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YANKEES FYI

With A.J. Burnett on the mound, Jose Molina will catch

Jorge Posada is benched again in favor of the former Angels' catcher. Burnett and Posada deny there is any friction, however.

October 18, 2009|Kevin Baxter

NEW YORK — As a player Joe Girardi was known as a "gamer," a guy who left everything on the field.

Five games into the postseason, he's proving to be no different as a manager.

In an epic, if sloppy, American League Championship Series game that began under chilly skies on Saturday and ended, 13 innings later, in the rain early this morning, Girardi cleared out his bullpen and emptied his bench as no manager in ALCS history has ever done.

And the moves paid off with a 4-3 win over the Angels and a commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"It was great," an exhausted Girardi said afterward. "It was a great game to manage."

And manage it Girardi did, using eight of the 11 pitchers on his roster, sparing only Game 1 starter CC Sabathia, Game 3 starter Andy Pettitte and potential Game 4 starter Chad Gaudin, who was nonetheless warming up at the end.

He used 13 of his 14 position players, saving only third-string catcher Francisco Cervelli. And even Cervelli was staying loose, just in case. All told the Yankees used an ALCS-record 21 players.

"I was starting to run out of bullets," Girardi said.

Yet it was the last bullet that Girardi fired that eventually felled the Angels. Because it was seldom-used Jerry Hairston, who batted only 76 times in the regular season, who scored the winning run after pinch-hitting for the even-more-seldom-used Freddy Guzman, who had entered the game as a pinch-runner in the ninth.

Hairston started the 13th with a single, then moved to second on Brett Gardner's sacrifice bunt. Gardner, too, had spent much of the season -- and most of the night -- on the bench before entering the game as a pinch-runner in the seventh.

But one batter after Gardner's bunt, there was Hairston, racing home with the winning run when the Angels' Maicer Izturis, trying for a nearly impossible force play at second, threw the ball away.

Of course none of that would have happened if not for Alex Rodriguez's third home run of the postseason, a score-tying 11th-inning shot into the first row of the right-field bleachers.

Girardi knew enough to use Rodriguez for the whole game -- much to his third baseman's delight. "That," he said, "was a fun game. I enjoyed every minute of it."

What was not to enjoy? The victory was the 17th the Yankees have won on the final pitch this season. And it was fourth time in five postseason games under Girardi that they have come from behind to win.

And because of that they flew to California to resume the series Monday afternoon needing only two wins to reach the World Series.

"I'm wiped out right now," Girardi said. "I'm sure I'll sleep good on that plane."

New experience

Saturday starter A.J. Burnett has less postseason experience than any of the Yankees starters since his appearance in Game 2 of the American League division series marked his playoff debut.

With 244 career regular-season starts entering the postseason, Burnett was tied with Houston's Brian Moehler for fourth among active pitchers for most starts without appearing in a postseason game.

--

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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