Underdog Angels won’t roll over

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ANAHEIM, Calif. | In the underground corridor outside the visiting clubhouse Thursday night at Angel Stadium, a stack of boxes sat on a dolly, unopened and ready to be transported to the New York Yankees’ charter plane for a long, red-eye flight back to the East Coast.

The boxes were all labeled with the same, six-letter word: “Korbel.”

If the Yankees are to enjoy a champagne celebration upon clinching the American League pennant, it will have to take place in the Bronx this weekend. Then again, the way the Angels rallied to capture Game 5 and force both clubs back to New York, perhaps the outcome of the AL Championship Series isn’t a foregone conclusion.

The Los Angeles squad that flew east Friday was still beaming from the previous night’s 7-6 victory. And it remains confident despite the 3-2 series deficit it faces, not to mention the overwhelming feeling around the sport that the Yankees still will prevail in the end.

“I wouldn’t say we’re the favorites,” said left-hander Joe Saunders, who will start Game 6 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, weather permitting. “But after this one, we’ve obviously got a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum. We’re going to be ready to play.”

The Angels will be ready to play, but will the weather let them? After enjoying sunshine and temperatures in the 70s all week in Southern California, the series shifts back to the cold and rainy East Coast, where there’s a 90 percent chance of precipitation Saturday.

Any momentum the Angels seized with their Game 5 victory could be neutralized with a long delay or even postponement, one that would present Yankees manager Joe Girardi with an interesting dilemma. If everything remains on schedule, Girardi will send lefty Andy Pettitte to the mound for Game 6, saving ace CC Sabathia for a potential do-or-die Game 7 or Game 1 of the World Series against Philadelphia.

But a rainout Saturday would allow Sabathia (3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in three starts this postseason) to come back on normal rest and pitch Game 6. It’s a tempting prospect, but Girardi insists he’ll stick with Pettitte and save his ace for the next game - whenever that is.

“We don’t really have any plans of changing our rotation,” Girardi said.

The Angels also could benefit from a rainout because it would allow their ace, John Lackey, to come back on three days’ rest and start Game 7, an intriguing possibility to manager Mike Scioscia.

“If there is an opportunity to look at bringing a guy like John back, it’s something we would certainly consider,” Scioscia said. “We’ve talked about a bunch of different things.”

First things first. Both teams must play Game 6 before they can figure out their plans for Game 7, and the Yankees remain confident they can close it out. It certainly helps to be able to send to the mound a seasoned playoff veteran like Pettitte, who owns a 15-9 postseason record.

The 37-year-old, though, was pedestrian during a 6 1/3-inning start against the Angels in Game 3, and it has been four years since he pitched a Game 5 or later of any playoff series.

“This is it. This is what I came back for,” he said of returning for his 15th major league season after contemplating retirement. “It’s kind of all worked out. We have a tremendous opportunity here. I have a tremendous opportunity to help this organization get back to another World Series. More than anything, I’m just thankful for that.”

The Angels are thankful simply to have a chance to play another game. They were nine outs from elimination Thursday night after giving up six runs in the top of the seventh, but they rallied to score three times in the bottom of the inning and then survived a bases-loaded jam created by closer Brian Fuentes in the ninth to win.

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