- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

NEW YORK | After all that, after five-plus hours of baseball that included the long-expected rainstorm and pushed a playoff game long past the point of aesthetic appeal, there was no way Game 2 of the American League Championship Series was ending cleanly.

No, this marathon of bullpen changes, runners left on base and fielding flubs, this game needed a bizarre coda, a dissonant note to match the slop that preceded it. But this game ended how these things usually do in New York: with the Yankees celebrating at home plate.

It took an error on an attempted double play, but in the end, the Yankees took a 2-0 lead in the ALCS with a 4-3, 13-inning win over the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday night, taking their series to the West Coast with a golden chance to reach their first World Series since 2003.

The Yankees won it when the middle of their order, stocked with pinch hits and defensive replacements, scratched out a run with the help of the Angels second error of the night. Melky Cabrera hit a bouncer deep in the hole at second, and rather than throwing to first, Macier Izturis hurriedly fired to second. His throw shot wide of diving shortstop Erick Aybar like a penalty kick slipping past a goalkeeper, and Jerry Hairston scored from third as Chone Figgins struggled to pick the ball out of the wet dirt and throw home.

It touched off a wild celebration at home plate, fueled as much by exhaustion as exhilaration, and the Yankees escaped with a win.

“It was a great game,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “There were some miscues, but fortunately, we were on the right side of it.”

There were a combined five errors, blown calls, an 0-for-12 showing by the Angels with runners in scoring position and 13 pitchers used. But there were also heroics; Alex Rodriguez, again, lived up to his new role as a clutch playoff performer, homering in the 11th inning to tie the game at three, and the Yankees bullpen allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings after A.J. Burnetts start was neutralized by control problems.

“We had some relievers with serious guts,” Rodriguez said. “You can’t say enough about our bullpen.”

For a while, it looked as though Burnett would be the hero, just as CC Sabathia was in Game 1.

As Burnett rolled through the early innings, drilling his mid-90s fastball in the cold weather as repetitively and effectively as Sabathia did the night before, the Yankees got a couple of runs that made it look like they might have an easy time heading west with a 2-0 lead.

They took a 1-0 lead in the second when Nick Swisher drew a leadoff walk and scored on Robinson Cano’s triple to center. Then, shortstop Derek Jeter squared up a high fastball from Angels starter Joe Saunders, popping it over the right-field wall for a solo home run.

The blast was Jeter’s 19th in the postseason, moving him into third place on the all-time list, behind only Manny Ramirez and former teammate Bernie Williams.

Burnett, though, has another side to him. It’s the one that allowed him to once throw a no-hitter in which he walked nine batters. It’s whats caused him to hit 70 batters in his career and lead the AL with 17 wild pitches this year. It’s why Girardi only hopes for the $82.5 million right-hander to be effectively wild.

The fifth inning, which began with the Yankees up 2-0, was where Burnett’s chronic wildness finally resulted in a breakdown.

Macier Izturis started the inning with a ground-rule double over the right-field fence, and Aybar singled to center two batters later. It scored Izturis, and provided an opportunity for the Angels to rattle Burnett with their running game.

Aybar stole second, and Burnett hit Figgins with a pitch. Two batters later, he walked Torii Hunter on a fastball that shot off catcher Jose Molina’s leg and bounced into the stands, saving the Yankees a run only because the ball leaving the field killed the play.

Incensed with the ruling, the Angels got another gift from Burnett on the next at-bat.

With Vladimir Guerrero at the plate, Burnett threw a 57-foot curveball, a bouncer that skipped away from Molina as Aybar scored the game-tying run.

When the inning ended, Burnett had thrown 33 pitches, running his total to 90 for the night. He threw first-pitch balls to all but one hitter he faced. And he’d blown his shot at a win.

All of a sudden, the three double plays the Yankees hit into (two with Burnett in the game, one after) became a bigger issue.

They needed three relievers to get them through the seventh and eighth, with Girardi calling on Mariano Rivera with two outs and two men on in a tie game, rather than saving him for a stint in extra innings.

It worked while Rivera was in the game he threw 2 1/3 shutout innings, the most hes worked in a postseason game since 2003. But the Yankees continued to fritter away chances; they left runners on first and third in the ninth and stranded runners on first and second in the 10th.

With Rivera gone and a steady rain falling as Saturday turned to Sunday, the Angels seized their opportunity.

Gary Matthews drew a leadoff walk off Alfredo Aceves, the first reliever up in the contingency plan the Yankees figured they’d never need the game outlasting Rivera. Aybar sacrificed him to second, and Figgins punched an Aceves curveball to left, scoring Matthews and adding shock to sogginess at Yankee Stadium.

But when Angels closer Brian Fuentes finally came out for the 11th, and the Yankees best hope was waiting for him: a resurgent Rodriguez, who had transformed himself from playoff scapegoat to hero in the span of three torrid games against the Minnesota Twins.

And with the Yankees again needing him to tie the game with a homer, Rodriguez did it.

He blasted a high fastball from Fuentes to right field. Bobby Abreu gave chase, slamming against the wall so hard that one of his fingers popped out of his glove. But it didn’t matter.

Rodriguez’s shot spiked off the top of the fence before landing back on the field, with first-base umpire Bill Miller signaling home run as the Angels tried to trap Rodriguez in a rundown during his home run trot.

“I was trying to elevate the pitch, and just missed my spot,” Fuentes said. “Obviously, it hurts.”

Both teams left runners in scoring position in the 12th, with Rodriguez flying out to end the inning with the bases loaded. The Yankees ducked out of one more jam with reliever David Robertson in the 13th, setting the stage for their madcap win.

“We did a lot of good things on that field tonight,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “What hurt us was runners in scoring position. We’re going back home and this series can swing in a heartbeat. Well come out, play a good ballgame, grind it out pitch-by-pitch and start all over.”

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