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Lackey returns to watch Angels rally, beat Yankees

Nick PoustCorrespondent IIOctober 23, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia looks on during an off-day workout part of the ALCS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on October 18, 2009 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)


Derek Jeter (left) and <a href=Alex Rodriguez helped the Yankees score six runs in the seventh, only to see the Angels retake the lead. Here they stand in disbelief as their Yankees batted in the ninth. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi) " width="410">

Derek Jeter (left) and Alex Rodriguez stand in disbelief as their Yankees batted in the ninth. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

The Anaheim Angels held a 4-0 lead when manager Mike Scioscia walked out to the mound in the seventh inning. Starting pitcher John Lackey had just retired New York Yankees left-fielder and second-place hitter Johnny Damon on a weak flyout after loading the bases. The ace talked to catcher Jeff Mathis on the mound, discussing their strategy against the next hitter, Mark Teixeira, when he saw Scioscia making the slow walk his way. Immediately he was taken aback, and yelled “This is mine!” at his manager, pleading for a chance to retire the Yankees’ power hitter and put up his seventh scoreless frame. Scioscia wouldn’t let him , taking the ball out of his hand then motioning towards the dugout.

Lackey made the frustrating walk towards the dugout, then down the steps amidst congratulations from his teammates. He was none too happy, and wanted to clean up his own mess. He knew he could, but Scioscia didn’t.

The veteran and usually dependable Darren Oliver took Lackey’s place. Lackey watched from the dugout in anticipation, still fuming from a decision by his manager he hoped wouldn’t backfire. Oliver threw Teixeira a first-pitch curveball, which hung. Teixeira waited on the offering, then laced it into the left-center gap. Lackey watched Teixeira make contact, then as he saw it sail into no-mans land, he stormed down the steps and into the clubhouse. He knew the outcome: three-run double , with the lead down to one.

Oliver remained in the game as Lackey remained in the clubhouse. The 39-year-old was allowed to do what Lackey wasn’t, given the opportunity to clean up his mess, but he couldn’t, relinquishing a RBI-single on a third-straight fastball to Hideki Matsui after walking the suddenly postseason-dangerous Alex Rodriguez. The game was tied, and Lackey couldn’t bear to watch. The sell-out crowd was stunned, anticipating the worst with their head in their hands.

The Yankees took the lead when Matsui slid safely, but it was short-lived. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Yankees took the lead when Matsui slid safely, but it was short-lived. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Robinson Cano stepped into the box against hard-throwing 25-year old righthander Kevin Jepsen and took a low 97 mile-per-hour fastball. A usually aggressive hitter who likes to go after the first pitch went after the second, fouling back a low and inside changeup. Jepsen mixed in another pitch, a curveball, that was placed perfectly dipping low and into Cano, but the Yankees second baseman adjusted to the movement, and hit it crisply into the right-center gap . The ripped liner traveled all the way to the wall; Rodriguez and Matsui both scored as he slid safely into third.

Jespen recovered, as Oliver could not, and retired the 10th Yankee to reach in the frame, putting an end to the nightmarish frame as Lackey remained secluded in the lonely clubhouse, pondering what could have been.

His Angels offense wasn’t down. The blown lead was tough to take, but they were still in it, with the 8-9-1 hitters due up, hoping to start a rally of their own and get Lackey out of hiding and back in the dugout. Scioscia may have made the mistake in how he managed his starter, but he wasn’t alone. Yankees manager Joe Girardi sent his starting pitcher A.J. Burnett out for the bottom of the seventh. His pitching count was rather low, as he’d quietly mowed down the Angels after a rocky first, but the long top half of the inning and his still confident opponent ganged up to force him into a Lackey-esque walk into the dugout. He allowed a single to a red-hot Mathis, the career .200 hitter’s third hit of the game, then walked Erick Aybar after jumping out to an 0-2 count.

