Halos face big task in Bronx this weekend
Yankees look to close out ALCS, punch Fall Classic ticket
NEW YORK -- They earned themselves a trip back to New York, thanks to a pair of exhilarating victories that could hold a special place in Angels lore, depending on how the rest of this American League Championship Series turns out.
However, the biggest challenge is still to come, and that entails beating the Yankees twice at Yankee Stadium.
Only then can the Angels get back to the World Series for the first time since 2002.
"There's momentum you can carry, there's confidence you can carry as you win some good games against good teams, and we're going to definitely have to carry that into Game 6," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia. "You still have a challenge in front of you. It's not just momentum that's going to carry you through. We have to continue to play well and do a lot of the things in Game 6 as we did in Game 5."
The biggest thing the Angels did in Game 5 was hit in the clutch, something they have struggled mightily at for much of the series. That 3-1 deficit they once faced in this ALCS is now down to a more manageable 3-2.
Since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, 28 teams have trailed 3-2. Nine of those teams -- nearly one-third -- have come back to win the series.
Four of those nine conquered the challenge the Angels now face -- winning the final two on the road. The others who pulled off that impressive feat? The 1985 Royals at Toronto, the '91 Braves at Pittsburgh, the 2003 Marlins at Wrigley Field and, yes, those '04 Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
Now here come the Angles, who will do all they can to make Yankees fans feel like it's 2004 again.
There's one thing the Yankees can take to heart, however. Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia weren't on that 2004 team that couldn't hold down the Red Sox. Pettitte will try to tame the Angels in Game 6. But if he can't do so, the Bombers still have the ultimate $161 million weapon at their disposal for Game 7 in Sabathia, who has pitched like a man on a mission in this postseason.
HOME NOT ALWAYS SWEET
|Year||Led||Trailed||Games 6 and 7|
|2008||TB||BOS||TB lost 6, won 7|
|2004||NYY||BOS||NYY lost both|
|2003||NYY||BOS||NYY lost 6, won 7|
|2000||NYY||SEA||NYY won 6|
|1998||NYY||CLE||NYY won 6|
|1992||TOR||OAK||TOR won 6|
|1985||TOR||KC.||TOR lost both|
The Halos might feel like momentum is back on their side. But that isn't how the Bombers feel -- not even a little bit.
"Well, I feel good about our team," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "We're up three games to two. We're in our home ballpark, where we've played very well. I'm sure the Angels feel very good about their chances, you know, after the last game, but you win 103 games during the regular season and have a great home-field record, you're going to feel great when you come home."
And make no mistake about it, there will be quintessential autumn New York weather on hand for Game 6, with rain, wind and cold all in the forecast.
"We've got to go out there and do pretty much the same thing we tried to do [in Game 5], and that's win a game," said Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen for us, but we have a lot of confidence in [Andy Pettitte] and in our team, just like I'm sure they do on the other side. We'll go out and play, and hopefully we can win."
The Angels needed an 11-inning triumph in Game 3 and a cliff-hanging 7-6 conquest in Game 5 just to get the series back to the Bronx. If you remember, the Halos looked out of rhythm and out of their element in the first two games of the series.
Now, however, they will gladly break out their ski caps and ear flaps again. It sure beats being on vacation.
"It's tough being down 3-1, but you don't lose confidence," said Angels center fielder Torii Hunter. "If you lose confidence, you need to go home. You're in the wrong sport. You just can't lose confidence. Keep playing and play one game at a time. We're down, our backs are against the wall, but the pressure's not on us. It's not on us. I don't feel the pressure. We were down 3-1. Now we're down 3-2. We're just hungry. We smell it right now."
Having been on the Boston team that turned the tables on the Yankees in 2004, New York left fielder Johnny Damon knows what kind of killer instinct his team will need in its current situation.
"We're definitely disappointed we didn't close it out [in Game 5]," said Damon. "We know we play well at home. Hopefully Pettitte can go out there on Saturday and shut them down."
The Angels don't sound like a team in the mood to be shut down. After overcoming a jarring six-run outburst with two outs in the top of the seventh inning by the Yankees with their own three-run rally in the bottom of the inning in Game 5, their confidence is high for perhaps the first time in this series.
"I've never been excited like I am now," Hunter said. "I'm so excited for Game 6 to get going. It's going to fun, man."
The Yankees, behind Pettitte, will try to take all the fun out of it.
"I think everyone would [rather] play at home than on the road," said Girardi. "That's just kind of the way it is. You're in your own bed. You're in familiar surroundings. You have the conveniences of your clubhouse and all the things that you are able to do. So our guys feel very good when we walk in this ballpark."
To counter that confidence the Yankees might have, the Angels will take the field on Saturday night with a feeling of rejuvenation. After all, the Bombers came harrowingly close to ending their season in Anaheim.
"I think all the time you have to feel like you're playing with house money, because if you're afraid to fail or you're afraid to lose, you will never achieve," Scioscia said. "So I think you go out there and you have to play free. You have to play with nothing in your mind except making plays and winning a game and not be afraid to go out there and play the game of baseball. I think we're at our best when we're in that mode."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.