Yankees clinch playoff spot, then hold off Angels

Derek Jeter pumps his fist following the

Derek Jeter pumps his fist following the Yankees' victory over the Los Angeles Angels. (September 22, 2009) (Credit: Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The scoreboard in right told the Yankees, win or lose last night, they were in the postseason.

That became official when the "F" was posted next to the Athletics' 9-1 victory over the Texas Rangers in Oakland.

And though that achievement rewarded a season's worth of mostly solid play, the Yankees had to feel just as good about what they accomplished a little more than an hour later.

They beat the Los Angeles Angels in Angel Stadium.

After blowing a 5-0 lead, the Yankees scored once in the top of the ninth to escape with a 6-5 victory.

It was Brett Gardner again doing in the Angels as he scored the go-ahead run on Alex Rodriguez's sacrifice fly.

The Yankees (96-56), winning for the first time in five tries this season at Angel Stadium, increased their lead to six games over the Boston Red Sox in the American League East and 5½ over the Angels (90-61) for best record in the AL.

Gardner, who as a pinch runner stole third and scored the go-ahead run against the Angels in the Yankees' 5-3 victory over the Angels on Sept. 14 at the Stadium, led off last night's ninth with a single up the middle against Matt Palmer. Derek Jeter walked and Mike Scioscia called in Darren Oliver to face Johnny Damon. Damon twice attempted to bunt, fouling off both tries, but got his third attempt down to move up the runners. Rodriguez's line drive to center brought Gardner in to make it 6-5.

Mariano Rivera walked Kendry Morales to start the bottom of the ninth and Morales was replaced by pinch runner Reggie Willits. But the Yankees got two quick outs as Juan Rivera struck out swinging and, on the same play, Jorge Posada threw out Willits. Erick Aybar grounded to second to end it.

All of it came after the Yankees committed two errors in the eighth that allowed the Angels to complete their comeback from a 5-0 deficit.

Pinch hitter Howie Kendrick led off the eighth against Phil Hughes with a hard grounder that Robinson Cano booted. With Chone Figgins at the plate, Kendrick took off for second. Posada's throw was low and skipped into centerfield, allowing Kendrick to take third. Figgins popped out to Cano but Kendrick scored when Maicer Izturis lined a single to right, tying it at 5.

The Yankees had scoring chances in each of the first two innings against Ervin Santana but came up empty.

After Jeter struck out leading off the first, Damon and Mark Teixeira followed with singles. But Rodriguez struck out and, after Hideki Matsui walked to load the bases, Posada flew out to left.

Cano led off the second against Santana with a double to right-center but the Yankees couldn't take advantage as Nick Swisher struck out, Gardner grounded out and Jeter struck out swinging.

Teixeira started the Yankees' third-inning rally with a one-out single to right. Rodriguez worked the count to 3-and-0 before crushing Santana's next pitch to deep center, just to the right of the faux rock pile, a two-run blast that was his 27th homer of the season.

Matsui appeared as if he had made the second out of the inning with a groundout to short, but home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor called catcher's interference on Jeff Mathis, whose glove made contact with Matsui's bat.

The error cost the Angels as Posada came up next and launched a 2-and-0 pitch to deep right for his 22nd homer of the season and a 4-0 lead.

The fourth inning was notable for Jeter's leadoff single, his 200th hit of the season, giving him seven seasons with 200 or more hits. Lou Gehrig holds the club record with eight such seasons. Jeter also became the first shortstop to record seven seasons with 200 or more hits.

The Yankees bumped their lead to 5-0 in the fifth when Matsui hit his 28th home run of the year to lead off the fifth. Matsui's career high for homers in a season as a Yankee is 31, achieved in 2004.

Chad Gaudin, who pitched an outstanding game for 42/3 innings, got the first two outs of the fifth, then hit the wall. Figgins curled a solo homer around the foul pole in right on a 3-and-2 pitch to make it 5-1 and Izturis doubled to right-center. After Abreu walked, Vladimir Guerrero singled him home to make it 5-2. That brought Joe Girardi out of the dugout to summon Alfredo Aceves from the bullpen.

Aceves had not pitched since going 21/3 innings Sept. 14 against the Angels when he allowed one run and two hits in the Yankees' 5-3 victory, but he quickly got ahead of Torii Hunter and struck him out swinging at an 81-mph curveball.

But Aceves did not have an easy time of it; no Yankees pitchers do, it seems, against the Angels. Morales and Rivera started the sixth with singles and Morales moved to third on Aybar's flyout to right. Gary Matthews Jr., pinch hitting for Mathis, the No. 9 hitter, singled to right to bring in Morales, making it 5-3. Figgins singled sharply to left to load the bases. Aceves got Izturis to foul out for the second out, but walked Abreu to make it 5-4. Guerrero then hit a ground smash down the third-base line but Rodriguez dove to his left and threw out the Angels' designated hitter to save two runs and preserve the lead.

Aceves got Hunter to start the seventh and Girardi called on lefty Damaso Marte to get Morales. Marte did not as Morales doubled to right-center, which brought Girardi back to the mound to summon in Hughes. Hughes, who allowed the Angels to tie the score at 3 in the Sept. 14 game at the Stadium, got Rivera and Aybar to ground out to end the inning and keep the Yankees' 5-4 lead intact.

But only for the moment.

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