By Jon Lane
It’s definitely not a stretch to say that the weather is a tad better than it was 25 hours ago. At that time the game was postponed, we were scurrying to piece together information, and I ended driving home on the Northern State River.
A different story this evening one hour before Andy Pettitte throws the first pitch of what could be an American League-pennant clinching game, which would be the 40th in Yankees history. Two things I noted yesterday was Pettitte being one win from becoming baseball’s all-time leader in series-clinching wins (his four is tied with Roger Clemens, Catfish Hunter and Dave Stewart). Yesterday was also 13 years to the night when Pettitte out-dueled John Smoltz in a 1-0 victory in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series, a win that gave New York a 3-2 win and set the table for its first World Championship in 18 years.
What more historical karma? Twenty-three years ago tonight, Mookie Wilson’s grounder ate Bill Buckner and gave the Mets an improbable 6-5 win that tied the 1986 Fall Classic at 3-3. Watching batting practice earlier, these Yankees had that all-business aura about them, yet kept each other loose. Robinson Cano was at the dugout steps exchanging small talk when Derek Jeter tapped him on the helmet with his bat.
The Angels are taking BP now. As I’ve written previously, there is no quit in Mike Scioscia’s team. If the Yankees can pound Joe Saunders earlier, it would certainly give everyone a chance to catch their breath. But don’t count in it. Three out of the five games played in this ALCS have been decided by one run – with Games 2 and 3 needing extra innings. I’m anticipating another pitcher’s duel. Saunders is a 16-game winner who gave up two runs in seven frames in Game 2. Pettitte is 6-2 with a 4.14 ERA in 12 LCS starts and 6-1, 3.95 in 10 starts as a Yankee.
Given how the 2009 season has played out, a close game benefits the New Yorkers. Besides their league-high 57 wins at Yankee Stadium (4-0 in the playoffs), they own 22 postseason walk-off wins. After winning 15 of the walk-off variety in the regular season, the Yankees have two in the playoffs, one coming on a home run.
Of course, all this means nothing; the game has to be played. But I’m one of many who has played the mystique and aura cards while telling stories (my colleague Chris Shearn is a firm believer in karma.) When you think you’ve seen enough, Alex Rodriguez takes Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes deep to rescue the Yankees from certain defeat.
Let’s see what develops tonight. Back with much more, starting with Bernie Williams throwing out the first pitch.
7:50 p.m. Playing on the Stadium jukebox during a montage of Yankees highlights: The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight,” The Black Eyed Peas’ “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night.” Think Stadium Ops want the Yankees to get it done this evening?
8:10 p.m. Chuck Mangione with a beautiful rendition of our national anthem. Mangione also played the anthem the day Dave Righetti threw his no-hitter on July 4, 1983. Thanks to Bill Stimers (aka “Bill the Baker” and longtime friend of George Steinbrenner) for that nugget. (There’s that karma thing again.)
Meanwhile, Bernie Williams walked to the mound to an incredible ovation to throw out the first pitch.
8:19 p.m. Andy Pettitte warming up to “Welcome to the Jungle.” The new house is stoked.
8:21 p.m. First pitch a called strike to Chone Figgins. Game time temperature 58 degrees.
8:26 p.m. Man on a mission: Pettitte pitches a clean first throwing 12 pitches, nine for strikes.
8:37 p.m. An eventful bottom of the first ends with a thud. Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez stroke back-to-back two-out singles (the latter extended his postseason hitting streak to 11 games). Jorge Posada, however, ended the threat with a fly out to right field. The Yankees are batting .216 (16-for-74) with runners in scoring position in the playoffs.
8:41 p.m. Swishlicious! Nick Swisher executes a 9-9-3 double play, capitalizing on yet another Angels baserunning blunder, this time when Vladimir Guerrero got caught too far off first. Now Nick Swisher has to start hitting.
8:46 p.m. 0-0 after 1 1/2. For fun facts and figures, meet Joe Auriemma At the Bat.
8:55 p.m. Swisher just gets under a Saunders 3-2 pitch and flies out to left. He’s now 3-for-30 (.100) in the postseason.
8:59 p.m. Big spot for Johnny Damon: Bases loaded, Saunders needing a breather and that galling RISP postseason stat.
9:03 p.m. Unreal. A ground out to first on the second pitch Damon sees. Saunders has thrown 38 pitches, yet the Yankees have stranded five through two innings and there’s no score. That RISP average? It’s now .213. The Yankees may be the cardiac crew, but they cannot continue to blow these golden opportunities.
9:05 p.m. The Jeff Mathis now has eight hits (five doubles) this postseason. The Yankees might rue the day they failed with runners on base.
