Friday, September 25, 2009

Yanks prove they can beat Angels in Anaheim

Every Yankee fan knows their team struggles against the Angels. Until this past week, New York hadn't won a series in Anaheim since May 2004 and winning this three-game set continues to give the Yankees hope that this season really is different than the last several years.

With seven games remaining and needing just three wins to reach 100 for the first time since 2004, the Yankees have done a lot this season to make fans think this could finally be the year they bring a World Series trophy back to the Bronx.

Their lineup is just as potent as it has been in recent years, but it's the timely hitting in clutch late-inning situations that has been particularly impressive, as the Yankees have 14 walk-off wins to their credit this season. It seems like a different player providing the heroics this time around, with the latest coming off the bat of backup catcher Francisco Cervelli.

All these wins in their last at-bat has created a different feel around the Yankees this season, with heroes getting pies in the face from A.J. Burnett. This lineup seems to rally around each other when it comes to crunch time and every man in the order seems to trust the next enough to lay off tempting pitches and give the hitters behind them a chance to come through.

Their bullpen has been generally reliable, especially after the seventh inning with Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera pitching the eighth and ninth innings. Led by C.C. Sabathia, their starting rotation has given them length outside of Joba Chamberlain, who virtually negates all the long outings from the other Yankee starters when he lasts just three innings, which will hopefully change tonight against Boston.

The Yankees went into Anaheim having lost five of their previous nine games and after a 5-2 loss in the series opener, it looked like just another wasted trip out West for New York. But they jumped out to a 5-0 lead after four-and-a-half innings in game two, looking like a team determined to win a series.

But they let the Angels slowly creep back, allowing two runs in the fifth and sixth and one in the eighth. But Brett Gardner led off the top of the ninth with a single, stole second on a pitchout and moved to third on a Johnny Damon sacrifice bunt, where Alex Rodriguez drove him in with a sacrifice fly to put the Yankees up 6-5. This win clinched a playoff spot for the Yankees, after they missed the postseason last year.

Gardner's speed really changes games for the Yankees when he reaches base. The Angels checked on him at least five times at first before the pitchout, and he easily beat the throw to second. Gardner gives New York opportunities to play small ball, which they don't have often with the power present in their lineup.

The Yankees followed that win with a 3-2 victory to take the series, as A.J. Burnett was his usual dominant-then-erratic self, striking out 11 Angels in 5.2 innings but allowing seven hits and three walks as well. The bullpen was able to hold the lead and give Burnett his 12th win.

There are many reasons to believe in the Yankees this season and this series, which will help them get the monkey off their back against the Angels (no pun intended), just adds to the list. The third and fourth spots in their playoff rotation behind Sabathia and Andy Pettitte still worry me, but a solid five-to-six-inning start from Chamberlain tonight would make me feel a lot better about the situation.

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