that] they are all cleanup hitters. That's the way I see the Yankee lineup."

Colon will be making his seventh start in the playoffs and his 34th of the year, with a 10-2 mark in his last 14 starts to finish the regular season. For the team, Colon is everyone's No. 1.

"When a guy has 200-plus innings every year and doesn't mind going on three days' rest, that's something special. He pitches a lot of innings all the time, and when your team is in a bad stretch, he'll stop it," Kelvim Escobar said. "He's all you can ask for."

Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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