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ALCS heading back to New York

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As I walked down past the Yankees clubhouse moments after Game 5 of the ALCS tonight — a stunning, 7-6 victory by the Angels — I couldn’t help but notice the giant cart of boxes stationed outside the room and surely headed for the team’s charter plane. In big letters on each box, it read “Korbel.”

Keep the champagne on ice, folks. The Yankees can’t break those out until Saturday night at the earliest after losing tonight’s wild, back-and-forth affair. And honestly, the way the Angels played in Game 5 (with a sense both of urgency and resolve) you can’t help but wonder whether this team is actually equipped to pull off the unthinkable and rally all the way back to win this series.

There’s still a long way to go, obviously. The Yankees maintain the upper hand, leading the series 3-2, and they’ll have seasoned playoff vet Andy Pettitte on the mound Saturday night in the Bronx against Joe Saunders. That said, Pettitte was rather pedestrian in Game 3, and Saunders was downright fantastic in Game 2 at Yankee Stadium, a performance that sadly was overshadowed by some late-game heroics that led to a 13-inning New York win.

These Angels are a plucky bunch. Facing elimination tonight, they stormed out of the gates to score four times in the first inning off A.J. Burnett, then got a brilliant pitching performance from John Lackey … until the seventh, at which point the Yankees’ bats busted loose to the tune of six runs.

So now faced with a 6-4 deficit and nine outs from elimination, what did the Angels do? They immediately rallied right back and scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to re-take the lead.

“When they got the sixth run, man, I was out there deflated, you know. And pissed off,” center fielder Torii Hunter said. “So I came into the dugout, threw my glove. But after all that, I settled down, and everybody settled down. We were out there. We knew we had time left and a lot of innings left, lot of outs left. So that’s what we did. We were just being patient.”

These Angels don’t seem fazed by anything, not even a harrowing ninth inning that saw closer Brian Fuentes load the bases with two outs without allowing a hit. He intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez (smart move). Then he unintentionally walked Hideki Matsui (not so smart move). Then he plunked Robinson Cano in the back (really not so smart move).

So after all that, what did Fuentes do? He worked the count full to Nick Swisher, then induced a lazy popup to shortstop to end the game. This guy is quite an interesting character. He kind of reminds me of a left-handed Chad Cordero. You watch him pitch, and you think to yourself: This guy has no chance. But he’s got nerves of steel and seems to know how to make the big pitch when it really counts.

“I think I just think of it like it doesn’t really matter,” Fuentes said of his penchant for pitching with runners on base. “It matters if they score, yeah. But what’s done is done. You’ve already put the guys on. It doesn’t matter how you put them on, whether it’s hits, walks or hit batters. I think I had all three tonight. But you’ve got to just get the out at the plate. If you get the out at the plate, it’s all good.”

It’s certainly all good in Disneyland tonight. The Angels are somehow still alive and the ALCS is headed back to the Bronx. Game 6 is Saturday night, 7:57 p.m. Eastern. The way this series has played out, I would be sure to tune it. There’s no telling what will happen.

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Mark Zuckerman

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