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Escape to New York: Angels win Game 5
Escape to New York: Angels win
By Lyle Spencer
ANAHEIM -- What it came down to was an open resistance to what seemed inevitable.
It was a defiant stance that ended on Thursday night with a 7-6 triumph by the Angels over the Yankees in Game 5 of a suddenly fascinating American League Championship Series, the winner moving on to face the defending champion Phillies in the World Series.
"You don't want the season to end, that's for sure," catcher and surprise hitting sensation Jeff Mathis said.
"There was some talk about not wanting to have the Yankees celebrate on our field, I can tell you that," added Torii Hunter, the heart and voice of his team.
The season did not end at Angel Stadium. If there is to be a Yankees celebration, it will be in their own house, where Game 6 will be staged on Saturday night, the Angels striving to force a seventh game on Sunday.
The Angels survived a wild one that came down to a final pitch by Brian Fuentes that was lifted harmlessly into the night air by Nick Swisher.
It landed in the glove of shortstop Erick Aybar, and it's on to the South Bronx in the afterglow of one the most pulsating innings -- a sensation-filled seventh -- in postseason history.
The Yankees did what the Yankees do. They unloaded the heavy artillery, turning a four-run deficit into a two-run lead with six runs in the top half of the inning.
"I'm not proud to say it, but I slammed my glove down in the dugout," said Hunter, whose emotions can run hot and heavy, like those of John Lackey.
The Angels responded behind Mathis, who led off with a single for his sixth consecutive postseason hit. This was followed by a string of quality at-bats featuring two-out, run-scoring singles by Vladimir Guerrero and Kendry Morales.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
With four runs, the Angels scored in the opening inning for the first time in the ALCS, primarily by jumping on Yankees starting pitcher A.J. Burnett early in the count.
Flyout to right field
5-4-3 double play
"This team showed a lot of heart tonight," leadoff catalyst Chone Figgins said. "We knew we had to make something happen -- and we did."
Lackey had departed -- unwillingly, in his familiar fashion -- with two out in the sixth. It was 4-0, Angels, when he left the bases loaded, and it was 6-4, Yankees, after a three-run double by Mark Teixeira, an RBI single by Hideki Matsui and a two-run triple by Robinson Cano.
"You knew that wasn't going to go well," a grinning Figgins said, referring to manager Mike Scioscia's decision to lift Lackey after 104 pitches in favor of Darren Oliver.
Oliver and Kevin Jepsen were knocked around as Lackey was seething over a 3-2 pitch ruled a ball to Jorge Posada. Lackey was certain he'd delivered strike three, at Posada's knees, which would have been the second out, changing the whole inning.
"I hit the glove [of Mathis]," Lackey said. "It was right there."
But then the Angels made it all good anyway, producing three runs in their half of the seventh with clutch two-out singles by Guerrero and Morales, an RBI grounder by Bobby Abreu, walks by Hunter and Aybar, a sacrifice by Figgins and the line-drive single by Mathis that got it all rolling.
"I can't say enough about the way we came back," Lackey said. "The offense showed its resolve and resilience. That was great to see.
"I couldn't be happier for Mathis. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, coming through like he has. We all know how good Jeff is defensively. He's as athletic as any catcher in the game."
A .200 career hitter who batted .211 this season while sharing catching duties with Mike Napoli, Mathis has four doubles and two singles in 10 at-bats in the series.
His walk-off double won Game 3 in 11 innings, and he was calling the pitches when Fuentes finally finished an anxiety-filled ninth.
Game 3 starter Jered Weaver having worked a perfect eighth, Fuentes came on and got two quick outs before Alex Rodriguez was walked intentionally.
"We didn't want him to beat us," Fuentes said. "I didn't expect to walk another guy and hit a guy with a breaking ball."
The full-count walk to Matsui was followed by a roundhouse breaking ball that ran into Cano, loading the bases. Swisher fell behind, 0-2, worked it to 3-2 and then lifted his popup into shallow left-center.
"Fastball, down and away," Fuentes said. "He wasn't able to do what he wanted with that pitch, and we got out of it.
"It's the biggest moment you could have in a game, but I knew what I had to do. I knew the consequences."
In Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, Joe Saunders -- who pitched superbly in Game 2 in the Bronx -- will engage fellow lefty Andy Pettitte.
"Any time you have a chance to close out a series and you don't win -- no matter what the score -- it's a missed opportunity," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But we get a chance to go to our ballpark, where we've played extremely well."
In what might have been his final home appearance in an Angels uniform, Lackey -- eligible for free agency after the season -- drew a roar from the crowd as he departed, lifting his cap in acknowledgment.
"I don't want to go there," Lackey said when asked what was in his mind at that moment.
Lackey had kicked into cruise control after escaping a two-on, none-out first-inning jam. His offense came after A.J. Burnett with a vengeance right out of the chute.
After Figgins coaxed a leadoff walk, Abreu slammed a bullet that carried to deep right-center. Figgins put on the brakes and held at third as Abreu cruised into second.
Hunter lashed Burnett's first pitch, a curveball, to the left of shortstop Derek Jeter for a two-run single.
Wheeling on a first-pitch fastball, Guerrero smoked a double to left-center, cashing in Hunter. Morales laced a 2-0 fastball over Jeter's head to score Guerrero.
Burnett escaped and shut down the Angels into the seventh, when Mathis and Aybar started the comeback that extended the season for at least another game.
Since the best-of-seven format was initiated for LCS play in 1985, only four teams have won the final two games on the road to win a series: the 1985 Royals at Toronto, the 1991 Braves at Pittsburgh, the 2003 Marlins at Chicago and the 2004 Red Sox at New York.
"This isn't close to as much adversity as we've seen this year," Lackey said.
He was referring to the tragic death of fellow pitcher Nick Adenhart, at 22, in a car crash on April 9.
When you deal with the loss of one of your own, no game ever can seem quite so important -- or daunting -- again.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.