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Cold, rainy October weekends can rob many New Yorkers of their smiles because they find themselves trapped indoors with nothing to do. Thankfully this particular cold, rainy weekend features plenty of sports action conducive to group gatherings around the television. Chief among those events are the first two games of the American League Championship Series between the Angels and Yankees on Friday and Saturday nights.
Plenty of New Yorkers live and die with every curveball spun from the fingers of Yankee hurlers, but we appreciate that there are plenty of people who couldn't give a whit until moments like these when the Yankees return to the center of the city, even the nation's, universe. In an effort to get everyone ready for 18 (or more) innings of playoff tension, here are some of the major storylines to follow this weekend.
It's A-Rod's Moment: Alex Rodriguez's tenure with the Yankees has been filled with disappointments on and off the field. The list of off-field gaffes and scandals is too long to recount here, but 2009 has seen a thawing in New York's relationship with A-Rod as he's kept his head down, his mouth shut and concentrated on diamond matters with the exclusion of his well-received relationship with Kate Hudson.
Now he's got a chance to forever shed his label as a choker. He pummelled Twins pitching in the ALDS, but he's done that before and fallen flat when the spotlight grew brighter. If he can keep delivering timely, back-breaking hits against the Angels, he'll change the way he's viewed around New York -- all of baseball, really -- dramatically. If he doesn't, all the good feelings will go away and he may never have another chance to win them back.
Devilish Angels History: The Yankees have lost twice in the playoffs to the Angels and each time they played the role of bloated monolith to the faster, selfless team from Anaheim. The Angels won by doing the "gritty little things" that the Yankees haven't been associated with in quite some time. This Yankee team is far more balanced than the 2002 and 2005 losing versions, but the Angels still like to play an offensive game that's very different than the one played by the power-packed Yankees. Keeping the Angels off the bases, where they steal and take extra bases with impunity, will be important especially with the likelihood of wet balls making throwing difficult.
CC and A.J. Earning Their Pinstripes: The Yankees signed CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett for nearly $250 million because they were tired of seeing their aging, expensive pitchers get walloped come October. Fittingly, they're starting the first two games of the ALCS to provide an instant referendum on their decision to go for younger, expensive starters. If they both pitch well, the Yankees will head to warmer climes with serious momentum on their side and a pair of confirmed aces coming around for another start if necessary.
That's a good jumping-off point, but the beauty of the baseball playoffs is that the narratives rarely follow predictable paths once the first pitch gets thrown. The next two nights, and several more thereafter, are going to be filled with twists and turns that keep us up late and on the edge of our seats in a long-overdue return to the kinds of October nights we took for granted for so much of the decade. Enjoy them and we'll be back Monday to catch up on everything that went down.