Bronx, N.Y., October 25, 2009 — Fulfilling their role as overseers of what goes on in the Big City, the New York Times reported on Saturday that the concrete covering some of the ramps in new Yankee Stadium was crumbling. From what I saw following the Yankees’ 5-2, Game 6 ALCS-clinching victory over the Angels, they needn’t have worried. Fans were soaring out of the Stadium without their feet ever touching the ground.
Thanks to a huge start from lefty vet Andy Pettitte, who claimed the all-time lead in postseason wins with his 16th, the Yanks have moved on to the World Series for the first time in six years. Anaheim would break through for the game’s first run in the top of the third, but the home team responded with a three-spot off lefty Joe Saunders in the fourth, and the Angels never recovered.
The Bronx was frustration-filled early, as the Yanks failed to score despite racking up two hits in both the first and second innings. Then that man Jeff Mathis led off the Anaheim third with yet another double, and ex-Yankee Bobby Abreu got a little postseason satisfaction against his ex-mates when he singled Mathis in from third with two down for the lead. Had you singled out any Yankee fan at that moment and told them that their offense the rest of the night would feature five singles and no extra base hits, screaming and gnashing of teeth may have ensued.
But the screamers and gnashers would have been wrong, because the Yankees “small-balled” their way to victory, beating Anaheim at their own game, the fundamentals. The patient Yankees accepted nine walks to go with their five remaining singles, and they sacrificed successfully three times as well. That the Angels would make errors following the second and third sac bunts in the eighth just plays further to the strategy. Play fundamental ball, apply some baserunner pressure and maybe the competition will crumble. It has worked against the Yankees in the past, I can assure you.
Strangely, Pettitte’s pitching style, or at least as seen in his outcomes, seemed to track the offense. The embattled Nick Swisher, who was money all night in the field, followed a Robbie Cano leadoff walk in the fourth by singling hard through the left side. Once Melky Cabrera moved the runners with a successful sac bunt toward first and Derek Jeter walked, Johnny Damon came through with the biggest hit of the night, a two-run single to left center on a 2-1 pitch. An infield single later, Alex Rodriguez delivered his sixth rbi of the series when he walked on a close 3-1 pitch for the 3-1 lead.
To this point, Pettitte had struck out five Angels batters, but had coaxed just three outs through four frames on ground balls. Andy threw strikes all night, mixing his impressive array of pitches for 20 first-pitch strikes to 25 batters, and a superb 64/35 strikes/balls ratio. But with a lead, he produced five ground ball outs framed by a Mathis strike out and a Howie Kendrick liner to right. Swisher got a great jump on the latter, making his charging snag look easy, but the play rivaled the beauty he pulled back in the second when he doubled Vlad Guerrero off first by firing to the bag in the same motion once he nabbed Kendry Morales’s sinking line drive to short right.
Juan Rivera ended Pettitte’s night by singling to right with one down in the seventh, but Joba Chamberlain kept the ground-out mojo going, finishing the inning on two ground balls to short. The first was pinch-hitting Maicer Izturis’s hard hopper to Jeter, which glanced off the Yankee shortstop, but rolled far enough for a clever Cano to pick the ball up and force Rivera at second. This was the first of two times the young Yankee second sacker was in the right place at the right time. Cano had already made a superb play retiring Chone Figgins on a hard grounder to the second base hole just before Abreu drove in the game’s first run in the third. Robbie would come up big in the eighth as well. Mariano Rivera came on for the six-out save, and Figgins hit a dying quail that just eluded Jeter’s glove at short for a leadoff single. Mark Teixeira made his routine great play on a diving stop on Abreu’s base-hit bid toward right, retiring Bobby as Figgins took second. Cano shadowed Figgins at second to keep him close, questionable strategy perhaps with a two-run lead. But it worked out when Torii Hunter followed with a hard grounder up the middle, and Robbie was there to peg him out.
That made two ground-ball outs from Mo following the two from Joba and eight from Andy. Mariano closed the eighth on yet another ground out and retired Kendrick on a bouncer to first in the ninth before a fly out to Melky in right and a strike out of pinch-hitting Gray Mathews, Jr., ended the game in an even 3:40, one minute past midnight. It was a shame that Anaheim had managed to break through for one run against Mariano in the eighth when Guerrero singled to right to knock in Figgins. The Anaheim third baseman had gotten one on the weakest of hits, it’s true. But the Yanks can hardly quibble with the Figgins flare when you consider the offense they posted. Following the two-run single and bases loaded walk in the fourth, the “Bombers” garnered all of two hits the rest of the way. Following a regular season where the new Yankee Stadium hosted one game with no home runs by either side, this was the second one of five in this postseason where that phenomenon was repeated. Both teams ended up with nine hits, and the only extra base hits were doubles by Anaheim’s Mathis and Guerrero.
Coming to bat up just 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth, the Yanks found a way to score. Cano walked leading off. Both Swisher and Cabrera followed with sac bunts, but wilting Anaheim contributed an error on each play, with Kendrick dropping a throw on the first and lefty Scott Kazmir making a throw over first as Cano scored the fourth Yankees run in the second. A sac fly to deep center by Teixeira threatened to go out, but it did deliver the Yanks’ fifth run, and Anaheim was dead in the water.
October 25, 2009 represented the 155th anniversary of the Crimean War’s famed Charge of the Light Brigade. The Yankees finished off their nemesis, the pesky Anaheim (sorry I don’t bother with the “L.A.,” though I’ll acknowledge it here for the honorable losing team) Angels behind the superb Andy Pennant, er, make that Pettitte. But they also proved in this game that they can win a big game without blasting the long ball.
I’m sure the Phillies and their fans are looking forward to a powerehouse World Series. But do they know the Yanks are bringing along the “Light Brigade” as well?