On a night when CC Sabathia lasted only four innings, the Yankees shrugged off a five-run deficit after six innings to beat the Rangers, 6-5, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series in front of a dismayed crowd of 50,930 at Rangers Ballpark.
The Yankees extended their postseason winning streak over the Rangers to 10, with Texas' last win coming in Game 1 of the 1996 Division Series.
"It's a huge win," Sabathia said. "Especially being down the way we were to start the seventh."
Then they scored five times before the Rangers could record an out in a bizarre eighth inning - one featuring four pitching changes by manager Ron Washington - to take a 6-5 lead.
"It certainly was our ballgame, especially when you need just six outs," Washington said. "We didn't get them."
Kerry Wood pitched a scoreless eighth and Mariano Rivera escaped a jam in the ninth to extend his own record with his 42nd career postseason save. The Yankees got a scoreless inning from Joba Chamberlain and two scoreless innings by winning pitcher Dustin Moseley, who had four strikeouts, to keep the game within reach.
Mitch Moreland led off the ninth with a single and was sacrificed to second by Elvis Andrus. But Rivera, whose stretch of three blown saves in six chances started here Sept. 11, struck out Michael Young and got Josh Hamilton to ground to third to end it.
Hamilton had hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and Young's two-out, two-run double in the fourth had given Texas a 5-0 lead.
Sabathia, who took the mound having pitched only once in the previous 16 days, wasn't sharp, allowing five runs, six hits and four walks in four innings. He was pulled after 93 pitches.
"He left one too many balls up, was working behind in counts and it was un-CC-like," pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "But we'll fix it. We'll fix it on Sunday and look forward to the next time he pitches, whenever that may be."
Could that be on short rest in Game 4?
"That comes from in there," Eiland said, pointing to manager Joe Girardi's office.
Said Girardi in response to the question: "I'm worried about Game 2."
Sabathia wasn't great in his ALDS Game 1 start against the Twins Oct. 6, either, but as was the case that night, the Yankees stormed from behind.
"They've bailed me out twice ," Sabathia said.
The lefthander said he was affected by the long rest but didn't use that as an excuse.
"As soon as he came out, he apologized to everybody," Jorge Posada said. "That's the way CC is."
Brett Gardner led off the eighth against Wilson by beating out an infield single, at the time a seemingly insignificant play, and Derek Jeter followed with an RBI double down the leftfield line - his first of two doubles in the game - that made it 5-2. That brought out Washington, who brought in 40-year-old lefthander Darren Oliver. He walked Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira to load the bases.
Up stepped Alex Rodriguez, and out came Washington to call in sidearming righthander Darren O'Day. Rodriguez lashed the first pitch he saw off third baseman Young's glove and into leftfield for a two-run single that made it 5-4.
"You obviously wanted to keep the line moving," A-Rod said. "We had three or four good at-bats before me, and we talked about keeping the line moving. Got a good pitch to hit, hit it hard and scored a couple of runs."
All still with none out.
Cue Washington, who called on lefty Derek Holland to face Marcus Thames, a curious choice in that Thames routinely has assaulted lefthanded pitching this season. Thames did it again, lining a single to left to bring in Rodriguez for a 6-5 lead.
"Our lineup is deep, and whether we are facing a lefthander or righthander, we feel good about our lineup and the at-bats they put on people," Girardi said. "You keep putting people on, you're eventually going to get some runs."
The Yankees continued to threaten, as Posada's flyout drove rightfielder Nelson Cruz all the way to the wall, putting runners on first and third. But Curtis Granderson struck out and Gardner grounded out to end the inning.
The first of the walks off Sabathia came on five pitches to Andrus, the first batter he faced. Sabathia then fell behind Young 3-and-0 before throwing a strike. Young, who came in 12-for-38 (.316) in his career against Sabathia, lined the next pitch for a single to left-center to put runners on first and third.
That brought Hamilton, who was 1-for-10 against Sabathia, to the plate. Sabathia got ahead of him 0-and-2 but hung a slider to the MVP candidate, who lined it down the rightfield line for a three-run homer that made it 3-0.
Sabathia finally recorded an out when Vladimir Guerrero flied out just short of the 404-foot sign in center. But his inning wasn't over. Cruz singled to right and Ian Kinsler walked. After former Met Jeff Francoeur popped out, Matt Treanor walked to load the bases.
"It was really tough for me to get my mechanics right," Sabathia said. "I really had no release point tonight on my fastball."
Sabathia caught a break after the walk to Treanor. His first pitch to Jorge Cantu, the inning's ninth batter, was a fastball that sailed high off the tip of Posada's glove. Cruz took off for home, but the ball took a favorable ricochet off the brick part of the backstop, allowing Posada to field it quickly and flip to Sabathia. A sliding Sabathia nipped the sliding Cruz on the upper part of his body, according to plate umpire and crew chief Gerry Davis, a fraction of a second before he crossed the plate.
Replays showed Davis appeared to get the bang-bang call right.
When the Rangers increased their lead to 5-0, it didn't appear as if that play would be all that significant, but it turned out to be.
"Well, I don't know if we gave it away," Washington said. "We just didn't execute. You know, when you face a team like the Yankees, you've got to execute. We didn't execute."