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Monday, October 10, 2005
Updated: October 11, 9:59 AM ET
Rookie steps up, delivers Angels to ALCS

By Jim Caple
ESPN.com

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Angels have flown almost 5,000 miles in two days and boy, are their arms tired. Not that they had any trouble raising them to pour champagne in their clubhouse Monday night.

Sure, they don't know whether their Cy Young candidate will be able to pitch again this year. Sure, they don't know whether their only left-handed pitcher will be healthy enough to pitch this week. Sure, they'll begin the American League Championship Series in their third time zone in three days without having had a good night's sleep in between. But so what? The Angels feel as fresh and strong as a 22-year-old rookie with an unlimited future.

As for the Yankees, well, they should be nice and rested for their first Grapefruit League game next March.

Ervin Santana
Ervin Santana pitched 5 1/3 innings in relief to earn the win in Game 5.

The team with the $203 million payroll fell short for the fifth consecutive autumn, done in this time by a rookie who earned around $225,000 and spent part of the season as an Arkansas Traveler. Shoved into emergency service when Angels starter Bartolo Colon left in the second inning with an inflamed shoulder, 22-year-old Ervin Santana overcame early wildness to hold the Yankees down in the middle innings while his teammates rallied for a 5-3 victory in Game 5 of their Division Series.

"This kid responded to every situation as well as anybody who has ever put on a major league uniform, whether it was a game down the stretch or going into New York or pitching a ballgame in the summer,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "And he maintains his stuff, he worked hard, and he wants to achieve. He wants to keep getting better and that's why we're excited about his future.''

You can forgive Scioscia if he was exuberant. Santana had just helped him knock off the Yankees for the second time in a Division Series and neither got a lot of sleep after Sunday night's cross-country red-eye flight from New York, grabbing whatever winks they could when they could. "It wasn't that rough, really,'' Angels first baseman Darin Erstad said.

No? Well, then maybe there is something to playing on adrenaline considering that the two guys who were supposed to be fully rested didn't even make it through the third inning. Colon flew home from New York after the Angels won Game 3, while Mussina never left California after winning Game 1.

Perhaps Mussina spent too many days in California -- after a week out here, it was surprising he didn't take the mound in flip-flops, a Hawaiian shirt and Mouseketeer ears. "When I stepped onto the mound it seemed like I had just been out there. I didn't go to another stadium, I didn't go to another major league game. It was a little strange.''

Mussina didn't pitch that poorly but he also didn't pitch that well, either. He breezed through the first inning on seven pitches but two innings later, things were going so badly that manager Joe Torre yanked him to bring in Randy Johnson with two outs in the third. A $203 million payroll means having the luxury of replacing a 224-game winner with a 263-game winner. The Big Unit pitched much better than his Game 3 start, but it was too late by then.

That's because the Angels had taken the lead with two outs in the second inning when center fielder Bubba Crosby and right fielder Gary Sheffield collided at the warning track on Adam Kennedy's drive to right center. Both appeared to have a chance at catching the ball -- or at least, they did before crashing into each other and turning the fly ball into a two-run triple that gave the Angels a lead they never relinquished.

Crosby said he knew immediately the play would be crucial. The irony is that it occurred while New York's reliable center fielder of the past 15 years watched from the dugout in what may have been his final game with the Yankees.

"The guys gave it a good effort and they probably couldn't hear each other,'' said Bernie Williams, who began his long Yankees career under manager Stump Merrill. "They both went after the ball thinking they were going to catch it.''

As for Santana, he kept the Angels from thinning out their bullpen too much.

The rookie was 12-8 with a 4.65 ERA this season, including the season-ending victory that earned the Angels the home-field advantage that might have proved crucial.

This kid responded to every situation as well as anybody who has ever put on a major league uniform, whether it was a game down the stretch or going into New York or pitching a ballgame in the summer.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia on
Ervin Santana

He took over in the second inning when Colon had to leave with a bum shoulder and a 3-2 count on Robinson Cano. A tough situation? Not the way Santana saw it. "That's a baseball game, you don't have to put pressure on it, just pitch,'' Santana said. "And if something happens, it happens, so I don't have to be nervous."

Santana normally has decent control, but he threw ball four to Cano (the walk was charged to Colon), then walked Williams and Jorge Posada before allowing a single to Crosby. Had Cano not been thrown out stealing, the Yankees might have broken open the game. Instead, Santana settled down, held the Yankees to two runs that inning and retired 15 of the next 20 batters he faced before giving way to the rest of the Angels' solid bullpen with one out in the seventh inning.

The Yankees did mount a few late threats. Derek Jeter -- who else? -- homered in the eighth to make it 5-3, then led off the ninth with a single against closer Frankie Rodriguez. Alex Rodriguez, however, continued his miserable series -- a .133 batting average, no RBI and a crucial error in Game 2 -- by grounding into a double play. But at least he didn't try slapping the ball out of someone's glove this time.

While Williams and the Yankees pondered their future -- Memo to George Steinbrenner: Spend more money! -- the Angels celebrated their victory, then boarded another red-eye flight. Between then and tonight, they not only need to get some sleep, they need to figure out who can pitch. There was no update on Colon's shoulder before the flight, lefty starter Jarrod Washburn has strep throat and may not be available in Chicago, John Lackey pitched Sunday and Santana obviously won't be available for a couple of days.

In other words, the Rally Monkey better start warming up now.

"While everyone was hugging and shouting,'' pitching coach Bud Black said, "I went up to Paul Byrd and said, 'You're starting tomorrow night.' He said OK.''

"It won't be hard,'' Byrd said of pitching after such a difficult schedule. "I was around the minor leagues long enough that that doesn't matter.''

Byrd joked he probably could ride a bus to Chicago, but he didn't need to. The Angels were flying high on their own.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," was published by Plume. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.