NEW YORK -- It came down to Derek Jeter, the most dangerous hitter in the American League with runners in scoring position, facing Francisco Rodriguez with the tying run on third in the bottom of the ninth, 53,508 Yankee Stadium fans waiting to exhale. "I treat every hitter with respect, not just Derek Jeter," Rodriguez said. "For the fans, they get into it. They expect him to get a hit -- and I expect to get an out." Jeter ran the count full before sending a fastball to right-center -- deep, but not deep enough. When Gary Matthews Jr. squeezed the final out, the Angels had secured a 4-3 victory that completed their first three-game sweep in New York since August 2004.
"I was a little nervous with this one," said interim manager Ron Roenicke, who pushed all the right buttons filling in for Mike Scioscia, home in Southern California for his son's high school graduation. Pinch-hitter Erick Aybar's 11-pitch walk, forcing home the tying run, was the pivotal moment in a seventh inning that turned the game in the Angels' favor behind sturdy John Lackey. "After he swung at the first two pitches [fouling them off], a walk was the last thing I was thinking about," said Roenicke, who sent the swift Aybar up to hit for Robb Quinlan thinking contact and avoiding an inning-ending double play. "He's a good contact hitter, and I don't think he's going to ground into a double play, because he's fast." Chone Figgins followed Aybar and forced home the go-ahead run with a five-pitch walk from a faltering Scott Proctor, who absorbed the loss, falling to 0-2, after Mike Mussina pitched superbly for 6 1/3 innings. A sacrifice fly by Reggie Willits became the decisive run when the Yanks scored once in the bottom of the ninth before K-Rod got the better of his duel with Jeter, a .488 hitter with runners in scoring position coming into the game -- and 4-for-7 against the Angels' closer in his career. The Halos' three runs in the seventh were manufactured with one hit, Howie Kendrick's double, and four walks. This from a club known more for its aggressiveness in the batter's box and on the bases than for its plate discipline. Lackey ran his record to 8-3, yielding two runs across eight innings. In Joe Torre's 12 years at the Yankees' helm, the Angels are 31-23 in the Bronx and 58-52 overall against the Yanks. "It's always fun to play here," Lackey said. "We're a team that's not intimidated to play here. We enjoy playing here." Mussina was on his game from the outset, striking out the first four Angels he faced. Kendrick's single in the second was the only Angels hit until Matthews led off the fourth with a single, followed by Casey Kochman's seventh hit of the series. After Kendrick tapped into a double play, Mike Napoli slammed a two-out, two-strike RBI single to center. The Yanks had scored first in the second inning on Bobby Abreu's walk and steal, followed by an RBI single by catcher Wil Nieves, hitting .037 coming into the game. In the fourth, Robinson Cano doubled and scored on Nieves' single after Doug Mientkiewicz reached on what was ruled a hit batsman. Lackey did his best work against the heart of the Yankees' mega-lineup. Jeter's double in the seventh was the only disturbance from the No. 2-5 hitters, with Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi going 1-for-15 against Lackey. "It's a tough lineup all the way through," Lackey said. "The guy who hurt me the most [Nieves] was the guy with the worst numbers." The biggest out of the game for Lackey came in the seventh after Jeter's two-out double moved Nieves, who'd walked, to third. Matsui tapped out a two-seam fastball, moving away from him, to Kotchman at first, silencing the big crowd. Lackey's 100th pitch was a 3-2 fastball he threw past A-Rod in the eighth. He followed that with a strikeout of Giambi. Nine of Lackey's first 15 outs came on ground balls, his efficiency enabling him to get deep in the game. Aybar's at-bat against Proctor was a classic. Falling behind 0-2 on foul balls, Aybar -- 0-for-7 on the road trip when he was summoned to bat for Quinlan -- worked the count full, fouling off five more pitches, before taking a pitch up and away for the tying walk. "I tried to use my hands and I fouled back the first two pitches," Aybar said through translator Alfredo Griffin, the Angels' first-base coach. "I just tried to make contact after that. It helped not swinging at bad pitches. "They say I don't walk, so it's good for me." Aybar had drawn six walks in 117 at-bats before stepping in against Proctor. "That was a great at-bat by Aybar," K-Rod said. "As a pitcher, in a situation like -- down one run, less than two outs, bases loaded -- you know he's trying to put the ball in play, tie the game. "Aybar really showed something there." The last pitch of the day to Jeter -- after Napoli had smothered one slider in the dirt, saving the tying run -- was a K-Rod fastball away. "I knew it was going to be an out when he hit it," the closer said. Heading home, their excellent adventure in the Bronx over, the Angels finally could exhale.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.