10/19/09 10:55 PM ET
Thrilling 10th highlights ALCS Game 3
Angels load bases, but Yankees escape jam unscathed
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
Fans of both teams must have had their stomachs turn, their nails bitten and the hair on their arms stand up more times than they could count.
And in the end, nothing changed in the run column on the Angel Stadium scoreboard.
That was good for the Yanks, who preserved a tie, and a nightmare (albeit a short-lived one) for the Angels, who would capture a 5-4 victory on catcher Jeff Mathis' walk-off double the next inning.
"It was an emotional roller coaster," said Angels center fielder Torii Hunter.
Here's how the ride went:
With Phil Hughes pitching, Mathis led off with a line-drive double to left. All the Halos had to do was get him to third, then lift a fly ball deep to the outfield, and they would have officially regained life in a best-of-seven set that they trailed, 2-0.
Enter "The Sandman," as the Yankees brought in closer Mariano Rivera to face Erick Aybar, who was primed to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Aybar did so, and Rivera fielded the bunt and fired to third in an effort to nab Mathis. Rivera might have done so, had his throw not bounced in front of third baseman Alex Rodriguez and skipped over by the camera pit, where left fielder Johnny Damon backed up the play.
"I had it right on my palm," Rivera said. "It was tough to make a good throw."
Third-base coach Dino Ebel correctly instructed Mathis, who had made a headfirst slide into third, to stay put, and the Angels had runners on the corners.
"It was kind of bang-bang at third, and I dove in headfirst," Mathis said. "I didn't know that Alex missed the ball. I thought he had the ball, so I was just making sure I was on [base] and trying to look to see what had happened."
Chone Figgins came up with none out, needing a sacrifice fly. Instead, he sent a hard grounder to first, and Mark Teixeira cleanly fielded it and tagged the bag for the first out,after first making sure that Mathis wasn't breaking for home from third.
With runners now at second and third, Rivera intentionally walked Bobby Abreu to load the bases and set up a potential double play. The heart of the Angels' order was due up, beginning with Hunter.
Leery of a sac fly to left off the bat of the right-handed-hitting Hunter, Yankees manager Joe Girardi sent in Jerry Hairston Jr., who had taken over Hideki Matsui's designated-hitter duties earlier in the game, to replace Damon in left. Girardi wanted a stronger arm in the outfield, but in doing so, he lost the DH and ensured that Rivera would have to be taken out and replaced by a pinch-hitter in the top of the 11th, when he was due up.
"You have to put yourself in a situation where if the ball is hit directly at the left fielder, you maybe give yourself a better chance," Damon said. "So Jerry does have a better arm than I do. I can't disagree with that."
But Hairston never came into play, because instead of getting that precious fly ball or clutch hit, Hunter sent a weak grounder to Teixeira, who fired home for the force out.
"[Rivera] did what he always does," Hunter said. "That's why he's one of the best."
Up next was Vladimir Guerrero, whose two-run long ball in the sixth tied the game at 3. This time, Guerrero offered no such heroics. He, too, grounded to first, and Rivera had somehow escaped a jam that seemed inescapable.
"He did an unbelievable job," Hughes said of Rivera. "It was basically like he told himself he wasn't going to let a ball out of the infield, and he did it. To be able to do that was great."
Yankees fans rejoiced, Angels fans squirmed and the game continued.
"It was crushing," Hunter said.
But not for long, because roots were planted in the 10th that would sprout in the Angels' favor in the 11th. With Damon's bat out of the lineup, pinch-hitter Francisco Cervelli struck out to conclude a 1-2-3 top of the 11th. And in the bottom of the 11th, Mathis, building off the confidence of that double he ripped in his first at-bat, came through again with the game-winning double in his second.
So while the Yankees won the battle in a memorable 10th, they lost the war that was Game 3.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.