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Pettitte, Yanks close out Angels, ALCS in Game 6

New York wins 40th pennant in team history with 5-2 victory
10/26/2009 1:33 AM ET
By Mike Axisa/River Ave Blues

Johnny Damon drove in the first two runs of the game. (AP)
When Jorge Posada grounded out to Josh Beckett to end the 2003 World Series, there weren't many Yankee fans who thought they would have to wait six years before seeing their team return to the Fall Classic. More than 68 hours after the conclusion of Game Five, the boys from the Bronx were ready for their second chance to put those pesky Angels away and punch their ticket back to the Series.

Postseason veteran Andy Pettitte has been in these situations before, and set the tone early by pounding the zone in a quick and painless 12-pitch first inning. He held the Angels in check until he third inning, when Jeff Mathis ripped his fifth double of the series into right-center field before moving over to third on a Chone Figgins groundout. Ex-Yankee Bobby Abreu worked Pettitte well before sending a hanging curveball into right, drawing first blood for a 1-0 lead. The Angels wouldn't get much for the rest of the night.

Unlike his counterpart, Anaheim starter Joe Saunders walked the tight rope for the first three innings in Game Six after shutting the Yankees down in Game Two. He pitched around back-to-back singles in the first, two singles and a walk in the second, and in the third it was just a lone walk. But by the time the fourth inning rolled around, his luck had run out.

Robinson Cano led off the inning with a walk, something he did just five times in the regular season. Nick Swisher had been two-for-the-ALCS coming into the game, but he shot a 1-0 pitch through the left side for single, putting runners on first and second with none out. After a Melky Cabrera sacrifice bunt to move the runners up, Derek Jeter worked an eight-pitch walk to load the bases for the 2-3-4 hitters with just one out. Saunders had put ten men on base up to that point, one for every out he recorded.

"I had the opportunity to [get the big hit] the inning before," said Johnny Damon, another playoff veteran and the next batter due up in the inning, "but this game is tough."

After working a favorable 2-1 count, Damon drove Saunders' 74th pitch of the night into left-center field, plating two and giving the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish. Mark Teixeira legged out an infield single to reload the bases, and in his final act of the night, Saunders walked Alex Rodriguez to force in a run. Twelve baserunners in 3.1 innings won't get it done against the Major's best offense, but there were still five innings to go before this one would be over.

After allowing the lone run in the third, Pettitte mowed through the Angels with relative ease until Torii Hunter beat out an infield single with two outs in the sixth. With Vladimir Guerrero due up next, the FOX broadcast crew was kind enough to remind fans of Guerrero's two-run homer off of Pettitte that tied Game Three. Pitching coach Dave Eiland didn't forget, so he went out to the mound to talk things over the Yanks' starter.

Pettitte worked Guerrero away, but the Angels' slugger blooped a double in front of Swisher to put the tying run at second. Kendry Morales came to plate with three hits in his last two games, but five pitches later he bounced a comebacker right to Pettitte to end the threat.

Unsurprisingly, Pettitte came back out for the seventh, but gave way to the struggling Joba Chamberlain after serving up a one-out single to Juan Rivera. With Chamberlain's postseason problems fresh in everyone's mind, the move seemed prime for some more Joe Girardi second guessing. Instead, the young fireballer coaxed two ground balls from Maicer Izturis and Jeff Mathis to end the inning.

In for his first six-out save in nearly three years, Mariano Rivera said he had one thing in mind once the bullpen door swung open in the eighth: "Get six outs as quickly as possible."

Things didn't go as smoothly as expected, at least not at first, as the Halos scratched out a run to draw within one in the eighth. The Bombers responded by tacking on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom half of the inning thanks to another Robinson Cano leadoff walk and some Angel misplays, something they did far more often than usual this series.

With a three-run lead and the franchise's 40th pennant just three outs away, the ninth inning was over before you knew it in textbook Mariano fashion: groundout, flyout, strikeout. It was just another example of a core veteran helping get the Yankees back to the promised land. With the ball still in his glove, Posada shared a long embrace with Rivera in front of the mound while their teammates ran in from the field and from the dugout. "It's awfully hard to get to the World Series," said captain Derek Jeter after the game, "and we deserve a lot of credit for that, I think."

"This is what it's all about, man," Pettitte said. "We made a commitment at the beginning of Spring Training about the team, and putting everybody else's selfish things aside and just focus on the team, and we knew this would happen."

First year pinstriper CC Sabathia took home ALCS MVP honors thanks to his 1.12 ERA in two starts, saying after the game, "This is why I signed here." The big guy certainly earned it, answering any questions about his ability to succeed on the big stage.

The defending World Champion Phillies come to town for the Game One of the World Series on Wednesday, but for one night, Yankee fans can celebrate.

Mike Axisa is a writer for River Ave Blues. Read more from Mike and his team at RiverAveBlues.com.
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