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October brings out true Yankees

October brings out true Yankees

ANAHEIM -- So they are all "true Yankees." Whatever that connotes, they were Tuesday night, on the postseason side of a year they had spent looking worried and vulnerable.

All the troubles and uncertainties -- all the ragged play -- faded into rumor. The bell rang, and the Bronx Bombers responded like rabid Pavlovian dogs. Or like the champions they have been, and intend to be again.

"Well, we've been playing like this for two months now," Derek Jeter begged to differ. "We've gone through a long stretch where we had to win every day, and this is no different."

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We beg to differ. This wasn't Kansas City in August, or Baltimore in September.

These were the Angels, in October, when their routine mistreatment of the Bombers can become exponential.

So the Yankees' 4-2 victory in Game 1 of the Division Series, and the manner it was dispensed, was different and large.

"This was a game we had to win. That team thinks they can win," said Reggie Jackson, who used to be Mr. October before he became Mr. Special Advisor, nodding in the direction of the Angels' clubhouse. "They think they can beat us.

"So you've got to beat them here, and you've got to beat them good, because they believe."

So that's what the Yankees did, beat them by playing as good and crisp as they have all year. Crisper than they had any business playing, considering the whirlwind they've ridden the last 48 hours.

They floored the gas pedal to score all their runs with two out. They made dazzling defensive plays -- definitely not a trademark of this team -- all over Angel Stadium. They pitched marvelously (starter Mike Mussina) and strategically (the four relievers spotted by manager Joe Torre).

The Yankees needed to play well, because so did the Angels in the most competitive of the day's three Division Series openers.

The Yankees did the two things they absolutely had to in order to win: Their pitchers kept Chone Figgins off base, and their hitters jumped Bartolo Colon for a 4-0 lead by the second.

"That was huge," Jeter said of the two-out rally in the first punctuated by Robinson Cano's bases-clearing double. "Colon is tough, so you know there won't be a lot of scoring."

After the second, there weren't even a lot of New York baserunners. Colon and reliever Scot Shields retired 20 of the last 24 men they faced -- and two of those reaching base were erased on subsequent double plays.

Colon had allowed 12 first-inning runs all season, then the three in the first inning of the postseason.

"The damage was done early," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

The damage was irreparable, thanks to Mussina, whose response to the Division Series overture characterized his team's.

One week ago, Moose couldn't get out of the second inning against the Orioles. Tuesday night, he walked out on a shutout when Torre thanked him and excused him with two out in the sixth.

"Vintage Mike," general manager Brian Cashman said. "Throw in the fact how long he had been off, and to throw as well as he did ... that's the kind of stuff we need to catapult us forward. That's some special stuff there."

More specialty followed Moose's exit, after Vladimir Guerrero had singled with two down in the sixth.

Al Leiter proved to be the ultimate left-handed specialist when he came on to face Darin Erstad: He made a pitch on which catcher Jorge Posada thwarted Guerrero's steal attempt.

Leiter then stuck around to strike out Erstad leading off the seventh. He is called on to face one left-handed hitter, and gets two outs. Like the 2-for-1 special at the local department store.

"Exactly!" said a beaming Leiter, who has spent a Major League lifetime as a starting pitcher but is getting a kick out of this cameo casting.

"Could I do this for 10 more wins? Absolutely," he said with a grin.

Two innings later, the Angels resorted to primate means. Of course, that means the Rally Monkey.

Encouraged the message board, "If you make noise, he will come."

Mariano Rivera did not have to be asked twice. Despite being nicked for a run on a Guerrero walk and steal and Erstad's single under Cano's glove -- only the second run he has allowed in 26 Division Series appearances -- Rivera had hammer in hand.

Rally Monday, Rally Monkey. You could have even added the Monte Carlo Rally and Rally 'Round the Flag, and it wouldn't have helped.

The Yankees felt better.

"This gives us a good chance to come back [Wednesday], win it, and go home two-nothing," Rivera said.

But they did not feel finished.

"In a five-game series, one game doesn't really mean anything," said Jeter. "[Tuesday] means nothing unless we win [Wednesday]."

Tom Singer 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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