9:15 p.m. 1-0 Angels on Bobby Abreu’s run-scoring single. Pettitte is pitching well outside of the Mathis double. He needs help from his offense.
9:23 p.m. Hmmm …. A fly ball to deep right that did NOT carry out of this ballpark?
9:33 p.m. Pettitte razor-sharp in the fourth with two called strikeouts (with help from plate umpire Dale Scott on a low-and-outside Strike 3 to Guerrero). It’d be a good time for the offense to break through. Swisher is due up second.
9:38 p.m. Swisher with a base hit to left. First and second with nobody out. Now or never.
9:48 p.m. Breakthrough and redemption. Damon strokes a two-run single to center field.
10:00 p.m. The good news: Yankees chase Saunders, put up three runs and Posada faces Darren Oliver with the bases loaded. The bad news: A double-play grounder ends the inning. You can’t squander chances to break the game open in the postseason, folks. Think of it like a football team stalling in the red zone and settling for field goals.
At this rate you’re getting Pettitte for seven and Mariano Rivera for two.
10:13 p.m. Game 6 attendance: 50,173, the largest ever at the new Yankee Stadium.
10:25 p.m. Big spot for Guerrero, who went yard of Pettitte in Game 3.
10:27 p.m. Guerrero has something left, lofting a pitch about four inches from the ground into right for a double. It’s second and third with two out for Pettitte with Joba Chamberlain warming up.
10:32 p.m. Pettitte squeaks out of the sixth after deflecting Kendry Morales’ comebacker and throwing the first for the final out to put the Yankees nine outs away from their 40th AL pennant. He’s thrown 91 pitches through six innings and could be done for the night. Cabrera, Jeter and Damon are due up. An insurance run or three
won’t hurt, especially the way Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have looked in the postseason.
10:43 p.m. Here’s why this game is far from over: The Yankees have left nine men on base and ended the sixth when Mark Teixeira grounded into a double play. Failing to break it open against Darren Oliver is cause for concern.
Pettitte’s out to start the seventh, BTW.
10:49 p.m. Pettitte leaves to a well-deserved standing ovation with a runner on and one out, and tips his cap, after throwing 99 pitchers in 6 1/3 innings. Chamberlain in relief. Two years ago this is a security blanket. Not so this year (seven hits, 2 2/3 innings).
11:02 p.m. Yankees are six outs away thanks to a Joba well done. A-Rod leads off the seventh with a single. He’s my choice for ALCS MVP if the Yankees get those last six outs.
11:08 p.m. Rivera warming up to work two innings. Good move. Meanwhile, Posada grounds into his second double play.
11:11 p.m. Make that the Yankees are six Mariano Rivera outs from their 40th AL pennant and a date with Cliff Lee and the Phillies here Wednesday night.
11:24 p.m. Inopportune time for Rivera to allow his first earned
run in a postseason home game since October 22, 2000 (Game 2 of the World Series against the Mets). It sliced the
Yankees’ lead to 3-2 before Rivera recovered to retire Kendry Morales.
Three outs to go.
Give credit to these Angels. They don’t quit. Ever.
11:36 p.m. The Angels have heart, but they are careless and probably threw away their season. First, Howie Kendrick dropped Morales’ throw after he fielded Swisher’s sacrifice bunt. Melky Cabrera put down a sacrifice that was to move runners to second and third, except Scott Kazmir threw it 10 feet over Kendrick’s head, allowing a valuable insurance run to come home.
11:44 p.m. Well, Teixeira made one loud out, but it got another run home to give Rivera a three-run lead. Is the game over? No. But I like those odds.
11:55 p.m. Rivera working the ninth needing those last three outs. Yankees fans are ready to party. And as I write, Kenrick grounds out to first. Two to go.
12:01 a.m. Gary Matthews Jr., pinch-hitting for Mike Napoli, strikes out and the Yankees win their 40th American League pennant. They begin their first World Series since 2003 Wednesday night when CC Sabathia opposes Cliff Lee in this building. More from the clubhouse coming later.
By Jon Lane
raining (yet), but it’s windy and cold; I feel like I’m Canada. But the
bunting is draped, and a couple of Yankees are playing catch on the
infield. One of them is Alex Rodriguez, who is now taking fungo
grounders at third base.
Joe Girardi just met the media and A.J.
Burnett is chatting about the Angels and his Game 2 start. I’ll have
briefs from Girardi and Burnett, as well as Angels manager Mike
Scioscia and Saturday’s Halos starter, Joe Saunders, before first pitch.
already a buzz and the gates are opening in mere minutes. Memo to rain:
You’re not invited. Go away and stay away until Sunday.
