No excuse genes

No excuse genes

CHICAGO -- They had sore shoulders and sore throats, short rest for the starter and no sleep for many, jet lag and, for all anybody knew, jock itch.

But anybody who had been watching during the early years of this millennium knows that the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are a gritty, competitive bunch. They would typically look for a way to win, not for an easy alibi.

They were that way again Tuesday night in Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, not to mention victorious. They had been in New York on Sunday night, Southern California on Monday night, and now, they were ordered to appear on the South Side of Chicago. There was nowhere else to go but up.

"I know the guys in our clubhouse. If they scheduled a game for 1 in the morning, we're going to show up and play," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We have a tough schedule, but we're still playing baseball and we're getting to do something we enjoy."

The difficulties didn't end with a travel schedule that got them into their Chicago hotel at 6:30 a.m. CT on Tuesday. The ace of the staff, Bartolo Colon, was out for the ALCS with an inflamed right shoulder. Left-hander Jarrod Washburn was trying to come back from the strep throat that sidelined him in the Division Series to start Game 2, but Scioscia warned: "It still isn't a slam dunk that he's going to be able to start."

There was reason to be tired. There was reason to be down. There was reason to complain. "Should the game have been pushed back? Absolutely," Scioscia said. "But that's not our call. We're going to play by whatever schedule is handed down to us. ... That's the way it is. Like I said, we'll play baseball."

So Tuesday night, they played baseball. They played, in fact, winning baseball, 3-2, over the Chicago White Sox. Paul Byrd, pitching on three days' rest, of course, contained the Sox for six-plus innings. It was a sturdy and necessary performance for the Angels, with Colon gone and Washburn merely on the road to recovery.

And then Scot Shields held the fort for another two in a one-run game, before Francisco Rodriguez recorded the save.

There was the classic Angels' offense, a little power, a little small ball, and presto, just enough runs. Against Jose Contreras, who has been the White Sox ace in the second half and beyond, three runs seemed like the allowable maximum. Garret Anderson got them one with a homer in the second, and then the Angels small-balled their way to two more in the third -- single, single, sacrifice bunt, single, fielder's choice.

The difference in this game might have come down to the fact that when the Angels needed the sacrifice bunt, they got the sacrifice bunt. When the White Sox needed the sacrifice bunt, they got a strikeout and a forceout.

"They executed better," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "Bunt, hit-and-run, we don't execute the way they do."

But more than anything else, this victory was a tribute to the Angels' ability to put all the fatigue and all the logistical difficulties in their rearview mirror and just play a splendid game of postseason baseball.

"Guys haven't really complained," Byrd said. "I don't know if we're delirious or what. Everybody has had a great attitude and said: 'Hey, tell us when to play and we'll do that.'"

Scioscia acknowledged that "the last 48 hours have been a blur." But the manager turned on its head the whole set of expectations about how tired and beat up his team was.

Sometimes, Scioscia said, the playoffs are "painfully slow." There are off-days. There is so much riding on every pitch at times that the games themselves seem to proceed at a snail's pace. So, hey, how about this? A chance to play three great big postseason games back-to-back-to-back while visiting the Northeast, the West Coast and then the upper Midwest. Goodbye, boredom. The postseason can't move at a much faster pace than this.

"It's almost a breath of fresh air to play this many games, because that's where the fun is," Scioscia said.

People who expected the Angels to come into U.S. Cellular Field bedraggled, bewildered, bothered and yawning were apparently expecting some other team. These Angels had just beaten the New York Yankees and if they were crisscrossing the country like a presidential candidate the day before the election, they still had enough adrenaline and determination to bring them through.

It turned out that this was just as Mike Scioscia said. The Angels had to visit both coasts and the Great Lakes region within 48 hours to get to this point on Tuesday night. The baseball game was the one part of this experience that was a lot of fun.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.