Guerrero singled in the tying run, deflating the Yankees and sending his Angels fans into a raucous cheer. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Guerrero singled in the tying run, deflating the Yankees and sending his Angels fans into a raucous cheer. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

He was replaced by Damaso Marte, who did his job, retiring the two hitters he was summoned in to face, even though a run scored in the process. Phil Hughes, who was lights-out during the regular season as their setup-man, replaced him and threw three straight out of the zone to Torri Hunter, then after a called strike, missed, walking the center-fielder to send Vladimir Guerrero to the plate. Guerrero, a free-swinger, took a cut-fastball for ball-one, another cutter for a strike, then swung through a filthy curve to fall behind 1-2. He was fooled on that curve, and considering its deception and his miserable hack, all indications were that catcher Jorge Posada would call the same pitch. He didn’t, though, and Hughes said yes to a fastball. The heater was meant to be throw in on the hands of Guerrero, but it tailed back over the plate. Guerrero has hit pitches that have bounced, so certainly he could hit a straight fastball served on a platter right down the pipe, and he did, lining the offering up the middle , past a diving Derek Jeter to score the tying run.

Hughes fooled the next hitter, Kendry Morales, with a first-pitch curveball, but as with Guerrero, refused to go back to it, missing with three straight fastballs before the first baseman who drove in 109 runs this year plated his fourth of this series, lacing a fourth straight fastball into right, scoring Hunter for their seventh and go-ahead run .

Nine runs were scored in the inning, an inning both starters started but failed to finish. Burnett say glumly on the dugout’s bench. Lackey, donning an Angels American League Championship sweatshirt, reappeared in the midst of the rally and straddled his arms comfortably over the dugout railing.

Jered Weaver, a 16-game winner, came on in relief and sent the Yankees down in order , striking out Melky Cabrera to begin the eighth, then Jeter to end the frame. New York couldn’t bounce back from Anaheim’s resiliency. Anaheim, determined, was in the driver’s seat and looked to extend their one-run lead.

They had a good chance to, as Juan Rivera doubled and Erick Aybar singled in between a strikeout by Mathis against Joba Chamberlain, who started during the regular season, but was moved into the bullpen for the postseason. Girardi, knowing the top of his order would be due in the top of the ninth, wisely took out the ineffective Chamberlain in favor of Mariano Rivera, their dreaded closer.

Rivera did what he does best, thwarting the Angels rally by retiring both Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu on flyouts. Anaheim closer Brian Fuentes took the hill in the ninth, looking to have a Rivera-esque outing to send this series back to New York.

He retired Damon on a lineout to Morales at first, then Jeter on a flyout to Abreu. In a one-run game with two out, Rodriguez strode to the plate, determined to be the hero he has been all postseason long. Scioscia wouldn’t let him, holding up four fingers from the dugout to signal for an intentional pass . This was a risky move for two reasons. First, it brought the go-ahead run to the plate in Matsui, who hit 28 homers this season. Second, it put more pressure on Fuentes.

He had the "deer in the headlights" look as he faced Matsui, and was clearly flustered. He walked him, brining up Cano and sending his manager and teammates into anxious panic, and driving his fans to cover their faces with their hands, thundersticks, or rally monkeys. He gave the stadium a minor heart attack as he struck Cano with a wayward curveball, loading the bases.

Now Fuentes looked miserable, like he was going to be sick. Because of his walk to Rodriguez and his implosion thereafter, Nick Swisher could not only tie the game with a single, but give his Yankees their second lead. Swisher, a usually patient hitter, went up their swinging, fouling off the first offering, a fastball. He fouled off the next pitch too, a changeup. The Angels were one strike away, and nervous claps scattered throughout the stands. Swisher took an outside changeup for ball-one, then ball two after fouling off another change. Fuentes had already loaded the bases with two out, so to create the most suspense possible, he threw ball-three for a full-count.

Another ball could tie the game, but a strike could end it. The 45,113 that packed Angels stadium were hyperventilating as one as Fuentes began his windup, then buzzed in anticipation as his fastball reached the plate. Swisher swung hard at the offering grooved down the middle, but got under the pitch, popping it up into shallow right-center field. Aybar, who let a costly pop-up drop in the second game, corralled this one . Sighs of relief and cheers of jubilation filled the red-clad stadium. With that, Anaheim stayed alive by surviving in nerve-racking fashion to send the series that can be won to New York.

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