Stars 'n' Pinstripes: Yanks earn AL flag
Rivera works two innings to seal date with Phillies in Series
NEW YORK -- This was the vision embedded into every ounce of concrete poured for the new Yankee Stadium -- the idea that, in the very near future, the lights would be coming on in late October for a World Series game.
It didn't take long at all for the triple-decked Cathedral to score its first taste of baseball's ultimate showcase. With Andy Pettitte following the time-tested formula of handing the ball off to a Yankees bullpen anchored by Mariano Rivera, it was confirmed that the 2009 World Series would indeed be played in the Bronx.
The Yankees secured their 40th American League pennant with a 5-2 victory over the Angels on Sunday, taking Game 6 of the AL Championship Series and earning the right to advance and face the Phillies in the World Series beginning on Wednesday.
"This is what we play for -- this is what we set out for in Spring Training," Pettitte said in a raucous clubhouse celebration, his eyes blinded by champagne. "Obviously, to be able to get there and to accomplish that, it's awesome. I just feel very fortunate and very blessed to be on this team."
With Game 6 delayed for one day by inclement weather, the Yankees did not mind having to wait to celebrate on their home field, as Rivera struck out Gary Matthews Jr. to end a memorable ALCS.
It was another marquee moment in the inaugural season of the new house, where New York logged the Majors' best home record and remained undefeated in postseason play, authoring a new winning tradition.
"I think it's very important," Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner said. "It's something that we expect to do every year, but to do it in the first year of this stadium ... we're going to do everything we can to do it in the first year here and go all the way."
Simply the best
Battling a tough Angels squad, the veteran stalwart Pettitte helped carry the Yankees to the center of that emerald green grass, bouncing in a pile between second and third bases as they shed their uniform caps and donned new apparel emblazoned with the World Series logo.
The 37-year-old lefty became baseball's all-time leader with his 16th postseason victory, breaking a tie with John Smoltz and setting a new record with his fifth career victory to clinch a postseason series.
"They've got a tough team over there, and they played a great series," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "I'm real proud. This is one of our goals when we get into the season, to get to the World Series. We've still got to win four games, but it's awfully hard to get here."
With an invigorated crowd of 50,173 -- the largest thus far at the new Yankee Stadium -- on its feet early, Pettitte limited the Angels to only Bobby Abreu's third-inning RBI single in 6 1/3 impressive frames, proving that there is still plenty left in his tank as the Bombers move forward.
Masters of October
|1.||Andy Pettitte||16||237 1/3|
|3.||Tom Glavine||14||218 1/3|
|Curt Schilling||11||133 1/3|
|10.||Catfish Hunter||9||132 1/3|
"There's a lot of seasoned guys, smart players over there," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "They know how to execute and play the game. That's probably what beat us -- they had a little more experience."
Pettitte doffed his cap to the decks, pinning his hopes on the bullpen for the first Yankees World Series appearance since Aaron Boone crushed a Tim Wakefield knuckler into the night sky across the street to end Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox.
Joba Chamberlain induced two ground-ball outs to escape the seventh inning, finalizing Pettitte's line at one run, seven hits, one walk and six strikeouts. Manager Joe Girardi then called on Rivera for a six-out save opportunity, pressing his most trustworthy button at the most pivotal moment of the season.
"You know that he's unbelievable when he goes out there," Girardi said. "Let me tell you, it's nice having him down there."
Rivera allowed a run-scoring single to Vladimir Guerrero in the eighth -- the first earned run allowed by the future Hall of Fame closer in a postseason home game since Game 2 of the 2000 World Series against the Mets -- but he held the Angels there to end their season and move the Yankees back to the final stage, embracing catcher Jorge Posada in a long hug.
"Six years," Rivera said. "It took six years to get there. But I'm glad to be here. Thank God."
The Yankees scored three runs in the fourth inning against Angels southpaw Joe Saunders, all of the support they would need. Johnny Damon logged a two-run single, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia stayed with Saunders. The move resulted in another run, as Saunders walked Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded to force in Jeter with the Yankees' third run.
New York added two important insurance runs in the eighth, as Ervin Santana walked Robinson Cano and, facing Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher laid down a bunt that Howard Kendrick dropped at first base for an error. Melky Cabrera then tried to sacrifice, but Kazmir threw the ball away, allowing Cano to race home.
"They played an incredible series," Scioscia said. "They outplayed us, and they deserved to win. Naturally, they'll represent our league in the World Series, and we wish them well."
With the bases loaded, Teixeira hit a sacrifice fly to deep center field, bringing home the last run of the game. Whether it was Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" or Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind," the Stadium soundtrack was cued for celebration.
"We're going to the World Series!" Swisher said. "It is party time right now!"
On Wednesday, the Yankees will open their first World Series since they lost to the Marlins in 2003. Sunday's victory was indicative of a reversal of fortune -- New York had lost a Game 6 the past four times it had played in one, with the club's last win coming in the 2000 ALCS over the Seattle Mariners.
That season marked the Yankees' last World Series title as well, with the Bombers defeating the Mets in a five-game "Subway Series." Only four players -- Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Pettitte -- remain from that squad, and it is a pursuit that has not resulted in the ultimate goal since, for various reasons.
"After tough times and what we went through last year, this is very, very sweet," Posada said, taking a swig from a green bottle.
But with Girardi continuing to wear No. 27 as a reminder of the mission at hand, his club opened Spring Training thinking about segmenting its season into stages, keeping its eyes on the prize at the end of the line.
"It's a great feeling, with what these guys did and how hard they worked," Girardi said. "They never gave up. Even when we went through some tough times, they were there. They kept fighting back. Our team has shown a lot of character."
Now, the Yankees will enter that home stretch when the electric bill jumps at their house this week.
"In order to win a World Series, you have to get there," Rodriguez said. "We've done that, and hopefully, the good Lord blesses us for four more."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.