Flickering Halos must get recharged
Pressure on Byrd to match Contreras in Game 5
ANAHEIM -- The Angels now have to hope that, just as their manager, Mike Scioscia, says: "The playoffs can turn in a heartbeat."
For the Angels to have a postseason life beyond Sunday night, these playoffs are going to have to turn dramatically in their direction in Game 5. The last three games of the 2005 AL Championship Series have not only been won by the Chicago White Sox, they have been owned by the Chicago White Sox.
The White Sox have thrown three straight complete games at the Angels. They have limited the Angels to just eight runs in four games. The Angels have not been allowed to resemble the Angels. There has been no substantial production from the top of the order or the middle of the order. The small ball elements that have given the Angels a competitive edge and have set them apart from most of the American League, have not been allowed to come into play.
Now is the time, with the ALCS just a heartbeat away from either turning or sending the White Sox on to the World Series, that the importance of every pitch, every play is magnified. The Angels must regroup and go back to the most basic baseball approach of all -- playing them one at a time. It is less a cliche now than the only avenue left open.
The only successful approach, Scioscia said Saturday night, after his club's 8-2 loss in Game 4, was "not much different than it would be all year. You're always looking at one game at a time. You're always looking pitch to pitch. That's the way you climb this mountain.
"You can't be looking at Game 7 until you win in Game 5. We know what we need to do. We have the ability to do it. It's going to take guys to get to their level of play.
"But by no means is it over, by no means is there anything that we're not going to be able to do, if we get into our game. But, obviously, the margin or error is kind of getting on the wrong side for us right now."
On the other side of it, well, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen has already been on the other side of it. He was the third base coach for the 2003 Florida Marlins who trailed the Chicago Cubs, 3-1, in the NL Championship Series, yet went on to win the World Series.
Those Marlins, Guillen said Saturday night, had talent, especially pitching talent, but they also retained confidence in their abilities, even when they were at the brink of elimination. "They always believed in themselves," Guillen said. "They'd take it one day at a time and see what happened, and they came up with a victory. Believe in yourself, trust yourself, and that's all you can do with the short series. That's what the Marlins did."
Guillen knows that the same thing is possible, particularly with a proven group of competitors such as the Angels. But with his club's situation, the manager's job in these circumstances would be to guard against over-confidence. Guillen doesn't believe there is much danger of an outbreak of complacency among his players.
"We are not the type of team that is cocky," he said. "I think the cockiest guy is me, and I'm pretty low-key in the playoffs. I always tell my guys: 'Listen, whatever happened tonight doesn't mean anything tomorrow. ... When you play a short series anything can happen.'
"The win [Saturday] guaranteed a seven-game series. That's all it guarantees for us. It doesn't guarantee a win for us."
The Game 5 pitching matchup will be a replay of Game 1, Paul Byrd for the Angels, Jose Contreras for the Sox. This was the only game the Angels have won in this Series, but both pitchers performed well.
They offer a clear contrast in styles; Byrd a finesse pitcher with the old-time windup, Contreras a power pitcher who has fully harnessed his stuff. A contrast now can also be found in the pressure. It is on Byrd's shoulders, not only to save his team from elimination but to pitch for a team that has been scuffling offensively. When he was asked Saturday if the Angels' offensive struggles heightened the pressure, Byrd said: "I think so." But he also said: "I enjoy pitching the big games, I enjoy the pressure, I have so far and I'm looking forward to it."
Contreras was the de facto ace of the Chicago staff over the last three months, going 11-2 in the second half, drawing the Game 1 start in the Division Series and setting the tone by beating the Red Sox. He was a big star on the Cuban national team before he defected, and he had some nice moments with the Yankees, but he is truly reaching the heights now.
"This is hands down the best part of my career right now," he said, through his interpreter, Ozzie Guillen Jr. "This is the best run I've had, and I hope there's more of it to come."
The big question now is whether there will be more of this Championship Series to come after Game 5. For this series to continue, the Angels will have to stage an offensive revival, and they will have to accomplish this against the man who has been the best starter in a very strong rotation.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.