Not really a surprising result. While not really a surprise, the effectiveness of the Angels bullpen in the first three games of the series was somewhat unexpected. The relievers live on the margins, and they are successful when they get hitters to chase pitches out of the strike zone. The Yankees don't chase pitches out of the strike zone. What results are walks, weak hits, and occasionally a hard hit ball on get me over pitch. That's what happened tonight. The Angels took a 2-1 lead into the seventh inning and were victimized by a cheap hit, a walk, another cheap hit, and a ground ball that should have been a perfect ball on which to cut-off the eventual winning run at the plate. But add a poorly thrown ball by Figgins to the previous cuts, and before long, you've opened a big enough wound to bleed away a lead. One run was enough for Mariano Rivera, who operates with the largest strike zone of anyone in the post-season.
Lackey was terrific. I'm not sure I would have removed him, as he'd only thrown 78 pitches, but Matsui has had good success against him. But we've seen the bullpen go through stretches this season where they couldn't get the big out at the proper time. They couldn't throw a strike when they desperately needed to. That, and the offense's inability to hit an average pitcher, cost them the game tonight.
We're also seeing something that wasn't all that unpredictable, and that's a brutal lack of production by Vlad. I mentioned earlier about how I was worried that he might try to do too much and swing himself into a slump. It happened in last year's playoffs, where his only real contribution was a grand slam that sent the game into extra innings when they already trailed two games to one. In his seven post-season games, the engine of the Angels offense is hitting .230 with one home run. I'm not placing blame, but the fact is, the Angels cannot win a post-season series without some help from Vlad. So far, they haven't gotten it.
It will come as no surprise that I'm not optimistic about game five. Bart is ailing, and while I think he'll give everything he has tomorrow night, the fact is we taxed the bullpen again tonight. 25 pitches out of Shields, 35 out of Escobar, and unlike the Yankees, the Angels don't have Randy Johnson available in the bullpen. Bart is going to have to have go at least six, if not seven. Too add to that, there's the Fox factor. Bart, like many of our reliever, lives on the margins. He needs to get the pitches on the corners, and sometimes just off the corners, for strikes. If the ump has a narrow strike zone, this Yankee offense will pound him. What we need right now is John Hirschbeck.