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Press Row: An exciting Day 2

An exciting Day 2

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A second day of exciting postseason action was followed by another round of insightful reporting Thursday from sports reporters around the United States.

According to Los Angeles Daily News columnist Steve Dilbeck, the Angels' ability to scratch and claw their way back to even their series with the Yankees Wednesday night was a return to the style of play that got the AL West champions into the playoffs in the first place.

"Remember when the Angels small ball drove other teams to distraction? When they put constant pressure on opponents, forced them into mistakes, stretched every possible opportunity?

"On an unusually hot October night, just when it appeared the Angels had suffered a serious identity crisis with the arrival of the postseason, it suddenly reappeared.

"Faster than you can say Orlando Cabrera, the Angels' aggressive game was back, and with it a 5-3 victory that evened their best-of-five series at a game apiece.

"For one night -- or at least the last third of it -- small ball ruled."

And it was that aggressive style, Dilbeck wrote, that was the Angels' key to topping the Bronx Bombers.

"An infield hit, a couple of bunts, a clutch hit. Suddenly the Angels knew who they were again, a postseason identity crisis averted."

The Yankees, wrote New York Times reporter Tyler Kepner, played into the Angels' small ball plans because of their inability to make critical defensive plays.

"The Yankees have learned to rely on the glove work of Alex Rodriguez and the accuracy of Chien-Ming Wang. When both went haywire at Angel Stadium on Wednesday, the Yankees lost a chance to take a commanding lead in their division series.

"A fielding error by Rodriguez helped the Los Angeles Angels tie Game 2 in the sixth inning, and a throwing error by Wang in the seventh helped put the Angels ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory. Instead of giving Randy Johnson a two-games-to-none lead when the best-of-five series continues on Friday, the Yankees headed home tied with the Angels, a game apiece."

Sam Borden of the New York Daily News wrote that the Yankees will return to the Bronx knowing that they let a key game slip from their grasps.

"The Yanks had been hoping the Big Unit would be pitching a potential clincher, and after they jumped out to a two-run lead in Game 2, it looked like they might be able to give him that chance. But Wang fell victim to an Alex Rodriguez error in the sixth inning that led to the tying run and then made a throwing gaffe of his own in the seventh that allowed the Angels to surge ahead.

"'The extra outs were costly,'" said Rodriguez, who was 0-for-2 with three walks and was caught stealing in the seventh. "'In the postseason, you can't make mistakes like that.'"

The Angels certainly weren't the only AL playoff club to capitalize on their opponent's critical mistakes.

After the Chicago White Sox overcame a four-run deficit in their 5-4 win over the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Gonzalez noted the AL Central Division champions' ability to cash in on an extra out given to them by a former teammate.

"Sympathy can wait.

"The White Sox moved one game closer to winning their first American League Division Series on Wednesday night thanks to their ability to seize the moment.

"Their comeback was fueled when former teammate Tony Graffanino missed a potential inning-ending double-play grounder, setting the stage for Tadahito Iguchi's dramatic three-run home run that capped a five-run fifth inning and erased a four-run deficit."

Even with a commanding 2-0 series lead, the White Sox know that there is plenty of work to done against the resilient Red Sox.

"Of the 22 teams who have taken a 2-0 advantage in the division series, 18 have gone on to win.

"But the Sox remember vividly how Boston overcame an 0-3 deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 AL Championship Series before sweeping St. Louis 4-0 in the World Series.

"And right fielder Jermaine Dye broke out in a sheepish smile when reminded that his 2003 Oakland team had a 2-0 advantage over Boston in the ALDS before losing three straight, including the first two at Fenway Park.

"But the White Sox displayed the same relentless style that enabled them to humble Boston, 14-2, in Game 1. Their ability to sustain rallies, as well as keep their bullpen fresh with quality starting pitching, leads them to believe they will put away Boston.

"'What's helped us was playing that series in Cleveland,'" Dye said of last week's three-game sweep at Jacobs Field. "'Even though it didn't mean anything, guys wanted to prepare for the playoffs. Before you knew it, we won the first two, and guys came out in the third game trying to put [the Indians] away. It helped us confidence-wise.'"

Boston Globe columnist Jackie MacMullen broke down the play that had Red Sox fans flashing back to the infamous Bill Buckner error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

"It was a slow ground ball. Painfully slow, in fact. White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was sitting in the dugout putting on his gear as he watched Juan Uribe's grounder roll lazily toward surehanded Red Sox second baseman Tony Graffanino. Pierzynski followed the ball, and swore softly to himself.

"'I'm thinking, 'OK, who's up next inning [for Boston]? Who are we going to have to try and get out?' Pierzynski said. 'I'm thinking, 'I guess we'll try to get them next inning.' "

"Graffanino was processing 10 things at once. He was thinking he didn't get a good jump on the ball. He was thinking he should charge it. He was thinking he was distracted for a split second by Joe Crede, who motored past him as fast as he could to second base in hopes of breaking up what appeared to be a textbook double play.

