Yankees' bullpen melts down again as Angels sweep

Hero: The Angels' John Lackey won his major league-leading eighth game with eight strong innings in the Bronx.

Goat: Scott Proctor walked in the tying and eventual winning runs, spoiling a well-pitched game by Mike Mussina and handing the Yankees another tough loss.

Figure this: The Yankees lost for the seventh time in 10 games and dropped a season-high six games below .500.

Quotable: "It could be the worst hitter in the world. It could be the best hitter. I treat every hitter with the same respect." -- Francisco Rodriguez on his epic battle with Derek Jeter in the ninth inning. K-Rod got Jeter to fly out with the tying run on third base to end the game.

-- ESPN.com news services

Angels 4, Yankees 3

NEW YORK (AP) -- They dueled down to the final strike, Francisco Rodriguez vs. Derek Jeter with the outcome in jeopardy.

In this game -- and in this season -- it was K-Rod's turn to win.

After throwing a series of amped-up fastballs and wicked sliders, Rodriguez retired Jeter on a fly ball with a runner on third for the last out, lifting the Los Angeles Angels over the New York Yankees 4-3 Sunday for a three-game sweep.

"It could be the worst hitter in the world. It could be the best hitter," Rodriguez said. "I treat every hitter with the same respect."

John Lackey earned his major league-high eighth win and the AL West-leading Angels kept going in the right direction with their ninth victory in 11 games.

The Yankees, meanwhile, lost for the seventh time in 10 games and dropped a season-high six games below .500. The Yankees fell 12½
games behind Boston in the AL East -- their biggest deficit since
1995, when they trailed by up to 16 games in late August.

"We're not giving up," Jeter said. "We had an opportunity there. We couldn't do it."

Down 4-2, the Yankees rallied in the ninth against Rodriguez. Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly brought up their best clutch hitter -- Jeter was batting .583 with runners in scoring position and two outs going into that at-bat.

With a crowd of 53,508 standing, Jeter fell behind in the count 1-2. Rodriguez then bounced a slider that catcher Mike Napoli expertly blocked.

"That's the confidence I have in him," Rodriguez said.

Jeter fouled off four full-count deliveries before lofting a long fly on the 10th pitch. Rodriguez got his 16th save in 17 chances.

"It was nervous time at the end," said Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, who ran the team in manager Mike Scioscia's absence. "We play them well. That's because we have great pitching."

The Angels posted their first sweep at Yankee Stadium since 2004, winning when New York reliever Scott Proctor couldn't find the plate. He issued bases-loaded walks to pinch-hitter Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins that let Los Angeles rally for three runs in the seventh for a 4-2 lead.

"Two bases-loaded walks, not real good odds on that," Roenicke said. "That wasn't really in my mind."

The Yankees tried most everything from the start.

In a rare move, manager Joe Torre took out the lineup card for the pregame meeting with the umpires. Perhaps he wanted a chance to talk to Jeff Nelson, criticized by Torre for a final strike three call in Saturday's loss.

Before the Yankees batted in the bottom of the first, an inspirational scene from the movie "Rudy" was shown on the scoreboard. That clip is usually saved for the late innings, when they need a rally.

But it was the Angels who pulled off the comeback.

"This is a very tough time," Torre said. "You can't allow yourself to get discouraged."

Lackey (8-3) gave up five hits over eight innings. He escaped his biggest jam by getting Hideki Matsui to ground out to strand runners on second and third in the seventh.

"I really enjoy pitching here. I can't speak for everyone," he said. "We're not intimidated."

Yankees starter Mike Mussina took a 2-1 lead into the seventh and began the inning by striking out Gary Matthews Jr. After a walk to Casey Kotchman, Mussina was pulled after 95 pitches.

"I probably could've thrown a few more," Mussina said. "It was probably the right move. didn't have a problem with it."

Proctor (0-2) relieved, Howie Kendrick promptly doubled and Mike Napoli walked to load the bases. Aybar batted for Robb Quinlan and hung in for 11 pitches to draw another walk that made it 2-all.

Figgins was next, and the ninth-place batter also walked to force home the go-ahead run. That was all for Proctor, who covered his face with his cap when Torre came to get him. Brian Bruney relieved and Reggie Willits hit a sacrifice fly.

"Anytime you have the lead like that, that's what we're there for," Proctor said. "All of them are frustrating."

Mussina matched a career best by striking out the first four hitters. Napoli hit an RBI single in the fifth.

Seldom-used catcher Wil Nieves had a career day for the Yankees. In his 12th pro season, and playing his 50th game in the majors, he hit a pair of RBI singles and threw out two runners trying to steal. He started the game batting .037.

"The guy who hurt me the most was the guy who came in with the worst numbers," Lackey said.

Game notes
Scioscia was back in California for his son's high school graduation. ... Lackey has gotten a decision in every start this season. ... Mussina struck out the first four batters in 1996 with Baltimore and did it again with the Yankees in 2004, the Elias Sports Bureau said.