ANAHEIM, Calif. - When Derek Jeter led off Game 3 with a homer into the bullpen, this AL championship series seemed uncomplicated. Power hitting and steady pitching appeared to be driving New York to the World Series.
About 261 minutes, 14 pitchers, six homers and several big blunders later, a winning hit by a backup catcher left only one thing certain in this cuckoo series: The Los Angeles Angels won’t be trampled by the mighty Yankees.
Jeff Mathis drove home Howie Kendrick with a two-out double in the 11th inning, and the Angels survived a second straight ALCS thriller, beating New York 5-4 Monday to trim the Yankees’ series lead to 2-1.
“There was a lot of great baseball on that field this afternoon,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “There were a lot of twists and turns, and both teams played a terrific game. We just got it done at the end.”
Kendrick, himself a part-time infielder, homered and tripled before singling with two outs in the 11th off rookie Alfredo Aceves. Mathis followed with his drive up against the left-field wall, and Kendrick slid home well ahead of a desperate throw, setting off an on-field celebration of the backups’ bonanza.
Mathis, a .211 hitter in the regular season, came up with his third late-inning, extra-base hit of this outlandish series, just two days after the clubs’ 310-minute, 13-inning icy epic in Game 2.
“Obviously, it’s the biggest hit of my life,” Mathis said. “For Howie to have the at-bat he did right there, and to get on base and put one in the gap to win the game, it’s a pretty good feeling.”
If the Angels had any lingering doubts about their ability to match up with the big-money Yankees after two discouraging losses in the chilly Bronx, those worries melted during their comeback in the balmy Orange County sun.
“Man, that was one of the craziest games,” said Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who lamented his 1-for-5 effort. “It was an emotional roller coaster, man. We were up, we were down. I’ve got a headache right now, but it was a lot of fun. Both teams were battling and we came through in the end. As long as you have innings and outs left, you’ve got a chance to make something happen.”
Game 4 is Tuesday night, with CC Sabathia pitching on three days’ rest against Angels newcomer Scott Kazmir. Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Thursday.
Vladimir Guerrero hit a tying two-run homer as the Angels overcame a 3-0 deficit and four solo homers by the Yankees’ stars, including Jorge Posada’s tying shot in the eighth. Bobby Abreu made a big baserunning mistake, Joba Chamberlain flopped, and Mariano Rivera made a gutsy stand with the bases loaded in the 10th before Kendrick and Mathis made it all academic with two quick hits against Aceves, the Yankees’ eighth pitcher.
Mathis entered Game 3 in the eighth, and had a leadoff double in the 10th.
“You wouldn’t think Jeff Mathis would be the guy that beats us, but top to bottom, they’re a good lineup,” said Yankees reliever Phil Hughes, who got five outs and finished the ninth.
For the second straight game, the Angels and Yankees played into tense extra innings, stretching nerves and bullpens still frayed from Saturday’s marathon New York victory at Yankee Stadium.
“This is the type of series we expected it to be,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We didn’t really stretch out any of our pitchers too far today out of the bullpen, so I believe our guys will be fine tomorrow.”
Los Angeles wasted a golden opportunity in the 10th after putting runners at the corners with nobody out against Rivera, but the ace closer came through yet again, getting Hunter and Guerrero with the bases loaded. Fans gathered across the country at Yankee Stadium erupted in cheers when Rivera retired the side — but the Angels came through in the 11th after winner Ervin Santana retired the Yankees.
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