Bronx, NY – When the New York Yankees blew a 3-0 lead to the hated Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series in 2004, Andy Pettitte wasn’t there to make sure that the unthinkable didn’t happen.
On Sunday night, the left-hander from Baton Rouge did the next best thing, and did his part to propel the 2009 New York Yankees into the World Series.
The Yankees haven’t been to the Fall Classic since 2003. That year marked Pettitte’s last season with the team that signed him as an amateur free agent in 1991. After being allowed to leave (or was pushed out, depending on who you talk to), to Houston for three seasons, he came back to the club in 2007. After going 14-14 a year ago, including a poor second half to the 2008 season, his returning this year was up in the air as well.
It was only after the Yankees had made their high-profile signings that they addressed bringing Pettitte back, which they eventually did. The team is fortunate they did so, because they are going back to the Fall Classic because Pettitte limited the Angels to just one run over 6 1-3 innings, striking out six and walking just one to earn his 16th postseason win, the most in baseball history.
There were 50,173 fans vociferously booing Joe Girardi when the skipper jogged to remove Pettitte in the top of the seventh, but it was quickly turned to a thundering standing ovation, as the tall southpaw tipped his cap to the largest crowd to see a Yankee game this season.
Mariano Rivera made things interesting in the eighth, when he allowed a two-out RBI single to Vlad Guerrero. It was the first earned run he had allowed at home in the postseason since Game 2 of the 2000 World Series.
But in the ninth, Rivera’s margin for error was expanded, as the Yankees scored two more runs in the bottom of the eighth, thanks to some sloppy defense by Los Angeles. He made short work of the Angels in the ninth, retiring the side in order to earn his 37th postseason save, also the best in MLB history.
The Yankee offense took advantage of the Angels in the fourth. After Derek Jeter worked out a walk to load the bases, left fielder Johnny Damon stepped up to the plate. It was Damon, as a member of the Red Sox and in all of his grizzled glory that quieted old Yankee Stadium in the second inning with a grand slam on Javier Vazquez’s first pitch in Game 7, 2004. He had failed in his first attempt with the bases loaded earlier in the night, but delivered in this at-bat, driving in two runs with a base hit up the middle.
Mark Teixeira hit a ball far enough in the hole that shortstop made Erick Aybar’s throw to second base a shade late to force Damon at second base. Then, Alex Rodriguez, whose first year in the Bronx was that miserable 2004 season, and who has been trying to make up for that and several other postseason failures since, drew a bases-loaded walk to make the score 3-1.
It was all the offense they needed.
There were three “Yankee Stadium” signature moments before the game, the first being a loud roar from the crowd when Tino Martinez was spotted in a luxury suite and shown on the immense HD screen in center field.
The second eruption came when Bernie Williams was announced as the thrower of the ceremonial first pitch.
The third was the thundering sound of “Welcome to The Jungle” played through the Stadium’s sound system, sending the Bronx into a frenzy.
Then Pettitte took over.
CC Sabathia was named the ALCS MVP, and will face Phillies’ left-hander Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday. The two pitchers were teammates on the 2007 Cleveland Indians, a club that blew a 3-1 ALCS lead over the Red Sox.
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