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Saunders won't be deterred a day later

Saunders won't be deterred a day later

NEW YORK -- Joe Saunders had to put his so-called "switch" in neutral Saturday night.

Saunders arrived at Yankee Stadium hoping to get the ball for the Angels in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, only to find out about two hours before first pitch that the game was postponed and pushed back to Sunday.

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It is now scheduled for a 5:20 p.m. PT first pitch Sunday on FOX.

"When you come to the yard, you start to get mentally prepared," Saunders said. "Once you learn it's postponed, you shut your brain down. We'll come back [Sunday], and it will be game on. It will time to turn that switch back on."

Tale of the Tape: Game 6
2009 Regular Season
Overall: 14-8, 32 GS, 4.16 ERA, 76 BB, 148 K
Overall: 16-7, 31 GS, 4.60 ERA, 64 BB, 101 K
Key stat: 231 career postseason innings pitched
Key stat: 2.57 ERA in postseason this year
Postseason
Career: 15-9, 37 GS, 3.90 ERA, 62 BB, 148 K
Career: 0-0, 2 GS, 4.63 ERA, 5 BB, 7 K
At new Yankee Stadium
2009: 6-4, 16 GS, 4.59 ERA, 38 BB, 74 K
Career: 6-4, 16 GS, 4.59 ERA, 38 BB, 74 K
2009: Never pitched there during regular season
Career: Never pitched there during regular season
Against this opponent
2009: 0-2, 2 GS, 7.88 ERA, 8 BB, 6 K
Career: 12-10, 45 GS, 4.38 ERA, 87 BB, 214 K
2009: 1-0, 2 GS, 4.72 ERA, 2 BBs, 6 Ks
Career: 2-1, 5 GS, 6.28 ERA, 10 BBs, 19 Ks.
Loves to face.: Kendry Morales, 0-for-5, 1 K
Hates to face: Erick Aybar, 7-for-16, 2 RBI
Loves to face: Mark Teixeira, 2-for-16, 1 K
Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez 7-for-14, 2 HR
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Postseason experience
Why he'll win: Pitched well at Yankee Stadium last time out
Pitcher beware: Has struggled against Angels in his career
Pitcher beware: Allowed 29 homers this year
Bottom line: Can he add to postseason legacy?
Bottom line: Can he continue to pitch well in the postseason?

When Saunders does flick the switch, he'll have his work cut out for him.

Since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, only six teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to advance to the World Series. So once the Halos dropped Game 4 to fall in a 3-1 hole, they were all but counted out in their hopes of toppling the vaunted Yankees.

Now, the Angels have pushed this series back to the Bronx, with Saunders on the hill and the season and World Series hopes still very much on the line.

Saunders, armed with his trusty sinkerball, is ready to battle, though he's probably one of the few Angels disappointed with a forecast that calls for a first-pitch temperature in the low-50s, as opposed to the low-40s conditions played in last week.

"I'd rather it be 20 degrees colder," he said. "I grew up in cold weather, and I've pitched in cold weather my whole life."

The left-handed Saunders was certainly successful in taming the Yankees' bats in cold weather in Game 2. Alas, his strong start became lost in the shuffle of a game that went 13 innings, with the Angels coming out on the short end.

But manager Mike Scioscia had shown confidence in Saunders' ability to limit the damage in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium by bumping Jered Weaver back a game and moving Saunders to the No. 2 spot in the rotation. And Saunders rewarded him, giving the Angels seven innings in which he allowed two runs on six hits while striking out five.

"It's a tough place to pitch," Saunders said, "especially against a tough lineup like they have. But you have to throw strikes and be aggressive. You can't be scared to throw strikes, and you can't be scared to be aggressive to them. My game is pitching to contact and letting my defense work for me. Hopefully that happens."

That worked for Saunders after the Angels tied Game 2 at 2 in the fifth inning. Saunders responded by getting three double-play balls out of the Yankees in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. In doing so, he helped preserve the bullpen.

Such preservation will be important, given that the Yankees have already gotten a good look at the arms in an Angels bullpen that has had its work cut out for it in this series.

"I need to give us some innings," Saunders said. "Our bullpen's been pretty banged up and used a lot."

The Angels need all the good fortune they can muster.

"Everyone knows what our goal is," Scioscia said. "Our goal hasn't changed from when we started this series. You have to focus on the process. ... There has to be a focus there to bring your level of play where it needs to be to beat a team like the Yankees. And we're capable of doing it. We know this."

The onus is once again on Saunders to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. He wasn't perfect in that area in Game 2, as he did allow Derek Jeter's solo shot to the short right-field porch. But he held the heart of the Yankees' order -- Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui -- to an 0-for-9 night.

Last week's start was Saunders' first at the Yanks' new ballpark. In two starts against the Yankees at Angel Stadium during the regular season, he went 1-0 with a 4.72 ERA in 13 1/3 innings.

Saunders, 28, now has two career postseason starts under his belt, though he's yet to receive a decision. All the Angels can do is hope his sinker is at its most effective and he comes out with a winning decision on Sunday.

Any hope of forcing a decisive Game 7 on Monday is riding on him.

"Everything's on the line," Saunders said. "You can win or go home. It's up to me to pitch well and keep us in the ballgame and really give us some innings."

Anthony Castrovince 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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