NEW YORK -- Back in the dawn of this season, during Spring Training, when the Yankees still counted a deep and veteran starting rotation as a blessing, a Major League scout for another team offered an interesting observation. That rotation was welcoming Randy Johnson, who had a red-flag medical history (knee, back) and who would be turning 42 in September. "The Yankees should use him sparingly," the scout had said, "and save him for the postseason. They have more than enough to get there. But that's when they'll need him; that's the reason they got him."
At the time, it was a sensible thought, prompted by the fresh memory of the 2004 playoffs, when New York's pitching collapsed under the weight of Boston's charge back in the American League Championship Series. Of course, the Yankees needed all of the Big Unit just to make it here. But the "reason they got him" arrives on Friday night, in Game 3 of an all-even Division Series with the Angels. Randy Johnson on the Yankee Stadium mound in October ... George Steinbrenner wasn't dreaming, after all. After the Angels pulled out a 5-3 victory in Wednesday night's Game 2, their second baseman was asked about how dire it would have been to go to New York facing elimination against Johnson, "who has been so tough on you guys." "Just us, huh?" Adam Kennedy responded. "He's had a career of being tough on everyone. He's a Hall of Fame pitcher." Going for the Angels in a true fire-and-ice matchup will be right-hander Paul Byrd, whose typical fastball could be lapped by one of Johnson's. Byrd, a 34-year-old righty all the way back from surgery that erased all of his 2003 season, thinks more aggressively than he pitches. "Now we have a chance to close it out [in New York]," he said following Game 2 at Angel Stadium. One of these teams will have the closing opportunity on Saturday, making Game 3 obviously pivotal. But there is more urgency for Johnson to send the Angels back into their funk. After a game and a half of flat play during which all of their strategies and ploys backfired, the Angels reclaimed their mojo in the sixth inning on Wednesday. They hustled the Yankees into errors, bunted and produced their signature two-out hits.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.