NEW YORK -- These were the New York Yankees, as advertised. Their performance wasn't too little, and it might not be too late.Standing on the brink of postseason elimination, the Yankees on Wednesday produced precisely the kind of game they were supposed to play. In the process, they defeated Texas, 7-2, and cut the Rangers' lead in the 2010 American League Championship Series to 3-2. The road ahead will, of course, be full of obstacles. And it will be the road, in Texas. In Game 6, young Phil Hughes will be asked to pitch the way he pitched in the postseason against Minnesota, not the way he pitched against Texas in Game 2 of this series. And if they manage to win Game 6, the Yankees will then have to face what has become the ultimate postseason challenge over the last two autumns. They will have to beat Cliff Lee, who so far has not been beatable. Lee is 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA over eight playoff starts. Against the Yankees in the last two postseasons, Lee is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA. But at least the Yankees have given themselves a chance to remain in the hunt. "Just win a game," was manager Joe Girardi's common-sense theme for the day. The Yankees took this directive to heart.
The first requirement was a sturdy pitching performance, and the Yankees had the ideal candidate for that task -- CC Sabathia. He had not been sharp in two previous postseason starts, but here, for the first time this October, he was pitching on regular rest.Sabathia looked more like himself -- a dependable strike-thrower, not completely unhittable, but ultimately reliable. While he gave up 11 hits, he only allowed two runs over six innings. He didn't give the Rangers anything, walking none while striking out seven. He induced two double-play grounders. He was, in all, far from dominant, but he was still just what the Yankees needed. "We had CC bending, but he did not break," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "He made key pitches when he had to. That's what he's done all year." Sabathia, befitting his status as an ace, warmed to the challenge.
"Our backs were up against the wall today and I just wanted to fight," he said, "no matter what the situation was, no matter how many runners were on base in any given inning. I was just going to try to make some pitches to make sure I got some outs."The New York offense, largely dormant since the eighth inning of Game 1, awakened in a large way. The Yankees were aided in this cause by Texas starter C.J. Wilson, who persistently presented them with hitters' counts. But the Yankees' typical patience at the plate had something to do with this, and here their typical selectively replaced anxiousness at the plate. The backs-to-the-wall situation brought out the best in the Yankees, just as they would have expected.
"There was a determination," Girardi said in characterizing his team's approach. "We have not played extremely well in this series. There was determination that we were going to go out and play our game today. I saw it during BP, the mood during BP was very businesslike, and we knew what we had to do."The guys went out and did it." Apart from the five-run eighth inning in Game 1, the Yankees had scored six runs over four games against the Rangers and had hit .198 overall this postseason. Baseball's best offense required a quick, confidence-restoring renewal, and it got that in the second inning, two walks setting the table, two timely singles by Jorge Posada and Curtis Granderson, along with a throwing error by Texas right fielder Jeff Francoeur, adding up to three runs. Then, the power returned, back-to-back home runs leading off the third by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. Cano is having a Championship Series for the ages with four homers in five games. The Yankees believe that they are supposed to win at this level. History supports their argument. This is their 14th ALCS, and they carry an 11-2 record in these series. Since the advent of the best-of-seven Championship Series, they have lost just once, in 2004 to the Red Sox, a franchise low point on every conceivable level. But overall they are 7-1 in this format. The Game 5 performance was what the Yankees fully expected from themselves. They led the Majors in comeback victories this year with 48. And three of their five victories in this postseason have required them to come from behind. "You know, I talked about how resilient this club is and how this club has been through this before," Girardi said. "This club has been through a lot of difficult games, difficult losses, frustrating at times, and then bounced back. There's so much character in that room that, you know, I get to see every day. As a manager, you really appreciate what you have in there." The issue now for the Yankees would be producing two more games, one at a time, that combine both the clutch pitching performance and the demonstration of character.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.