Finally, they buried the Halo Hex. Next in the sights of the 2009 Yankees: capturing the franchise’s first world championship since 2000.
Led by the veteran arms of Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera, the Yankees won their 40th American League pennant last night with a 5-2 victory over the Angels in ALCS Game 6 in front of a crowd of 50,173, a record for the new Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees will meet the defending world champion Phillies in the World Series beginning Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, looking for their 27th championship.
“We’re every bit as good," Hal Steinbrenner said, referring to the Phillies, “so we’re going to give them a run for their money."
What does winning the ALCS mean to George Steinbrenner in the first year in the new Yankee Stadium? Said Joe Girardi, “I know it would mean a lot more if we could win a World Series for him. A lot of us feel that we’re trying to win one for The Boss."
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Said Hal Steinbrenner, “I’m going to call him in about five minutes, but he’s watching."
The last World Series meeting between the franchises came in 1950, when the Yankees swept Philadelphia’s “Whiz Kids” in four games.
“I think every team that starts Day 1 feels they’re in it to win the World Series, and that’s what we’re in it for," Girardi said. “The Phillies know what it’s like to win the World Series, a lot of guys in this room know what it’s like, so that’s why we’re playing the game."
The 37-year-old Pettitte, in earning his record 16th postseason victory — breaking a tie with John Smoltz — allowed one run in 6 1/3 innings. It also was Pettitte’s fifth career series-clinching victory, which broke a tie with Roger Clemens, Catfish Hunter and Dave Stewart.
“That’s Andy," Rivera said. “I wasn’t expecting nothing different. Andy has been there many times before and he showed up."
Despite allowing his first postseason run at home in more than nine years, Rivera pitched the final two innings for his 37th career postseason save, extending his record. He pitched a perfect ninth, striking out Gary Matthews Jr. to end it.
Said Rivera, “I wasn’t holding anything back."
Derek Jeter felt pretty good with his two longtime teammates pitching in such an important game. “Those two guys have been here for a lot of games, a lot of big games, and they’ve had a lot of success," Jeter said. “You have a lot of comfort out there when they’re on the mound."
The Yankees, who led the majors with 51 comeback victories during the regular season, recorded their fifth such victory this postseason, in which they are 7-2.
Said Angels manager Mike Scioscia: “They played an incredible series. They outplayed us and they deserved to win. Naturally, they’ll represent our league in the World Series and we wish them well."
CC Sabathia, who won Games 1 and 4 of this series and will start Game 1 of the World Series, was named MVP of the ALCS.
Trailing 1-0 going into the bottom of the fourth, the Yankees scored three times in the inning, highlighted by Johnny Damon’s two-run single that made it 2-1 and Alex Rodriguez’s bases-loaded walk.
Rodriguez went 2-for-2 with three walks in the game, making him 9-for-21 (.429) with eight walks and six RBIs in the ALCS and 14-for-32 (.438) with 12 RBIs in nine 2009 postseason games. This will be the first World Series appearance of his career, which began in 1994. Said Rodriguez, “It’s been my dream since I was 5 years old . . . All I cared about all year is winning games. It feels good."
Damon had grounded out with the bases loaded to end the second inning but came up with a big hit in the fourth, lining a shot into left-center. “I felt like that first time I came up with the bases loaded, I had a good swing and I just didn’t get the job done," he said. “But I got the job done the next time. It feels good. I feel comfortable in those situations. I’ve been in them in the past. Being in the game for 15 years and being in a lot of postseasons, I don’t mind that situation. Unfortunately, the first time it didn’t work out, but the second time it did."
Said Girardi, “Johnny was huge for us this series. He has a lot of postseason experience. He knows how to get big hits."
Rivera, accompanied by full-throated cheers and his anthem, “Enter Sandman,” came in for the eighth and was promptly greeted by Chone Figgins’ bloop hit to left. Figgins scored on Vladimir Guerrero’s two-out RBI single.
Robinson Cano led off the bottom of the inning with a walk off Ervin Santana, and when the Yankees went to small ball, it paid big dividends.
After Game 4 starter and loser Scott Kazmir replaced Santana, Nick Swisher dropped a sacrifice bunt and second baseman Howie Kendrick dropped the throw to first, which hit him in the heel of the glove. Melky Cabrera put down another sacrifice bunt, and this time Kazmir threw the ball well over Kendrick’s head at first, allowing Cano to score and putting runners on second and third.
One out later, Damon walked to load the bases for Mark Teixeira, whose long sacrifice fly to center made it 5-2. Game 3 starter Jered Weaver replaced Kazmir and walked Rodriguez to load the bases. But he struck out Jorge Posada to escape.
Usually light-hitting Jeff Mathis, who lit up the Yankees in the series, continued to do so by leading off the third inning with a double into the gap in right-center. The hit improved Mathis to 7-for-11 with five doubles in the series; this after he hit .211 during the regular season with eight doubles in 237 at-bats. Pettitte got Erick Aybar to strike out swinging and Figgins to ground out, but Bobby Abreu lined a two-out single to right to make it 1-0.
Through three innings, the Yankees had left six on base, the Angels two. But in the fourth, the Yankees finally broke through.
Cano opened the inning with a walk and Swisher, who entered the at-bat 3-for-30 this postseason, grounded a single to left. Jeter walked to load the bases and Damon came through, lining an opposite-field single to left-center to drive in two runs and give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Teixeira reached on an infield single to re-load the bases and Rodriguez worked a walk on a very close 3-and-1 pitch to make it 3-1. That ended Joe Saunders’ night after 83 pitches, 42 strikes. Darren Oliver got Posada to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
After setting down the Angels in order in the fourth and getting a double play to end the fifth, Pettitte got two quick outs in the sixth before finding trouble. Torii Hunter reached on an infield single, bringing Guerrero to the plate.
Just as he had in ALCS Game 3, Guerrerro batted against Pettitte with two outs, a man on and the Yankees holding a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning.
In the earlier game, after a mound visit by Girardi, Guerrero hit a two-run homer to tie the score in a game the Angels would win in 11 innings, 4-3.
This time, after a mound visit by pitching coach Dave Eiland, Guerrero reached for an 0-and-2 pitch that was low and away and blooped a double down the rightfield line. But after falling behind 3-and-0, Pettitte retired Kendry Morales on a hard comebacker to get out of the inning.
Guerrero, who had three hits, came through again in the eighth against Rivera, but that would be it for the Angels.
“A lot of money came off the payroll, we put a lot of money back into it and I feel we have a better team for it," Hal Steinbrenner said. “I couldn’t be happier with the team — the way they get along, the way they play and the way they win. It’s a balance of veterans and young kids. That’s what it’s all about."
“We’re going to celebrate for a little bit tonight," Damon said, “but hopefully we can get four more wins. That’s the goal that we’re shooting for."
The schedule for the World Series is as follows:
Game 1: Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, 7:57 p.m.
Game 2: Thursday at Yankee Stadium, 7:57 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday at Philadelphia, 7:57 p.m.
Game 4: Sunday at Philadelphia, 8:20 p.m.
Game 5*: Monday, Nov. 2 at Philadelphia, 7:57 p.m.
Game 6*: Wednesday, Nov. 4 at Yankee Stadium, 7:57 p.m.
Game 7*: Thursday, Nov. 5 at Yankee Stadium, 7:57 p.m.
>> COMPLETE COVERAGE: Yankees go for 27th World Series title
>> ALCS PHOTOS: | Series highlights