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BILL DWYRE

Yankees hold serve in rain

New York keeps home-field advantage in playoff series with Angels.

October 18, 2009|BILL DWYRE

FROM NEW YORK — The good thing is it didn't rain out this parade, even though it tried to. An occasional downpour couldn't wreck this.

You love baseball. You want drama. You love how it heats up in the postseason, how every pitch, every twitch, is magnified by 10.

Well, the Angels and Yankees gave baseball fans a boatload of that Saturday at the cradle of the sport, Yankee Stadium. OK, at the Yankee Stadium across the street from the cradle, which will soon be a parking lot.

So much was at stake in this, Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees had won Game 1 on Friday night, as chilly temperatures and a swirling wind seemed to put the Angels off their game. John Lackey pitched well and the Angels gave that one away, making an unusual three errors and losing, 4-1.

So the Yankees' goal Saturday night was to hold serve, retaining their home-field advantage before the next three games in sunny California, where a lot of that Yankee Mystique can drift off into the palm trees.

The Angels' goal was to steal a game and put themselves in position to win out in the sunshine. No offense, but a return to the cradle was not all that necessary.

And when a slumping Chone Figgins slapped a single to left field about the time the big clock next to the big Yankee Stadium sign struck midnight, it appeared as if the Angels had, indeed, stolen one.

It was the 11th inning, and the score had been tied, 2-2, since the fifth. Gary Matthews Jr., who had pinch-hit in the ninth for catcher Mike Napoli, walked and Erick Aybar put down a perfect sacrifice bunt, sending Matthews into scoring position.

Up came Figgins, the little third baseman and leadoff hitter who was near paralyzed in an 0-for-19 postseason slump. Figgins ended that with a liner to left field and Matthews, getting a perfect jump on the ball, beat the throw to the plate.

The Angels had a 3-2 lead. They also had closer Brian Fuentes set to go.

The problem was, the Yankees were sending Alex Rodriguez to the plate in their half of the inning. You know what happened next. On an 0-and-2 pitch, of all things, Rodriguez cranked a shot just over Bobby Abreu's glove and just over the wall in right-center field.

Tie score, 3-3.

And now the rain came harder and faster.

There seemed no inclination to stop the game, even though, by the 12th, the field was wet and the grounds crew was hustling out between innings to add sand to the pitching mound, home plate area and second base.

If this were June, they'd have stopped this game. But this was the playoffs, huge crowds to please with a result, television networks with schedules to fulfill.

FOX, which is carrying this ALCS, also has the NFL on Sunday. That being the Cadillac of sports programming, major league baseball got out of the way, making today a travel day for the Angels and Yankees. The thought of having to finish this today, squeezed between touchdown passes and blitzing linebackers, was certainly not making the network suits happy.

So the drama carried on, through the raindrops and on toward 1 a.m. The temperature, a chilly 47 at game time, was at least 10 degrees lower as the Angels opened their half of the 13th with Aybar reaching when his ground ball skipped under Robinson Cano's glove at second base. Figgins bunted him to second and the Yankees walked Abreu intentionally for the second straight time.

With runners going, Torii Hunter bounced to Derek Jeter at shortstop. His only play was to first, leaving runners at second and third with two out for Vladimir Guerrero.

There was a time when the Angels could not have asked for a better situation, but Guerrero, on this night and of late, has become more of a wild, ineffective swinger than a feared cleanup man.

Still, this was as tough a situation as a batter can face. No less than Rodriguez, the Yankees counterpart cleanup hitter, had popped out to center with the bases loaded the inning before. But at least he had kept the Yankees in the game with his homer.

This time, Guerrero grounded harmlessly to second base.

Then it ended in the Yankees' 13th, and as these things go, the end was like a bolt of lightning. Reserve Jerry Hairston singled, and went to second on a sacrifice by another reserve, Brett Gardner. The Angels walked Cano to set up the double play, and they almost got that. But instead, Melky Cabrera's grounder to Maicer Izturis' left was a difficult play and Izturis still tried for two, wheeling and throwing to second instead of getting one at first.

The throw went wide of shortstop Aybar, Hairston scrambled home. Game over, and the new cradle started to rock.

It had taken the Yankees 5 hours 10 minutes to hold serve, but the way it happened made it felt like much more than that to the Angels.

"I'm wiped out," Manger Joe Giradi of the Yankees said immediately afterward. "I'm gonna sleep well on the plane ride tonight."

Manager Mike Scioscia said his team did a lot of good things that he hopes will carry over to Game 3. He didn't say he'd sleep well on the plane home.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com.

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