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Angels Stay Alive, Phillies Wait For A.L. Winner

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Angels Stay Alive, Phillies Wait For A.L. Winner

Sports

Angels Stay Alive, Phillies Wait For A.L. Winner

Angels Stay Alive, Phillies Wait For A.L. Winner

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The Los Angeles Angels have sent the American League Championship Series back to New York for Game 6 Saturday night. The Angels beat the Yankees 7-6 Thursday night. The Yankees lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. The Philadelphia Phillies clinched the National League Championship series earlier this week.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The New York Yankees walked onto the diamond last night, knowing they just needed one more win against the L.A. Angels. That single win would put the Yankees into the World Series. And at the start of last night's game, the Yankees had up to three chances to get that win. Now, they're down to two chances. The Angeles found their offense and beat the Yankees 7-6 to stay alive. NPR's sports correspondent Mike Pesca is with us.

Mike, good morning.

MIKE PESCA: Hi.

INSKEEP: So I have to say that even though - we have to point out that even though the Angeles won last night, they're still down three games to two. The Yankees still have the edge here.

PESCA: Yeah, I would say they do - not just by their advantage in the series. The series now heads back to New York. So on paper, the Yankees have two chances to win one game. And they'll be doing it at home, where they hit more home runs than their opponents, where they hit the most home runs in baseball.

And the other thing they have going for them - aside from a lineup that's hitting well and Alex Rodriquez, their slugger, who is really slugging - they have C.C. Sabathia, their starting pitcher, waiting to pitch game seven. It's a big psychological edge for the Yankees to know that this guy, who's been able to go out there on what's called short rest in baseball.

Normally, a pitcher gets four days between starts. They asked C.C. Sabathia to go out there every three days. And he's brilliant. Usually, that strategy blows up on a manager because they want their pitchers to pitch more than they can. But C.C.'s been just great. It's a great literal and psychological edge.

INSKEEP: So what can Anaheim do to win those final two games?

PESCA: Anaheim's a great team. Let's not gloss over this fact. I mean, the Yankees do have the most wins in baseball, but there was one point in the season, not too long ago, when every single player in the Anaheim lineup was hitting 300 or better. Now, some have slipped, but they have a very, very good offense.

And the thing about what is facing them is, yes, they have to win two in a row. But to be a little pedantic, they actually have to win one game at a time. And that's what everyone says. And the difference is if they can go out and win this one game and then they have a game seven, they will have the momentum. They will believe in themselves. Yankee fans will start doubting themselves.

I don't know about Yankee players. But the pressure really can get to the Yankees if the Angels go out and win this next game - this game six in the series. And if that sets up a game seven, who know who'll win - even if C.C. Sabathia's pitching.

INSKEEP: That's a good point. I mean, there's times in recent memory where the Yankees have lost a game seven.

PESCA: I've heard that happened, though they don't like to talk about that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, whoever wins that series, the American League Championship Series, they go to the World Series. And they will be the underdog, it looks like, against the Philadelphia Phillies.

PESCA: I don't know if that's true. I mean, we could say that the Phillies are doing great. They dispatched of the Dodgers very quickly in their league championship series. And they are, of course, the defending champions. But there's a lot of empirical evidence that the American League is the stronger league than the National League.

I'll give you one example. American League pitcher Cliff Lee, who was good in the American League, came over to the Phillies and he's just been brilliant against National League hitting. That's only one example. But there's many cases where National League players going to the American League don't do as well. But when the opposite happens, when an American Leaguer goes to the National League, he excels. Raul Ibanez, on the Phillies, is another example of that.

I think if the Yankees were to face the Phillies, most people would think the Yankees were the favorites, where the Angels against the Phillies would be more of an even series.

INSKEEP: OK. So the Phillies seem to be on top of a somewhat weaker league. What has been the secret to their success?

PESCA: They have - first, let's talk about their consistent hitting. They have four guys in their lineup who hit more than 30 home runs during the season. And Ryan Howard, their most fearsome slugger, has been just that in the playoffs. But the other thing - so that's so consistent, sometimes you gloss over it when you talk about the thing that the Phillies have gotten in the postseason that they lacked in the regular season. And that is pitching.

It always comes down to pitching, specifically their closer, Brad Lidge. The most pressure situation in sports. You come in with your team leading. You have one inning and you have to shut down the opposition.

Brad Lidge blew zero saves all of last year. And he was terrible this year. But when the post season comes around, somehow - and it's a mystical thing, I don't know if enough statistics in the world can explain it - but Brad Lidge has been great in the postseason. And if he can continue that, again, the psychological edge of knowing - and the literal edge - of knowing that Brad Lidge, their closer, is back on his game gives the Phillies a real advantage.

INSKEEP: It gets back to what you were saying about the other series and the possibility of a game seven. You get to a point in the playoffs where anything can happen.

PESCA: Yeah, and it's good to have a great closer on the mound when it does.

INSKEEP: Mike, thanks very much.

PESCA: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca.

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