No surprises in the Yankees’ lineup.
Johnny Damon is in left field with Melky Cabrera in center. Damon comes
off a 1-for-12 performance in the Division Series. You wonder if he
can’t get it going, or especially the Yankees are on the losing end
tonight, whether Girardi will replace Damon for Brett Gardner in Game 2.
around for much more from yours truly, and our multimedia team of Chris
Shearn and Joe Auriemma. I have a hunch there will be baseball tonight,
the first of many wars of attrition between these two clubs that both
can make the “team of destiny” claim.
5:20 p.m. Joe and
Chris are on the field working pregame. Chris did an interview with
Brett Gardner for a Stadium Spotlight that will be posted later.
Gardner, like everyone, was asked about this December weather. In
essence he said this is New York weather and this is what you have to
deal with at this time of year if you want to still be playing baseball.
Pena had to attend to business, but spent a few minutes talking off
camera. He lamented that it was 97 degrees today in his native
Dominican Republic, but added “When you play this time of year, you
have to play in this.”
Before I headed back inside I felt the
slightest of raindrops. No steady showers yet. Here’s hoping the rain
received my you’re-not-invited memo.
From there I stopped by the
Hard Rock Cafe. Three hours before first pitch and you could barely get
around the circle bar. Yankees fan Greg Parker was seated in a
tableless chair in the back of the restaurant. I asked him who do have
winning and why. “Yankees in 6 – because this is New York and they’ve
won 26 World Championships.” Sometimes “expert” analysis isn’t
necessary. The simplest explanations are the best.
5:42 p.m. Highlights from A.J. Burnett’s and Joe Girardi’s pregame breifing with the media:
On fitting in this season whereas past newcomers have struggled to get acclimated early:
pies aside, I’m a pretty quiet individual during the game and stuff,
aoft spoken guy. I don’t know, it just didn’t matter really who I met
or who I ran into. I just joked with them from the get go and getting
on them from the get go. It’s not hard to blend in with guys like this.
It’s a good group. The main thing is you can be yourself there in that
clubhouse. I think that’s what a lot of people have learned this year
is that they can be themselves.”
On having more of a comfort level pitching in the postseason after his debut last Friday:
know a little what to expect, crowd-wise and everything. It’s still
going to be a crazy and exciting and emotional game. By all means I
know how important my start is. I have the least amount of postseason
experience, but I’m looking forward to it. We’re going to hopefully get
this win in tonight and follow CC. He’s going to come out with a bang.”
On why Nick Swisher [5-for-43 lifetime against John Lackey and 1-for-12 in the ALDS] is in the lineup:
watched his at bats. Sometimes when you give a guy a day off, you look
to give him a day off against a guy that maybe he struggled against a
little bit. But we watched his at bats the last couple of years, and
he’s hit some balls really hard. He does see pitches on John Lackey,
which is extremely important. And that’s why he’s in there.”
On whether it’d be better if the regular season is shortened and if off days added into the postseason are unnecessary:
interesting. Every year that I had a chance to play in the playoffs
here, the weather was great. So I don’t remember having a day like
this. I mean, this is what baseball is. It’s a 162-game schedule. It’s
a grind, you know, if you shorten it by six games, the way it used to
be, well then you fall into this is the World Series week, and the
weather is not so good right now. It wasn’t great in Colorado. You
know, I don’t know what you do. You pray that Mother Nature blesses you
this time of the year and sometimes it doesn’t.”
5:48 p.m. Latest from Weather.com – 10 percent chance of rain by 8 p.m. and 20 percent by 9. This is down from 60 percent this morning.
7:13 p.m. Some tidbits gathered while killing time:
The elevator to the press box has been down for the last couple of hours. The long and frequent hikes make for good exercise.
about stopping by the Hard Rock? Prepare to wait. There are lines to
get in and for a table, at least a couple of hours from what I was told.
Pedro Martinez allowed two hits over seven shutout innings
during Game 2 in Los Angeles, but was stuck with a no-decision. Many
here watching, including yours truly and Yahoo! Sports’ Gordon Edes,
who covered Pedro in Boston for years, believe he’s the best pitcher of
this generation. The Dodgers took a 2-1 lead on Andre Ethier’s
bases-loaded walk in the eighth and Jonathan Broxton closed the deal to
even the NLCS at 1-1.
7:49 p.m. The national anthem was just played and I see sprinkles. So much for a future as an amateur weatherman.
props to readers checking in from Hawaii and Regina, Saskatchewan.
