Behind by two in the eighth inning with the speedy Chone Figgins on second base, Anaheim Angels’ slugger and future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero took what may have been his final swing as a member of the franchise, slicing a cut fastball from New York Yankees famed closer Mariano Rivera into right field.
Figgins sped around third and scored. It was the first run Rivera had allowed at home in the postseason since 2000, a span of 36 innings, and the last the resilient Angels would score in their ever-so-successful season.
To give Rivera a cushion, as if, despite his hiccup, the best closer in history needed it, New York’s dangerous offense benefited from two errors in the bottom the eighth to score two times.
Their lead was now 5-2, and they were three outs away from making their first trip to the World Series since 2003, when then Florida Marlins ace Josh Beckett and then shortstop Edgar Renteria sent them home bitterly unhappy.
Andy Pettitte, one of the best postseason starting pitchers of his age, pitched up to his reputation, allowing the first run of the game by either team, but nothing else.
An inning after Bobby Abreu drove in Jeff Mathis, who led off the third with his sixth double of the series, the Yankees proved they were just too much for the Angels.
Anaheim’s starter Joe Saunders allowed six base runners over the first three frames, and managed to work out of trouble in each. The Yankees, a team that was baffled by the left-hander in Game Three, had been once through the lineup and hadn’t been fooled.
Now, they were ready to make up for their missed opportunities and take control of a series that was inevitably theirs.
Robinson Cano walked to begin the frame. Nick Swisher followed with just his third hit of the series, and then Melky Cabrera executed the fundamentals, moving the runners over and into scoring position.
The next four hitters reached: Derek Jeter walked, Johnny Damon hit a two-run single, Mark Teixeira singled to load the bases, and then Alex Rodriguez walked to force in a run.
The Yankees were able to do something the Angels have struggled to for a majority of the American League Championship Series—put runners on consecutively, get the big hit, and then get in position for a big inning.
Surprisingly, New York’s chances to break Game Six open ended when Jorge Posada grounded into a double play against the Angels brilliant veteran reliever Darren Oliver.
Anaheim had chances to battle back from the 3-1 deficit in the fifth, sixth, and seventh, but couldn’t come through.
Juan Rivera led off the fifth with a single and was erased on an inning-ending double play by Erick Aybar. Then in the sixth Kendry Morales stranded Torii Hunter on third and Guerrero on second after both had reached with two outs.
And then in the seventh, they couldn’t crack Yankees middle-reliever Joba Chamberlain after a one-out single by Rivera ended Pettitte’s night.
The Angels did some damage against Rivera, but could only muster the one run in the eighth. Their offense had shown life, but in the bottom of the frame, which the Angels needed to be scoreless, their defense let them down, giving the Yankees an opportunity to pad their lead and taste victory.
Cano led off the inning against Ervin Santana, who was a starting pitcher during the regular season, and coaxed four straight balls out of the 26-year-old lanky right-hander.
Scott Kazmir, another starter turned reliever, replaced him and was done in by two miscues behind him.
Swisher tapped a sacrifice to Morales near the pitcher's mound, and the first baseman fired to second baseman Howie Kendrick covering first. Kendrick reached out his glove on the routine play, heard the ball smack against its leather, but then inexplicably dropped it.
Kazmir was next to commit a costly gaffe. He fielded a bunt by Cabrera, and was indecisive about whether to throw hard or soft to first. Trying to be careful and not throw it away, he threw it away, lobbing it high over the outstretched glove of a leaping Kendrick. His soft-toss bounded down the right-field line, allowing Cano to score.
Teixeira tacked on another run, lifting a deep fly ball to center to plate Swisher.
What a horrible way to lose. The Angels had the fourth-best defensive unit in the majors this season, but in this series, they committed countless costly mental and fielding errors to make life easier for the Yankees.
These two capped off an un-Angels like series in the field, and put them in a deep hole with Rivera ready for the ninth.
Rivera, with the uncharacteristic eighth behind him (he would have allowed four hits in the frame if not for a diving stop by Teixeira and perfect positioning by Cano), started a new postseason scoreless streak at home.
The Yankee crowd cheered jubilantly as Kendrick grounded out to third, and then louder once Rivera flied out to Cabrera.
The 60,000 fans wearing Darth Vader black were on their feet, relishing in the moment, knowing the inevitable was near.
Gary Matthews Jr., who has yet to pay dividends after signing a five-year, $50 million deal in 2006, was called on to pinch-hit for catcher Mike Napoli. After falling behind 1-2, he took two adrenaline-filled cutters to work a full count.
Rivera fired a sixth cutter high, and the strikeout-prone Matthews swung right through it, sending the Yankees into celebration.
The Angels walked around the dugout in dejected fashion while the Yankees huddled in the middle of the diamond, congratulating each other on their ALCS win. The victors took the celebration into the clubhouse and uncorked countless bottles of champagne.
For the first time since 2003, the Yankees are going to the World Series. The defending champion Philadelphia Phillies await.