NEW YORK — The games are going to take forever, probably close to four hours each, with enough patient hitters taking pitches and grinding out at-bats to test the patience of anyone watching.
But it's how fast the Angels play the game once they get on base, and how successful the Yankees are at slowing them down, that looms as the key issue in determining who will succeed the Rays as the AL pennant bearer.
Even with an increase to other elements of the offense, what the Angels do best is run. And run. And run.
They steal bases. They go first to third. They bunt, hit and run and put the game in motion. They're aggressive by nature and risky when they want to be.
"Fastbreak baseball," infielder Chone Figgins called it. "We're going to try to create some havoc."
"They're different than most teams," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Thursday. "They remind me of teams when I came up … it was like playing the St. Louis Cardinals — there was going to be a lot of action.
"One thing you can't do is get caught up in the action. You have to continue to make pitches on them."
Neither Yankees catcher, Jorge Posada nor Jose Molina, is particularly effective at slowing teams (overall the Yankees caught less than 24 percent, ranking in the middle of the pack), which shifts more burden to the pitchers. And the extra bases can have a residual effect because Yankees outfielders don't throw particularly well.
Yankees Game 1 starter CC Sabathia said the challenge starts at the top (Figgins) and bottom (Erick Aybar) of the Angels order — to dilute the impact of the middle.
"They have the speed, and they've got power," Sabathia said. "They've got great balance in their lineup. The biggest thing for me is to just try to keep those guys off the bases."
The key action may be on the bases, but look for these five other things:
Weather or not
The Yankees are planning to use only a three-man rotation primarily because — even with a $200 million-plus payroll — they somehow don't have a fourth starter. But for that to work, they have to hope it stops raining by tonight and there are no postponements that compress the schedule by eliminating an off-day and foil their plan.
The way they want to do it is to start Sabathia in Games 1, 4 (on short rest) and 7. That way A.J. Burnett can pitch Games 2 and 5 on full rest and LHP Andy Pettitte in Game 3.
But if there is a rainout, and they absolutely, positively have to use a fourth starter, it looks like it would be former Ray Chad Gaudin, the journeyman picked up in an August trade from San Diego.
Then again …
The Yankees certainly have their reasons for wanting to use Sabathia three times in seven — but none based on his past outings. In 14 starts against the Angels, Sabathia is 5-7 with a 4.72 ERA. "They've gotten the best of me so far in my career," he said.
The grand tradition
The Yankees have history, lore and tradition, as well as mystique, aura and an assortment of ghosts, on their side, which usually adds up — at least at the old stadium — to a significant advantage.
But the Angels have this: the confidence of knowing they're the Yankees' daddy. Since 1996, the Angels are 79-66 against them, the best record of any AL team, and won both playoff series.
Gotta go to Mo
Mariano Rivera has been, and will continue to be, one of the best postseason weapons of all time, and his career 0.74 ERA in 79 appearances and 35 saves in 40 chances are pretty good evidence.
While other teams, including at times the Angels, try to piece things together, the Yankees know who is going to get the final three outs — and, Girardi said Thursday, maybe four. Plus with Phil Hughes taking over the eighth inning and Joba Chamberlain handling the sixth and seventh, the Yankees feel they can shorten the game significantly.
Assuming the rain stops — and Girardi said they are expecting it will by game time — the conditions are still going to be brutal: damp, windy, temperatures in the low 40s and a feels-like expected to be in the mid 20s.
It's not going to be good for either team, of course, but the Yankees want to believe that it should work to their advantage vs. the California boys — kind of like it was for the Rays in anything-but-sunny Philadelphia last year.
"This," Posada said, "is Yankees weather."
The teams split the season series 5-5. … There were four one-run games, the Yankees won three. … Angels closer Brian Fuentes led the majors with 48 saves. … The Yankees had the majors' best home record at 57-24.
Yankees in seven.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]