When everyone else questioned it manager Joe Girardi stuck to his guns. Nobody, but nobody was going to start Game 6 of the American League Championship, but “Old Reliable” Andy Pettitte. Not even with the one day rain delay, which set the game back from Saturday to Sunday night, did Girardi waiver from his decision. Pettitte was going to get the ball, and with it rode the New York Yankees’ hopes of returning to the Fall Classic.
In order for that to happen the Yankees needed to set aside a Pesky Los Angeles Angels club that has been a thorn in New York’s side in what has seemed like forever. The Angels took 2-of-3 in Anaheim to pull the series back to Big Apple and only trailing the Yankees 3-2.
As Angels center fielder Torii hunter said, “the pressure is all on them (Yankees).” Pettitte took the ball and said ‘no problem.’
Pettitte faced off against Halos lefty Joe Saunders. Saunders last appeared in Game 2 and pitched very well. He threw 7.0 innings, surrendering 2 runs while striking out 5 and walking one. The Angels bullpen, specifically Brian Fuentes and Ervin Santana, imploded and gave the Yankees a 4-3 win.
On the other hand, Pettitte started Game 3 and pitched well enough to keep his team in the game. He was staked to a 3-0 lead before surrendering it and leaving the game tied after 6-1/3 innings of work. The game went into extra innings and the Angels won it in the 11th when new Yankee killer Jeff Mathis doubled in the winning run .
No one in the Yankees clubhouse wanted this series to reach a 7th game. It was an attitude of winning it now that permeated the team. Girardi felt there was no better guy to give the ball to than Pettitte. After all, “AP” had made 37 previous playoff starts and was tied with John Smoltz for career playoff wins at 15 apiece.
Pettitte was masterful in his approach toward the Angels lineup. He reached back into his past and delivered a vintage Pettitte performance. He bent , but never broke as he kept the ever dangerous Halos hitters in check. Andy gave up 7 hits, but the Angels were only able to convert it into one earned run over 6-1/3 innings. Pettitte surrendered a single to left fielder Juan Rivera before Girardi came and got his trusty lefty.
As Pettitte walked off the field toward the Yankees dugout the Stadium erupted into a din of cheers for the man who has given the pinstriped faithful so many wonderful memories. Gratefully, Andy doffed his cap and waved it at the crowd before disappearing into the dugout.
Girardi called for embattled right-hander Joba Chamberlain. It was a huge leap of faith Girardi was showing Chamberlain who entered the game with the Yankees holding on to a precarious 3-1 lead. Chamberlain faced pinch hitter Maicer Izturis who grounded into a force play as 2B Robinson Cano got Rivera at second, and then induced shortstop Erick Aybar (sans dreadlocks) to ground out to Mark Teixeira at first to end the inning.
As Chamberlain walked off the mound he thumped his chest as a sign of some personal redemption.
As the Yankees took the field for the top of the 8th inning Girardi went to the one thing the Angels didn’t have, and that is the best closer in the history of the game. Mariano Rivera entered the game to the strains of “Enter Sandman” and was asked to get 6 outs.
At age 40 Rivera is still doing things that other relief pitchers can only dream of doing. At the end of the regular season Mo had recorded his 526th career save, second only to Milwaukee Brewers closer Trevor Hoffman (591). However, what separates Rivera from the rest is his performance in the post season where he has recorded 37 saves; more than twice the number of the second place closer, Philadelphia Phillies Brad Lidge.**
The never say die Angels opened the top of the 8th with Chone Figgins blooping a weak single to left field. Bobby Abreu grounded out to move Figgins to second, followed by Hunter who grounded to Cano for the second out. Figgins was unable to advance.
It didn’t matter though as Vladimir Guerrero stepped in and shot a low 3-2 cutter into right field to score Figgins. That would be the last Angel to cross home plate. Kendry Morales grounded out to second to end the Halos threat.
In the bottom of the frame Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought in lefty Scott Kazmir after Ervin Santana walked Cano on four straight pitches.
Then in something right out of the Twilight Zone the Angels saw their playoff hopes dissipate as Nick Swisher sacrificed bunted Cano to second. As Swisher was racing toward first, first baseman Morales picked up the bunted ball and fired to the bag being covered by 2B Howie Kendrick. Kendrick dropped the ball and everyone was safe.
The speedy Brett Gardner replaced Swisher at first and then it was center fielder Melky Cabrera’s turn. He laid down a bunt which was fielded by Kazmir. Instead of firing the ball to first Kazmir lobbed it right over the head of Morales allowing Cano to score and it moved Gardner to third and Cabrera to second.
Derek Jeter grounded out to first as the runners stayed put and then Kazmir walked Johnny Damon to load the bases. Teixeira hit a fly ball to center scoring Gardner to make it 5-2. Scioscia had seen enough and yanked Kazmir for Jered Weaver.
Weaver faced the dangerous Alex Rodriguez, but pitched around him; walking him on four pitches. With the bases again loaded catcher Jorge Posada who had had a miserable game (hitting into two inning ending double plays) looked at strike three to end the inning.
Rivera took the mound for the Angels last stand. The Angels went quietly into the night and into the winter as Kendrick grounded out to first, Rivera to fly out to right and as only Mo could do it struck out pinch hitter Gary Matthews, Jr. to end the game and the series.
The Yankees celebrated in the middle of their house before retiring to the clubhouse to enjoy the win and spray champagne on each other. Honorary American League Vice President Jackie Autry presented the American League Championship trophy to Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner and lefty CC Sabathia was named series MVP.
For Andy Pettitte it was a game of satisfaction and new heights. In addition to winning his 16th career playoff game, breaking the tie with Smoltz, Pettitte set a new major league record with his 5th career series closeout victory.
Like old times it was Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera leading the way for the Yankees to the promised land.
Today is a new day and now the Yankees turn their sights toward the City of Brotherly Love and the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies have a boatload of hitters themselves, in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and company. They also have the pitching with Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, et. al.
The 2009 World Series is set to begin in the Bronx on Wednesday evening with FOX Sports televising the series in its entirety. It will be Sabathia vs. Lee for Game 1 in what should be a classic pitcher’s duel. The times will be announced by MLB later today.
Congratulations to the Yankees and to the Phillies. May the best team reign supreme.