(Yes, I know of the area. Years ago in Las Vegas I played blackjack
with two guys from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Once I brought up Bret
“Hitman” Hart winning his first WWF Heavyweight Championship there I
Nice ovation for former Yankee and current YES analyst
David Cone, who threw out tonight’s first pitch. It was low, but
Right now blaring over the Stadium sound system: AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).
7:55 p.m. Facts & figures with a creative twist from Chris Shearn.
7:58 p.m. First pitch 7:58 (strike). Game time temperature is 45 degrees.
Sabathia gets through the first allowing only a two-out single to Torii
Hunter, though he got a break from plate umpire and crew chief Tim
McClelland, who punched out Bobby Abreu on a backdoor curveball that
from the view of many here was way inside.
Johnny Damon, 1-for-12 in the DS, singles to left field and advances to
second on the throw. Derek Jeter at third with Alex Rodriguez at the
plate after Mark Teixeira flied out to shallow left swinging at a 3-0
pitch. Lackey’s in trouble early, you can afford to be selective and
wait for something to drive.
8:21 p.m. These Yankees have been good and darn lucky. Hideki
Matsui popped up between short and third, except Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins, who called for it, looked at each other and said, “Do you want it?” Instead of an
inning-ending out, the ball dropped in front of Aybar and Damon scored
the Yankees’ second run. Good line from a writer seated to my right: “When did the Angels become the Twins?”
A-Rod’s sacrifice fly gives him seven postseason RBIs, one shy of his career-high eight set in 2004.
8:57 p.m. The Amazing A-Rod now batting .462 in the postseason, but it was up to Matsui to make it count. Alas, a ground out to first ends the third. Matsui’s average has dipped to .182 (2-for-11).
9:24 p.m. 2-1 Yankees entering the fifth after Lackey whiffs Jeter with two on and two out. Both Lackey – incidentally wearing short sleeves – and Sabathia are showing why they’re not only good, but tough.
9:35 p.m. Damon is 2-for-3 tonight with a double. Now the Yankees have to cash in.
9:45 p.m. Cha-ching! Matsui breaks his drought with an RBI double, but A-Rod is thrown out at home as he got aggressive upon seeing Juan Rivera lose his footing in left. Nice job by Jeff Mathis to survive the collision, but a 3-1 lead is pretty good the way Sabathia is working.
Lackey has thrown 96 pitches.
9:54 p.m. Nice sliding grab by Damon to rob Abreu of a leadoff single. The next pitch Hunter tried bunting his way on but Teixeira stretched to snare Sabathia’s throw at first base. Scioscia is arguing passionately with Laz Diaz, claiming Texieira’s toe came off the bag when the ball met his glove. Even if there was instant replay in baseball, that would be one of those inconclusive plays wouldn’t be overturned.
Sabathia, who has taken over this game, fans Guerrero to end the top of the sixth. He’s retired seven in a row and has thrown 80 pitches.
Metro NY’s Larry Fleischer with a good observation: For the first time in a long time, the Yankees are winning a playoff game with pitching and defense.
10:05 p.m. The Los Angeles Twins of Anaheim give away another run. After Cabrera moved to second on Lackey’s throwing error, Jeter singled him home and advanced to second on Hunter’s error. Lackey’s night is done. He battled, but I’m very surprised on what I’m seeing from what’s normally one of the most fundamentally sound teams in baseball.
From Larry the stat guru: Tonight is the first time the Angels were charged with three errors in a postseason game since Game 2 of the 2005 ALCS, also the only time this has happened in the Scioscia Era.
10:16 p.m. Robinson Cano, ski mask and all, robs Howie Kendrick of a hit that would have put Angels on first and third with one out. Pitching + defense = playoff victories.
10:21 p.m. Sabathia has worked seven, breaking his postseason high set just last Wednesday (6 2/3 IP). His seven strikeouts are one short of his high also set last Wednesday.
10:45 p.m. Sabathia (98 pitches) out to start the eighth and nobody warming in the bullpen. Could he go the distance? *Alas, soon as I hit save Phil Hughes started throwing.
10:54 p.m. Sabathia works a clean eighth and at 113 pitches it looks like Girardi will go to Mo in the ninth. Tremendous performance by the big lefty; 49,688 people were chanting “CC! CC!” And this comment from Girardi before the game was appropriate:
“CC is one of those guys that’s relaxed on the day he pitches. And I admire that.”
11:08 p.m. Exit Sabathia. Enter Sandman. A perfect blueprint.And FYI, Brett Gardner in center and Cabrera moves to left. Assuming Rivera is Rivera, I’ll check back with you after working the clubhouse.