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Is it now their time in sun?

Angels warm to task of rebounding

By Nick Cafardo
October 19, 2009

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - It’s 75 degrees and the sun is shining. The field is perfect. It’s dry. Great baseball weather.

It’s the opposite of what the Angels and Yankees just left in New York. As much as the Angels like to say they’re not affected by cold weather, you can tell by the stiffness with which they play that they are. Unfortunately, as the series shifts to Angel Stadium, the Yankees like nice weather, too. If the Angels are hoping to have an advantage playing in sunny California, forget about it. They are down, 2-0, in this American League Championship Series, and today’s game is as close to must-win as they come.

We’re not saying the Angels are weather wusses, but they are clearly affected by the cold. It was obvious last season in April when they came to Fenway in frigid conditions and played like they were wearing parkas and mittens.

We’re just saying they’re a West Coast team and they’re not used to playing in miserable conditions. The Yankees are used to the cold.

“I think we did a pretty good job at our ballpark in those conditions,’’ Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said yesterday. “The conditions are definitely going to be a little more favorable for both teams to actually try and perform a little better. But the momentum can definitely change. When I was a part of that [Red Sox-Yankees ALCS] in 2004, we had just got clobbered the night before [in Game 3]. We had a no-fear type of attitude so we just went out and played [and won the series]. You’re never satisfied with a series unless you win it. We’re up, 2-0. But we’d like to make it 3-0 and then 4-0.’’

The Angels had every chance to beat the Yankees in Game 2, but Brian Fuentes couldn’t close the door in the 11th. Fuentes might have led the majors with 48 regular-season saves and shut down the Red Sox in Game 3 of the Division Series, but the Angels do everything they can to avoid using him.

In addition to bad weather and a shaky Fuentes, there’s also the fact that the Yankees are a better team.

But during yesterday’s optional Angels workout, there was sunshine again.

“Oh man, it’s great now,’’ said Angels center fielder Torii Hunter. “Now I can work on my tan again. It’s going to be great for both ball clubs. There’s no excuses out there in New York. Both teams were cold. To say it affected us is not right. It’s always nice to be in this warm weather . . . stay loose.

“I looked over at [Derek] Jeter and he was freezing and he still went out and got the job done,’’ added Hunter.

Precisely. Jeter has played in countless cold-weather games, yet his performance level never dips with the temperatures. OK, the same cannot be said for bundled-up Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, who committed two fielding errors in Game 2. But Jeter handled it better than Angels second baseman Maicer Izturis, whose throwing mishap in the 13th inning of Game 2 led to Jerry Hairston Jr. scoring the winning run. The Angels have made five errors in two games after making only 85 all season, some attributable to the poor conditions.

By Hunter’s estimation, the miscue that hurt was Fuentes’s decision to throw an outside fastball to Alex Rodriguez in the 11th inning that A-Rod deposited in the right-field seats to tie the game at 3.

“Right before the pitch I wanted to call time out,’’ Hunter said. “I saw [the signal] and I was saying in my head, ‘No!’ That’s why he’s the greatest in the game. He’s not the one you want to have beat you like that. You know he can hit, look at his track record. In our ballpark, that hits the wall.’’

Angels manager Mike Scioscia was asked about Fuentes’s mistake and said, “Brian just didn’t elevate it enough. And Alex hit it. I don’t think it was a blatant mistake. It’s just a pitch he didn’t quite get into the zone he wanted. That’s baseball. It happens. Give Alex some credit.’’

The Angels, who looked so dominant against the Red Sox, now look so vulnerable against the Yankees, who are 5-0 in the postseason. A-Rod has turned from postseason bum to Mr. October, going 7 for 19 with three huge homers in 2009.

Yes, A-Rod likes nice weather, too. It would be hard to believe the Angels suddenly would silence him here.

Scioscia knows what he’s up against, though he stopped short of labeling the Yankees the best team he’s ever faced.

“This team is as deep as any team in baseball for a number of years. The team we played in ’02 and the team we played in ’05 was every bit as strong as this team is now,’’ he said. “Those teams had Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte, so I don’t feel it’s any stronger or any deeper than those teams that we’ve played before. We feel if we play our best we can beat them.’’

Sometimes teams that play the Yankees get awestruck.

“You can let that get to you if you let it,’’ Hunter said. “I remember when I was a younger player I’d try my best to hit a home run against the Yankees and then I’d text all my friends so proud of hitting one against them. You look at the players, the championships, the payroll and yeah, you can let that affect you, but we have to forget about that and play the game on the field.’’

They’ll play in more pleasant conditions and the Angels hope for a more pleasant outcome. But the Angels needed to show some grit in New York. They needed to spit into the wind, but when they did, it came flying back at them.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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