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Fielding miscues cost Angels vs. Yanks
Fielding miscues cost Angels early
By Anthony Castrovince
NEW YORK -- The Angels called it a "lack of communication." Maybe it was a wardrobe malfunction.
Hideki Matsui's popup in the first inning on Friday night was supposed to be an inning-ender. It was supposed to get Angels starter John Lackey out of an early jam with only minimal damage.
As the ball sailed upward, third baseman Chone Figgins yelled, "Aybar!"
Trouble was, shortstop Erick Aybar, wearing ear flaps to brace himself from the bone-chilling temperatures in the Bronx, didn't hear him, and the two infielders stood paralyzed as the ball fell between them for an RBI single.
That run made it 2-0 and proved all the Yankees would need in their 4-1 victory in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, and it contributed heavily to an evening in which the Angels, who are usually sound in their fundamentals, made a series of baffling defensive miscues.
For his part, Aybar said the ear flaps and the noise from the Yankee Stadium crowd didn't contribute to the play. The fact that Figgins had called his name was news to Aybar.
"It was a lack of communication between me and Chone Figgins," Aybar said. "That's exactly what happened. I didn't hear anything. I saw him standing there, and I thought he was going to catch it. But I didn't hear him at all."
Figgins said he called Aybar's name too early.
"One of us has to catch that ball in that situation," Figgins said. "It's as simple as that."
Nothing was simple or easy for the Angels on the defensive end in this loss, and that was surprising, to say the least.
It had been speculated that the wet conditions might affect the Angels' running game on the basepaths. What wasn't expected was a defensive letdown from a ballclub that set a franchise record for fielding percentage and made just 85 errors in the regular season.
On this night, the Angels made three errors -- in addition to the Aybar-Figgins miscue, which isn't accounted for in the box score. The three errors equaled a club postseason record set in Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS against the White Sox. They also matched a season high reached on Aug. 9 and Sept. 7.
"It was sloppy," said center fielder Torii Hunter, who made the last of the Halos errors. "It was out of character for us. We play good 'D,' and we play the game the right way. It just didn't work out for us today."
Lackey had his work cut out for him early because of the defensive gaffes.
After Derek Jeter singled off Lackey to open the bottom of the first inning, Johnny Damon hit a fly ball to left that landed for a base hit, allowing Jeter to move to third. But Damon was able to advance to second on the play, because Juan Rivera's throw in missed the cutoff man.
"Juan came up and tried to alter a throw to second base and kind of just split the difference," manager Mike Scioscia said. "That was what happened in that play."
Rivera was charged with an error, and it came back to haunt the Angels two outs later. Lackey got Mark Teixeira to fly out and Alex Rodriguez to hit a sacrifice fly to center that scored Jeter. Lackey then induced the infield popup from Matsui to seemingly end the inning.
Not so fast.
The ball fell to the ground between Aybar and Figgins, and a hustling Damon, streaking from second, easily scored the Yankees' second run. Replays showed a frustrated Lackey yelling something at the pair, but he gathered himself to get Jorge Posada to fly to right for the inning's final out.
Scioscia was quick to forgive the guys on the left side of his infield, though he did have a talk with Aybar in the dugout afterward.
"Those guys played terrific baseball for us," Scioscia said. "They have had a great feel in their range all year on the left side. And on that ball there, they should be able to figure out one of the guys are going to call it, and you need more of a visual to make sure that, you know, the ball is being tracked properly. So we just wanted to clean it up. It happens. These guys are not going to be robots out there. It's a mistake. It was ugly. But it happens. And we move on from it."
Lackey added to the defensive lapses in the sixth. With two out, he walked Melky Cabrera. Then, on a pickoff attempt at first, he threw the ball out of first baseman Kendry Morales' reach, and Cabrera advanced to second.
Lackey paid the price for his error just a few pitches later. He gave up a bouncing single up the middle to Jeter, and Cabrera scored from second to give New York a 4-1 lead. To make matters worse, Hunter booted the ball in center, allowing Jeter to move to second. But that latter error didn't prove costly, as reliever Jason Bulger came on to get the last out of the inning.
"We haven't seen our guys crack the door open for a team like we did tonight in a long time," Scioscia said. "And the Yankees are going to take advantage of that, and they did."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.