Well-rested Saunders, Angels feeling loose going into Game 6
Game 6 starter Joe Saunders and the Angels will try to even the ALCS at 3-3
Rain pushed back Game 6 to Sunday, which is expected to be clear and cool
If there is a Game 7 on Monday, the Angels will turn to ace John Lackey
NEW YORK -- Before drifting off to sleep at his hotel on Saturday night, Joe Saunders knew he'd be having some scary thoughts that could surely lead to nightmares. Thoughts of Derek Jeter's swing. Of Alex Rodriguez's power. Of Mark Teixeira's plate discipline.
Sweet dreams, Joe.
"I'll probably be thinking about the hitters in bed when I'm tossing and turning," he said after Game 6 was postponed a day by rain.
The Yankees' offense is enough to keep any pitcher, even one as good as Saunders, up at night. But a few less minutes of shut-eye was the only thing Saunders and the rest of his teammates seemed worried about after getting the word that there would be no baseball in the Bronx on Saturday night. Given how few people expected them to get the series back to New York at all after falling behind three games to one and 6-4 in the seventh inning in Game 5, the Angels were remarkably loose on Saturday night. Centerfielder Torii Hunter took note of the team's much more relaxed vibe compared to their first visit to New York a week ago for the start of the series. "Guys are running around, cracking jokes, cutting guys' hair," he said. "We don't feel any pressure."
In fact, most Angels immediately went from worrying about baseball to worrying about football. Jered Weaver was already making plans for dinner and pigskin with teammates. John Lackey, still basking in his Texas Tech Red Raiders' victory the previous week over Nebraska -- "[Darin] Erstad (a former Cornhuskers punter and Angels outfielder) is mad at me," Lackey boasted -- would go from watching one powerhouse (the Yankees) to another (USC). Saunders, too, was expecting to watch some football, even though "my team (Virginia Tech) is off this week."
Saunders was off on Saturday, too, but unlike the Hokies, he'll be back at it on Sunday. Nobody in either clubhouse wanted to play a game that would be so affected by rain, and with Sunday calling for clear skies and temperatures in the 50s it will be ideal for postseason baseball. Saunders would even prefer if it were a little colder. "I'd rather it be 20 degrees colder," said the Virginia native. "I was raised in cold weather, I've pitched in cold weather all my life."
Indeed, the last time Saunders took the mound, on Game 2 in New York for his first postseason start of the year, temperatures hovered in the low 40s, and he responded with a red-hot performance: seven innings, six hits, two runs, one walk, five strikeouts. Yet because of two travel days, an off day and now a rain out, it will have been eight days since he last took the mound. In fact, both the Angels and Yankees will now have played just eight games in 20 days, 12 off days in one month after getting roughly 20 off days in six months during the regular season.
"Taking us almost 20 days to play eight games -- I think that's the wrong template for baseball," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. Nevertheless, the rain will benefit the Angels more than the Yankees because now Lackey -- "our horse," as Weaver calls him -- will be available to pitch in Game 7 on Monday night.
Not that anyone was willing to look that far ahead, of course. "I can't even talk about [Game 7]," said Hunter. "I'm not Negrodamus."
"Our focus is not on Game 7 it's on Game 6," said Angels general manager Tony Reagins. "To get to Game 7 you've got to win Game 6. It's all hands on deck."
That could potentially include Lackey, though almost certainly only as a last resort. Scott Kazmir would be another Game 7 option, even after he was battered around by the Yankees in Game 4, giving up four runs and six hits in four innings of work and taking the loss. Both he and Lackey said they would be ready to pitch when called upon, as did Weaver, the Game 3 starter who worked out of the bullpen in Game 5.
In fact, about the only pitcher who wouldn't be available in Game 7 is Saunders. After arriving at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, he had gone over his scouting report, gotten his pre-game work in and felt the potent mixture of nervousness and excitement of such a monumental game start to flow through him. Before long, he would have to turn off that energy and refocus it for Sunday.
"I'm anxious," he said. "I have to shut my brain down. When I get here [Sunday], I'll turn it back on again."
The extra day should have little effect on Saunders, who is at his best with as much rest as possible. He has made 40 starts in his career with four days' rest, with a 5.03 ERA and 1.425 WHIP, 35 starts with five days' rest (3.87 ERA, 1.393 WHIP) and 20 starts with six or more days off. In those games, he is 11-3 with a 3.29 ERA and a 1.228 WHIP.
Of course, how he pitches on Sunday may have less to do with how much rest he had between games than how much rest he had before Game 6 while trying to forget about the Yankees' thunderous lineup. Yet Saunders, displaying the confidence that has surged through his entire team, vowed to be ready.
"Come [Sunday]," he said. "Game on."
MLB Truth & Rumors