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YANKS TAKE OPENER

CC Sabathia's pitching and the Angels' defense contribute to New York's victory.

The Yankees are plenty good on their own. On a cold opening night of the AL Championship Series, the Angels made it easy for them.

Whether it was the stakes, the stage or the shivering temperatures, the Angels looked nothing like themselves Friday, making myriad mistakes. And the Yankees looked every bit like the all-around powerhouse they are, taking advantage of just about all of them in a 4-1 win.

The weather was certainly a big part of the story - and a huge contrast from last year's ALCS, which opened in the 72-degree splendor of Tropicana Field - with a first-pitch temperature of 45 degrees and a biting wind, though the predicted rain never arrived. Players tried all kinds of gear - flapped caps, hoods, ski caps - in defense, though some played in short sleeves.

It's supposed to be worse tonight - a 90 percent chance of rain, some forecasts say - which could lead to a postponement and shuffling of the series schedule as well as the Yankees' pitching plans.

But things couldn't have worked better Friday as the Yankees got the first of the four wins they need to reach the World Series for the first time since 2003: CC Sabathia pitching like the ace the Yankees brought him in to be (eight innings, four hits, one run), the offense clicking, the defense shining, Mariano Rivera finishing and the Angels cooperating.

Their ace, John Lackey failed to get through six innings, allowing nine hits while throwing 114 pitches. And their defense was worse as they made three errors, a couple of misplays and one very costly nonplay: shortstop Erick Aybar allowing Hideki Matsui's inning-ending popup to drop and the Yankees to score a second run in the first.

Aybar - brother of the Rays' Willy - appeared to be set under the ball with third baseman Chone Figgins in front of him. But at the last second, Aybar and Figgins looked at each other then watched it hit the ground. Johnny Damon, on second thanks to leftfielder Juan Rivera's earlier throwing error, came around to score.

The Angels kept giving. Rivera was caught playing shallow when Damon doubled over his head to open the fifth then came around to score on Matsui's double. Rivera made an awkward slide to corral the ball but did recover to team with Aybar to nail Alex Rodriguez, who went in elbow up, at the plate.

The sixth was even more of a mess: Lackey's two-out walk of No. 9 hitter Melky Cabrera followed by an errant pickoff throw and centerfielder Torii Hunter's bungle of Derek Jeter's single, eliminating any chance for a play at the plate.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia said before the game he was confident his team could handle the conditions but acknowledged it would make it more challenging.

"Anybody can play this game with 70 degrees and it's beautiful," he said. "When it's going to be like it is tonight, you have to keep your focus, keep your focus defensively and certainly on the mound with whatever happens with the pitcher and the catcher. Bring your game plan out there and execute it as well as you can."

Marc Topkin can be reachedat topkin@sptimes.com

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