Sunday afternoon’s nail biter at Angel Stadium was the ultimate swing game for the Yankees. Not only would it determine the winner of the three-game weekend set with the pesky Halos, but it would end the Yankees’ long west coast adventure at either a mediocre 5-4 or an excellent 6-3.
Showing some killer instinct, the Yankees opted for the latter mark, as they finished off the Pacific swing in style. A pair of ex-Angels played a role, most notably Mark Teixeira. It’s easy to forget that Teixeira played for the Angels toward the tailend of the 2008 season, but Angels pitching had little trouble remembering that today. They watched the Yankee first baseman pound out a pair of monstrous home runs in support of Bartolo “Chubbsy Ubbsy” Colon and the Yankee bullpen. A 5-3 victory had its share of shaky moments (when do games against the Angels not have such moments?) but the combination of power and clutch bullpen pitching proved good enough in the finale of the eventful road trip.
The Yankees set themselves up for a big inning in the second when Robinson Cano led off with a double and Nick Swisher followed with a walk. That brought up Jorge Posada, whose lack of hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, is fast becoming an albatross at the bottom of the order. Posada grounded into a weak 3-6-1 double play, essentially taking the Yankees out of a multiple-run inning possibility. (Later, Posada committed an atrocious baserunning error as he legged out a double and then foolishly tried to advance to third on what he perceived as an overthrow to second base. Posada was hung up between the bases and easily tagged out.) Thankfully, Brett Gardner salvaged the inning by grounding a two-out double down the right field line, scoring Cano with the game’s first run.
Teixeira added to the Yankees’ lead in the top of the third. After Curtis Granderson bounced into a double play, Teixeira scooped up a low sinker and slammed it into the right field bleachers. The lengthy solo home run gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead.
The two-run advantage seemed as if it would hold up, given Colon’s effectiveness over the first two innings. The other ex-Angel on the Yankee roster, Colon retired the first six batters he faced, but then ran into sudden and immediate trouble in the third inning. Rookie of the Year Candidate Mark Trumbo picked on a first-pitch fastball and pile-drived it over the center field wall for his 11th home run of the season. Hank Conger followed with a long double to the gap, moved up on Maecer Izturis’ tapped infield bleeder down the first base line, and then scored on Erick Aybar’s line drive sacrifice fly to right field. Colon managed to escape the inning with a tie score thanks to Robinson Cano’s terrific barehand play of Torii Hunter’s slow chopper that wafted between the pitcher’s mound and the second base bag.
The score remained tied until the top of the fifth inning, when Teixeira lofted a towering home run to right field, his 18th blast of the season, scoring Curtis Granderson ahead of him. Now ahead 4-2, Bartolo Colon could not stand prosperity. The Angels bounced right back in the bottom half of the inning, scoring a run courtesy of a two-out rally and narrowing the score to 4-3.
With Colon lacking some command and nowhere near as sharp as he was in his previous west coast start against the A’s, Joe Girardi turned to his bullpen with one out in the sixth inning. David Robertson worked out of an eventual bases-loaded jam, stranding all of the Angels’ runners by striking out the thorny Izturis. He then retired the leadoff man in the seventh before giving way to Joba Chamberlain, who struggled through a stretch of an inning and two-thirds, but managed to keep the Angels off the board.
In the top of the eighth inning, the Yankees added to their lead thanks to one of Nick Swisher’s best at-bats of the season. Battling back from an 0-and-2 count, Swisher took hold of a 3-and-2 fastball and lofted a home run just inside of the right field foul pole.
Handed a two-run lead in the ninth, Mariano Rivera made it a late-game thriller by allowing a bloop single to Izturis and a line drive safety to Bobby Abreu, but ended the dramatics by inducing Hunter to bounce into a 5-4-3 double play. The win maintains the Yankees’ sole possession of first place, just in time to welcome the second-place Red Sox to town on Tuesday night.
Final Score: Yanks 5, Angels 3.
Yankee Doodles: Derek Jeter banged out a single against Angels starter Joel Pineiro, good for career hit No. 2,986. That brings Jeter within 14 hits of Roberto Clemente and the 3,000-hit mark. Barring an injury, Jeter will almost certainly reach the milestone later this month… Francisco Cervelli’s presence on the major league roster continues to mystify. Cervelli went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and is now batting .167 as the backup to Russell Martin… Former Yankee Jim Abbott threw out the game’s ceremonial pitch, as the Angels continue to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their franchise existence. Abbott was the Angels’ ace in the early 1990s before coming to the Yankees in the trade that sent first baseman J.T. Snow and pitchers Russ Springer and Jerry Nielsen. Abbott pitched a no-hitter for the Yankees in September of 1993.