This is the closest the New York Yankees have been to the World Series since they blew a 3-0 2004 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox to become the first team in any major U.S. sport to lose a 7-game series in that fashion . It was the most humiliating loss in franchise history. Especially, losing it to their most hated rival. It was the year the Red Sox shed their history versus the Yankees and built on the future.
The Yankees , after missing the playoffs last season, are on the brink of returning to the stage they are quite familiar with. The hold a 3-2 lead in the American League Championship Series over the team that has given them the most trouble over the past decade. That team being the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
The Angels have always played the Bombers tough. In fact, as has been noted many times, they are the only team to hold a historical winning record against New York. Over the past eight post seasons the Yankees and Angels have met twice in battle with the Angels coming out on top in the 2002 and 2005 AL Division Series.
The Yankees came into this year’s playoffs on a mission. After missing the playoffs in 2008 New York had one purpose in mind and that was to win their 27th world championship. They accomplished the first leg of that quest by eliminating the Minnesota Twins from the divisional series; sweeping them in three straight games.
On the other side of the coin the Angels were facing a long time nemesis of their own. The Red Sox had dominated the Angels in post season play by taking them out of the ALDS in 2004, 2007 and 2008 with a combined record of 9-1. The Angels met the Sox, once again, in the divisional series. However, instead of the Sox overpowering the Halos it was the Angels who dominated the Red Sox by eliminating them from contention with a 3-game sweep. This set up the first ever Championship Series collision with the Yankees.
History did not favor New York. Each time New York met the Angels in the post season the Yankees took the first game only to lose the series. Keep in mind history didn’t favor the Angels going against the Red Sox either, but the Angels took care of business. The Yankees were hoping to do the same.
The Yankees took care of business in the first two games in the Bronx. In less than ideal weather conditions the Yankees won both games with scores of 4-1 and 4-3. They flew out west with the two-game lead only to see the lead evaporate by half as the Angels came back to nip the Bombers in Game 3, 5-4.
The Yankees took control of the series again on Tuesday night by taking the air out of both the Angels and their fans as they clobbered Scott Kazmir and the Halos in a 10-1 beat down. CC Sabathia completely outdueled Kazmir for his second win in four games.
Both teams took the next night off, then came back on Thursday for Game 5. It was a golden opportunity for the Yankees to close out the series and finally exorcise the Angels from their past. AJ Burnett faced off against John Lackey.
Before an out was recorded Burnett placed the Yankees in a hole as the Angels put up a four spot in the first inning to lead the game 4-0. Afterward, Burnett seemed to settle down, but the Angels kept the lead going into the 7th inning.
After loading the bases with one out Lackey got Johnny Damon to fly out. As Damon was making his way back to the dugout Angel manager Mike Scioscia bounded out of the dugout and headed for the mound. An unbelieving Lackey looked angrily at Scioscia and said, “This is mine. Come on Scios.” It didn’t change Scioscia’s mind and he took the ball from Lackey who stomped away and marched into the Angels’ dugout.
Scioscia called for lefty reliever Darren Oliver to face Mark Teixeira. That’s when the wheels fell off the Angels wagon. The Yankees scored 6 runs to go ahead of the Angels. Right fielder Nick Swisher flew out to end the Yankees onslaught. For the Yankees the finish line was on the horizon.
It didn’t last long.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided to stick with Burnett to open the bottom of the frame and Burnett promptly gave up a single to Jeff Mathis and then walked Erick Aybar. Girardi pulled his starter and brought in lefty Damaso Marte. Chone Figgins moved the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. Bobby Abreu grounded out to first scoring Mathis. Girardi made another pitching change and called for righty Phil Hughes to face center fielder Torii Hunter. Hunter walked and then Hughes gave up a run scoring singles to Vladimir Guerrero and Kendry Morales allowing the Angels to regain the lead. Hughes struck out Maicer Izturis to end the inning, but the damage was done.
New York made one last attempt to take the game back in the 9th inning when they loaded the bases against Angels closer Brian Fuentes. However, Fuentes got Swisher to pop out to short to end the game.
The Yankees now come home with the hopes of finishing this series on Saturday and then moving on to face the National League and defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday. The Bombers will turn to their playoff stopper Andy Pettitte who will start his 38th playoff game. The Angels will counter with left-hander Joe Saunders. Saunders pitched well in Game 2 in New York, but left with a no decision as did Pettitte who gave up a 3-0 lead in Game 3 in Anaheim, which was eventually lost by the bullpen.
Heavy rains are predicted for the New York area on Saturday, which may push the game back to Sunday. That may be a break for the Yankees who have scheduled Sabathia to start Game 7 if necessary. An extra day would give him his full rest.
The Yankees want and need to close out the Angels in Game 6. It would help them exorcise their past playoff woes against the Halos and it will stem any comparison to New York’s ALCS collapse against the Red Sox in 2004.
Another part of this puzzle is what losing this series would do to Girardi’s future. Many believe that anything below a World Series appearance will cost Girardi his job. Some of the pressure is coming because of questionable pitching moves he’s made in the two Yankee losses and some from just being the manager of the New York Yankees.
The Angels will be playing Saturday like there’s no tomorrow, because for them there isn’t one unless they win. The Yankees need to do the same, because a loss on Saturday will put them in the same boat as the Angels.
Win and go to the World Series. It’s as simple as that.