Halos-Yanks rivalry gaining steam as years pass

Halos-Yanks rivalry gaining steam as years pass

Halos-Yanks rivalry gaining steam as years pass
ANAHEIM -- It is nowhere close to the level of Yankees-Red Sox, of course. What is? But Yankees-Angels is another rivalry with some history. It's recent history, but history nonetheless.

The two teams renew acquaintances this weekend at Angel Stadium, both characteristically in contention for October assignments, both playing with purpose down the stretch.

This could, in fact, be a playoff preview. If it is, it promises to be quite a show, given past performances.

Yankees-Angels as a truly competitive entity can be traced to a specific origin: October 2002, Mike Scioscia's third season as manager of a franchise not too familiar with baseball in autumn.

Finishing the regular season like gangbusters, the Angels stepped into the cathedral in the South Bronx for Game 1 of the American League Division Series as the Wild Card. They left Yankee Stadium that night in a depressed condition, feeling as though they'd had their pockets picked.

Or so it seemed, from the outside.

Internally, the mood apparently was lighter, more upbeat. A four-run eighth-inning uprising in the 8-5 loss actually was cause for optimism, according to one of the players involved in the drama.

"We lost late," said second baseman Adam Kennedy, who would leave his indelible mark 15 days later against the Twins. "Bernie [Williams] hit a home run, and our bullpen got hit around. We had a feeling after the game that we can win this series. We had a great bullpen, and we just knew they wouldn't give one up again."

Game 2 at Yankee Stadium on the following day is arguably the most important contest in franchise history, Games 6 and 7 of the World Series, down the road, notwithstanding. For without their fireworks that night in the Bronx, it's highly doubtful there would have been a Fall Classic for Scioscia's troupe.

"[Andy] Pettitte threw that game, and we came right after them," Kennedy said. "We were a confident team -- not cocky individually, but confident in each other.

"We had played great baseball after a bad start. We were good the whole second half. Remember when the A's won 20 in a row? We were 18-2 in that stretch."

Taking Pettitte and the Yankees' bullpen to the woodshed for 17 hits, the Angels prevailed, 8-6, scoring three times in the eighth and once in the ninth. Tim Salmon, Scott Spiezio, Garret Anderson and Troy Glaus homered. Young Chone Figgins stole a base. Troy Percival nailed down the save.

The Angels were taking flight, whether Yankees Universe recognized it or not.

"They didn't like to play a team with speed," said Figgins, whose role was confined, essentially, to running the bases. "We were aggressive on the bases, going first to third, forcing things. The Yankees liked to play station to station."

The scene then shifted to Anaheim, where in Game 3 the Yankees jumped to a five-run third-inning lead behind Mike Mussina. But Kennedy took Mussina deep and stole a base, and also lifted a sacrifice fly. The Angels kept the pressure on, scoring in every inning but the first and fifth in seizing a 9-6 decision.

"We had some really competitive guys on that team," Kennedy said. "Confident, competitive guys who came together at the right time."

The end for the Yankees came with another flurry of Angels hits, 15 when the dust cleared, in a 9-5 Game 4 triumph. Setup man Francisco Rodriguez, mixing mid-90s heat with an unhittable curveball, claimed his third consecutive win in his first taste of postseason play.

The rest, as they say, is hysteria. The Angels took out the Twins in five games in the AL Championship Series, Kennedy rocking Orange County with three homers in the finale. And then they made San Francisco weep in a classic World Series that went the distance, ending with Darin Erstad -- the team's heart and soul -- clutching the final out as Angel Stadium erupted.

Kennedy and Figgins are Seattle teammates now. There are no players left in the Angels' clubhouse from that magic carpet ride. The man at the helm remains, but he rarely ventures into the past -- or into the future, for that matter -- when important matters are at hand.

Asked if he would agree that Game 2 of the '02 ALDS was the most significant of all the games he's managed in his 12 years in Anaheim, Scioscia said that he couldn't argue the point.

"That was a great night, the way our guys responded after the first one got away," Scioscia said. "Then we came back after trailing, 6-1, in the third game at home. That team was resilient -- and tough."

The Angels enjoyed '02 so much, they came back and duplicated their efforts in '05, taking out the Yankees again, this time in five games. The turning point was another Game 2, with the Angels prevailing, 5-3, in Anaheim after losing the opener.

Game 5 went to young Ervin Santana in relief, with K-Rod nailing down the save.

The Yankees waited until 2009 to exact their revenge, knocking out the Angels in six games in the ALCS en route to a World Series title in the new Yankee Stadium.

Kennedy always arches an eyebrow when he hears a television expert talk about how dominant starting pitching is the certain ticket to postseason riches.

"We didn't even have a legitimate No. 1 [in 2002]," Kennedy said. "We won with offense and a great bullpen and defense.

"I can't tell you how many times we're down in the fifth inning, and the bullpen holds, and we start coming back and win. It was the character of that team."

Kennedy has an enduring memory of Game 1 at the old Yankee Stadium, when everything seemed to be going New York's way.

"I remember standing at second base when Bernie hit that home run," he said, "and I'm thinking, `Wow -- this is as good as it gets.' It was amazing how loud it was.

"There was something about playing in old Yankee Stadium, especially in October. Our guys loved it."

Why wouldn't they? It was the first leg of the ride of their lives.

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