"That's the thing about close games," Chone Figgins said. "There's always one thing that changes the course of a ballgame."
The third baseman was in the center of that play in a game that could have been a preview of this year's AL Championship Series. With one out in the eighth inning, the throw from recently inserted catcher Mike Napoli hooked just wide of Figgins' glove, sailing into the outfield and allowing hustling pinch-runner Brett Gardner to score the go-ahead run for the Yankees.
"We knew if there was a window, [Gardner] was going to try to take it," manager Mike Scioscia said. "[Shortstop Erick Aybar] was right there, pinching him, [reliever Darren Oliver] was aware, and I really thought we controlled his jump. I thought those guys did a good job. We didn't finish the play, but the timing of it was in our favor."
Figgins, who hadn't seen the replay, agreed that the timing wasn't a factor, adding that it was a risk he himself would have taken in Gardner's position.
Instead, Napoli, who had come off the bench to start the inning, took both the error and the blame.
"This isn't my first time coming off the bench," Napoli said. "I thought I had a quick release, and it just didn't happen."
Gardner was running for former Angel Mark Teixeira, who had laced a ground-rule double into right field for his third hit of the night off starter Jered Weaver. Weaver exited in favor of Oliver after walking the following batter, Alex Rodriguez. Oliver struck out Hideki Matsui for the inning's second out before allowing Robinson Cano to tack on an insurance run with a center-field single.
For an Angels franchise so notorious for winning with "small ball," the irony of losing Monday's game because of the Yankees' prowess on the basepaths was a bitter pill to swallow.
"[Gardner] runs, [Derek] Jeter runs, [Melky] Cabrera runs. They pick their chances to run," Figgins said of the Yankees' under-the-radar speed. "And [Gardner] got his chance to run, and it worked out for him."
Though Gardner's legs might have been the game-changers, it was New York's dangerous lineup that consistently made Weaver have to finesse his way out of jams.
"It's pick your poison with anybody who comes up to the plate for them," said Weaver of the Yankees' lineup, which entered the game with a Major League-leading 221 home runs and bumped up the tally with Nick Swisher's solo homer in the third. "I felt good, I just wish I could have had a couple of pitches back."
It didn't help that Weaver was pitching with a needle-size margin for error. The Angels' slightly slumping offense went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, squandering several late opportunities to take back the game's momentum.
The Angels put runners on in each of the final six innings, and missed a golden opportunity with a pair on first and second with one out in the seventh. After Figgins was called out on strikes, Maicer Izturis sent the seventh pitch of his at-bat behind second base. The ball was speared by shortstop Jeter, who spun and threw out a diving Izturis by inches.
"We couldn't get a key hit, which might have changed some of the things that happens as the game went on," Scioscia said. "It's definitely not a team you want to get in a bullpen war with."
Still, the Halos put up a rare run against eighth-inning specialist Phil Hughes.
With the Angels down a run and down to six outs, Bobby Abreu and Vladimir Guerrero -- who homered in the second -- hit a pair of back-to-back singles, and Torii Hunter walked to juice the bases. But the Angels let Hughes off easy, as Kendry Morales hit into a double play -- scoring the tying run in Abreu -- and Howard Kendrick lined out to end the Angels' best shot to take back the lead.
"We know the teams that we're going to hopefully be playing in October if we get there," Teixeira said. "The Angels are going to be one of them. You need to measure yourself up against the best."
Teixeira got the best of his former teammates, singlehandedly tagging Weaver with the loss. The right-hander suffered his third defeat in his past 11 starts, falling victim to several big hits, including Teixeira's two-run triple in the fourth inning. The first baseman blasted a pitch to straightaway center field just outside the range of Hunter, who lost his left cleat while trying to flag down the ball.
"There were a couple of breaking balls he just kind of spun," Scioscia said of Weaver, who allowed three runs over 7 1/3 innings. "But when push came to shove, he got some big outs in that game to give us a chance."
With the loss, the AL West-leading Angels fall to 86-57, retaining a six-game lead over the Rangers, who fell, 9-0, to the Athletics.
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less