By: Zachary Finkelstein
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – With their collective backs against the wall Wednesday night, the New York Yankees thumped three homers to send the 2010 American League Championship Series back to the Lone Star State.
Starting for the Bombers was CC Sabathia, New York’s six-foot-seven, 300 pound mountain of a man. Although he didn’t dominate, having allowed 11 hits over six innings, Sabathia refused to walk a batter while striking out seven Texas Rangers.
Despite lacking his usual superb stuff, the southpaw still overpowered Texas with a mix of guts, guile and experience.
“Our back was up against the wall today, and I just wanted to fight,” Sabathia said, “no matter what the situation was, no matter how many runners were on base in any given inning.”
When the dust settled, Sabathia was able to walk off the mound having allowed only two runs. It was a performance that seemingly energized the Yankees offense.
After managing only five runs over their first three ALCS affairs, the Bombers scored seven times on Wednesday. In fact, every starting position player, with the exception of Brett Gardner, reached base via walk or hit.
The first punch was thrown in the second inning, when Jorge Posada recorded an RBI single. Moments later, the Yanks tacked on two more via a Curtis Granderson hit and a throwing error by Rangers right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
In the very next frame, the Yankees went from warm to hot as Nick Swisher belted his second long ball of the postseason. And before the Yankee Stadium crowd could settle, Robinson Cano launched one out as well two pitches later. It was the first time the Yankees recorded back-to-back postseason home runs since Game 3 of the 2000 ALCS, when Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez went deep against Aaron Sele of the Seattle Mariners.
In staking his team to a five-run lead, Cano accomplished a second significant feat with his fourth long ball of the ALCS. In recording the round-tripper, he became the fifth Yankee to hit at least four home runs in a single postseason series, joining a list comprised of Reggie Jackson, Hank Bauer, Lou Gehrig and some guy named Babe Ruth.
After the game Cano, who is batting .421 with four homers and five RBI in the ALCS, acknowledged his accomplishments but was all about the team.
“I feel good at the plate, but the bottom line is we just won the game,” Cano said. “If you didn’t win, it doesn’t mean anything. So just go out there and win the game, you stay alive and just do anything to stay in the race.”
In commenting on his star second baseman, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi was more profuse with his praise.
“It’s as good as it gets,” Girardi said. “Robby has been big in our lineup all year and he has been big in the postseason. He’s swung the bat extremely well, and it just seems like he’s getting the barrel of the bat to the ball all the time.”
With a solid lead entering the final three frames, Girardi summoned star set-up man Kerry Wood from the bullpen. Wood’s tremendous two-inning outing strongly represented the right-hander’s 2010 performance in pinstripes. Acquired from the Cleveland Indians just prior to Baseball’s trade deadline, Wood posted a 0.69 ERA in 24 appearances with New York.
When the ninth inning rolled around, one could almost feel Yankee Stadium shaking as the PA system blared “Enter Sandman.” It was time for Mariano Rivera, New York’s indomitable closer, to enter the game. As expected, one of Baseball’s all-time best postseason performers preserved the Yankees’ lead.
Game Six on Friday night will feature a rematch of the Game Two starters. Toeing the rubber for Texas will be Colby Lewis, who in his first ALCS start, limited the Yankees to two runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings. In the regular-season, Lewis went 12-13 with a respectable 3.72 ERA. Countering for the Yankees will be Phil Hughes, who will try to bounce back from his forgettable Game Two performance.
Despite the pressure of starting his first ever “win-or-go-home” contest, Hughes does not appear to fear his Friday assignment.
“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Hughes said following the Yankees’ Game Five victory.
“My last one out was horrible, and I was just thankful that wasn’t my last opportunity of the season. I’m looking to turn in a better one.”
Should the Yankees win Game Six, the Rangers will be ready to throw Cliff Lee in a decisive seventh game.
Over the past two postseasons, Lee has posted a 7-0 record with a 1.26 ERA. In pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2009, plus his one ALCS start against the Yankees in 2010, Lee has gone 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA.
Owners of 40 American League pennants, the Yankees still have a tough road to trek in order to reach the 2010 World Series. There have been 13 American League Championship Series that have made it to a Game Six — and the team with a 3-2 advantage has won nine of those. However, after their Game 5 win, that bumpy road appears much shorter.