NEW YORK - Mark Teixeira remembers calling Torii Hunter last winter.
“After I signed with the Yankees, I said, ‘You know, good luck to you guys. Hopefully, we’ll see you in the ALCS,’ ” Teixeira recalled.
And then he repeated the message when Hunter reached first base during the first series between the teams in May.
“I’m like, ‘OK, I like that,’ ” Hunter told his former teammate. “And now we’re here.”
Having dispatched the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs in 2002 and 2005, the Angels meet New York for the first time in the AL Championship Series starting – weather permitting – tonight.
John Lackey pitches for the high-flying Angels, who won their fifth AL West title in six seasons under manager Mike Scioscia and then swept wild-card Boston in the division series.
Back in the postseason after missing out in 2008, New York swept Minnesota to reach the ALCS for the first time in five years and goes with CC Sabathia, who could get three starts in the best-of-seven matchup.
“Maybe we’re going to face CC seven times this series,” Scioscia joked. “It depends on how much rain we get.”
Sabathia could have been pitching Game 1 for the Angels. When the big left-hander was a free agent after last season, Hunter recruited him for Los Angeles. They had gotten to know each other in the AL Central when Sabathia pitched for the Indians and Hunter played for the Twins.
“He’s one of my buddies in the game,” the effervescent outfielder said. “He’s throwing up and in, 97, 98 mph, under my chin, shaving my goatee, and then we go to dinner and talk about it and laugh.”
Hunter praised the Yankees, saying they’re tough because of what he said was their “$10 billion payroll.”
OK, OK. He admitted that’s an exaggeration of the actual $201 million opening-day figure. Still, that dwarfs the Angels’ $114 million outlay.
Not that it’s made a difference on the field. At 73-63, the Angels are the only AL club with a winning regular-season record against the Yankees since 1996.
New York had the best record in the major leagues during the regular season at 103-59, and the Angels were second at 97-65. The teams split 10 games.
“I don’t know if you’re ever going to be able to measure yourself against an organization like the Yankees. It might take a century before you would get there,” Scioscia said. “But I think our guys feel good at the way they go about their business, the way that they play the game hard, the way that they push the game and the way they bring every aspect to baseball which makes this game beautiful onto the field.”
Speaking of beautiful, the weather won’t be.
New York worked out in a drizzle Thursday morning. The Angels put on red ski caps and red sweat shirts, but didn’t hit on the field during the afternoon rain.
Today’s gametime forecast called for drizzle, a 41-degree temperature and 15-20 mph wind that would make it feel as if it were 25, according to AccuWeather.com.
“Yankee weather,” New York catcher Jorge Posada said. “It seems like every time we come home it’s been raining.”
Both starters will have had extra time off. Sabathia will have rested for eight days since beating the Twins and Lackey for seven since defeating the Red Sox.
Sabathia is prepared to pitch Game 4 on three days of rest in Anaheim next week, allowing the Yankees to go with a three-man rotation that would keep Joba Chamberlain and Chad Gaudin in the bullpen. Sabathia made his final four starts for Milwaukee last year on short rest.
Rain. Or not. Short rest. Or not. It’s a series filled with enough decisions to intrigue a chess grandmaster. But in the end, it usually comes down to breakthrough batting or ominous outs in key situations.