"'I didn't get a good read on it,' Graffanino said. 'I tried to rush it, to get two. I just missed it.'

"The ball slipped under his glove. It was the bottom of the fifth, with the Red Sox leading, 4-2, and he blew the play. Instead of getting out of the inning, suddenly there were runners at the corners, and still only one out.

"You know by now what happened next. David Wells induced Scott Podsednik into a foul pop to third base, then hung a curveball to Tadahito Iguchi that the rookie tattooed 372 feet for a three-run homer.

"The 4-2 Red Sox lead was now a 5-4 deficit. And Tony Graffanino, the surehanded, affable, reliable second baseman, was suddenly added to the list of Red Sox personnel who have made postseason blunders."

Meanwhile, in the National League, Dave O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution neatly summarized the difficult challenge facing the Braves after a series-opening, 10-5 loss to the Houston Astros at Turner Field.

"The Astros rocked Tim Hudson and the bullpen in a 10-5 rout that dropped the Braves to 4-13 in their past 17 postseason home games, including four consecutive losses in division series openers.

"They face a daunting task to end their run of division series disappointments. They must win three of the next four games to avoid a fourth consecutive division series loss, no small feat considering their next two are against Roger Clemens and 20-game winner Roy Oswalt."

O'Brien was quick to point out, too, that the Braves' hard-earned home-field advantage has not been much of an advantage during recent playoff runs.

"The series moves to Houston for Game 3 on Saturday and a potential Game 4 on Sunday, and would return to Atlanta if Game 5 is necessary Monday. The Braves have dropped three consecutive division series Game 5s at home."

Jose De Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle summarized the Astros win while reminding readers of a pledge Astros owner Drayton McLayton made to his team prior to the season.

"In a quiet corner of the visitors' clubhouse at Turner Field, Astros owner Drayton McLane busily got to work Wednesday evening after his team won Game 1 of its Division Series.

"Back in Spring Training, he vowed to clean his players' spikes after each game if they reached the postseason.

"The gesture could not have been more appropriate after McLane's Astros received contributions from top to bottom while cleaning up, 10-5, against the Atlanta Braves to start the best-of-five series.

"From Craig Biggio leading off and Morgan Ensberg getting five RBIs in the cleanup spot all the way down to lefthander Andy Pettitte, the Astros did the little things and the big ones, too. They sacrificed runners over, drove in runs with two outs, and took walks when Atlanta righthander Tim Hudson missed the strike zone."

As the Cardinals attempt to take a 2-0 series lead over the Padres on Thursday afternoon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Derrick Goold made note of Redbird southpaw starter Mark Mulder's daytime struggles.

"'My few bad games happened to all be day games,' said Mulder, who with 16 wins had a fifth consecutive season of 15 or more wins, the longest active streak in the Majors. 'So, that's just the way it happened. That's the furthest thing from my mind.'

"His way is not to worry, as he recently sported a T-shirt with the phrase "Whatever" on it. The lefty, acquired in an offseason trade with Oakland, has dismissed many such statistical rivets from his season.

"He walked seven in his final start and talked about how he had good stuff but just couldn't get strikes. Whatever. The shortest outing of his career was his second-last start, a five-out humdinger in which he allowed seven earned runs. He was off. Whatever.

"In 11 daytime starts this season, Mulder's earned-run average was 6.86, more than 4.5 runs worse than the 2.26 ERA in 21 night starts. Yet, the best game of his season was the 10-inning shutout of Houston, which was a 1:15 p.m. start. He kidded reporters for missing that his last win of the season was a daytime start, too. On the afternoon of Sept. 17, Mulder held the Cubs to one earned run in a win the Cardinals deemed their title-clincher."

San Diego Union-Tribune reporter Bill Center profiled San Diego Game 2 starter Pedro Astacio, who will attempt to keep the Padres from the brink of elimination.

"Astacio's strength is his ability not to feel the pressure. Not even pitching for four seasons in Colorado rattled Astacio. He is the Rockies' career leader in victories and one of the rare pitchers who has a winning record with the team. Even being sidelined for nearly two seasons after surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2003 didn't seem to bother him.

"'I knew I would be better again,'" he said. "'I like to prepare, but I don't like to talk about how I will do. I will give it my best. I stay the same. I am very happy for myself that I came back after being away.

"'What do I want to do? Pitch one game. And one more after that.'"

Astacio said yesterday he remembers pitching his first Major League game for the Dodgers back in 1992. Not even then did he feel pressure, he said.

"'Very much excitement,' said the pitcher who grew up idolizing Dominican players such as Alfredo Griffin and George Bell. 'I wanted to show everyone in the big leagues that I could pitch. I was excited and proud.'

"Still is ... with a line of stubbornness. Astacio attacks hitters.

"'That's the way I pitch,' he said. 'I feel comfortable. I believe in myself. There's no pressure.'

Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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