It was the best of games, it was the worst of games, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
Well, at least nobody got guillotined at the end of Game 5.
First it looked like the Yankees were going to go down quietly, after a first-inning blowup by AJ Burnett; then they made a dramatic late-inning rally and took the lead in the blink of Darren Oliver’s eye; then the bullpen faltered, and New York trailed again by just one; and then they loaded the bases in the 9th inning against skittish closer Brian Fuentes with two outs and a full count, and Nick Swisher popped up. The Angels won 7-6. Now that‘s the Angels-Yankees baseball we all know and love and discuss at length with our therapists.
A.J. Burnett looked just awful in the first, and the Angels took him apart: Figgins walked, Abreu doubled, Hunter singled, Guerrero doubled, Morales singled, and when the smoke cleared, it was 4-0. The next few innings featured plenty of hard-hit balls, but Burnett – via a combination of unpredictable stuff and luck – got through them without allowing another run, and by the 4th or 5th he was in a groove and pitching well. Meanwhile, John Lackey turned in a impressive performance, and his breaking stuff was tying the Yankees in knots.
In the seventh inning, though, he finally faltered, and loaded the bases with two outs, at which point Mike Scioscia – in a move that would have been second-guessed endlessly had the Angels lost – yanked him for Darren Oliver. Lackey was furious – you could see him saying “This is mine! This is mine!’ when Scioscia came to the mound – and presumably got more so when Darren Oliver immediately gave up a three-run double to Mark Teixeira, who came out of his ALCS slump with a bang. The Angels, having seen enough of Alex Rodriguez, intentionally walked him; but Matsui singled, and then Robinson Cano whacked a triple that traveled so far, Matsui actually scored from first. The Yankees were up 6-4, and while it wasn’t the biggest comeback I’ve ever seen, it was probably one of the most sudden: boom, just like that.
But Burnett struggled when he came back out for the seventh, as Mathis singled and Aybar walked. Girardi then turned to Damaso “Gulp” Marte, who fielded a bunt and then got Abreu to ground out, but a run scored in the process. Next in was Phil Hughes, who walked Torii Hunter and then gave up singles to Guerrero and Morales. The Angels were back on top, 7-6. Mariano Rivera cleaned up Joba Chamberlain’s mess in the eighth, but although the Yankees came tantalizingly close to a two-out, ninth-inning rally (following a second intentional walk to A-Rod), they fell just short.
I’m sure people will spend much of the off-day arguing over who to blame, and that is the fan’s prerogative. But to me, while there were certainly plenty of managerial moves you could disagree with, the basic truth is that when AJ Burnett and Phil Hughes allow 7 runs to score on the road, that’s gonna be a tough game to win.
The Yankees are still up three games to two in the series, and they’re heading home to the Bronx – where, ridiculously priced half-empty oligarch seats aside, at least the fans don’t need any ThunderStix to make some noise – and so all is far from lost. With the NLCS already over, Game 6 has been moved from 4 PM Saturday afternoon to 8 at night. Andy Pettitte will be on the mound for the Yankees, and I will be at a dinner party, trying to decide exactly how rude I’m willing to be in order to check the score during the meal.