NEW YORK -- Shutting down the Yankees' powerful lineup in their home ballpark is tough enough to do once. Doing it two times proved too difficult for Joe Saunders.
Saunders turned in the Angels' best start of this American League Championship Series in Game 2, when he limited the Yankees to two runs in seven innings in Los Angeles' eventual 4-3, 13-inning loss. With his team facing elimination in Sunday night's Game 6, Saunders couldn't conjure up the same magic.
The left-hander struggled to find the strike zone and couldn't escape the fourth inning, allowing three earned runs on seven hits and five walks in 3 1/3 frames. The Angels were unable to overcome the 3-1 deficit in the game or the ALCS, falling to the Yankees, 5-2, in Game 6.
"I thought I made some good pitches when I needed to," Saunders said. "Obviously I fell behind more than I wanted to. But I made some good pitches, and they found a hole. They hit some pretty good pitches."
Saunders did indeed spend most of the night behind in the count. He started 15 of the 22 batters he faced with ball one and went to three-ball counts seven times in all. His five walks were the most he'd surrendered since mid-July.
TALE OF 2 STARTS
Joe Saunders' lines in his two ALCS starts
Even with his control problems, Saunders managed to keep the Yankees off the scoreboard through the first three innings. He retired Jorge Posada in the first with two men on before inducing a groundout from Johnny Damon with the bases loaded in the second.
It all came unraveling for Saunders, however, against the bottom of the Yankees' order in the fourth, starting with a leadoff walk to Robinson Cano. Saunders was ahead in that count 1-and-2 before missing with three straight. Nick Swisher followed with a single to left and, after a Melky Cabrera sacrifice, Saunders lost an eight-pitch battle with Derek Jeter, walking the shortstop to load the bases.
Damon came through this time with a two-run single, and Saunders walked in the third run of the inning on a close 3-1 pitch to Alex Rodriguez.
"If I had thrown more strikes earlier on, I might have gotten that pitch," Saunders said. "I tried to make the perfect pitch, and just didn't make it."
Saunders was lifted after the walk to Rodriguez, having allowed a dozen baserunners while recording just 10 outs.
"He battled," manager Mike Scioscia said. "There were a lot of counts that he didn't quite get in his favor, but he made some pitches to get out of some innings early.
"He gave it everything he had out there on the mound tonight."
It's not as if Saunders didn't labor a little with his command in Game 2, when he threw 57 of his 105 pitches for strikes. Whereas in that game he was able to extricate himself from three jams with double plays, this time the Yankee bats found the vacant areas in the Angels' infield. Swisher's one-out single in the fourth and an infield hit for Mark Teixeira later in that frame catalyzed and prolonged the New York rally.
"You've got to be aggressive in the strike zone and you've got to throw strikes. That was tough for me tonight," Saunders said. "It was a battle with the command, and I got behind a lot of guys, and when I did make a good pitch, they found a hole."
Forty-one of Saunders' 83 pitches on Sunday night were out of the strike zone, and his struggles illustrate just how hard it is to work through the New York batting order. The Yankees' combination of patience and power applies constant pressure on pitchers to try to be too perfect on the hill. It's a fatiguing experience for pitchers -- one that caught up to Saunders in that fourth inning against Cano and Rodriguez, in particular.
It's also one of the main reasons the Yankees are headed to the World Series.
"You have to tip your cap to their team," Saunders said. "We had a really good squad this year, and I thought our chances were good. We just came up short to a real good team."
Tim Britton is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.