Heavy showers in Saturday’s New York forecast are threatening to wash out Game 6 of the AL championship series, yet that’s a minor drizzle compared to the high-pressure system the Angels created for both themselves and the Yankees by extending the ALCS to the weekend.
Rejuvenated by a ramshackle win in Game 5 that cut the Yankees’ series lead to 3-2, the Angels still face long odds to make the seldom-seen comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against their star-studded opponents. Yet Figgins still senses a team-wide confidence that the Angels can rain on the Yankees’ 27th championship parade.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, especially going into that ballpark,” said Figgins, the Angels’ leadoff hitter. “It’s going to be another crazy game, I can tell you that. You go back and just enjoy it. The pressure is on both teams.”
The Yankees arrived back in New York early Friday morning and held an “optional” workout—“In the playoffs, it’s not optional,” catcher Jorge Posada(notes) said with a grin—under an overcast sky in the Bronx that afternoon. A chilly wind rippled the flags that line the top of the stadium and jostled the ceremonial red-white-and-blue bunting along each deck.
It was a much different scene than the picturesque weather they had in Southern California, and they still were thrilled to be back.
“Our guys feel very good when we walk in this ballpark,” manager Joe Girardi said.
The Angels were grateful to show up to work Friday in suits instead of sweats, holding a brief workout before flying to New York.
Figgins and his teammates all packed the cold-weather gear that did little good in their last trip to Yankee Stadium, when they lost the series’ first two games with poor hitting and sloppy defense. The Angels’ defense and pitching mostly got back to normal in Anaheim, but their hitting didn’t improve until Game 5, when they scored seven runs after mustering just 10 in the entire series beforehand.
“They are the favorites, but after this one, we’ve got obviously a lot of confidence, a lot of momentum,” said Joe Saunders(notes), the Angels’ Game 6 starter. “It’s going to be the usual Yankee hostile environment. It’s going to be a lot of fun. They’re going to be all over us.”
The Yankees had a major league-best 57-24 record at their new home this season, including a 36-10 mark since June 30. They lost consecutive home games only once in that stretch.
New York has won each of its four playoff games in the Bronx, outscoring the Twins and Angels 19-9 in its $1.5 billion ballpark.
It will be hard for anyone to be comfortable if the forecast is accurate. If Saunders has to wait a day to pitch, it could create another possibility in the series—one that might make the Yankees push even harder for a closeout victory.
If Game 6 is postponed, manager Mike Scioscia says the Angels would consider bringing back ace John Lackey(notes) on three days’ rest to pitch a potential Game 7 as a counter to Yankees stalwart CC Sabathia(notes), who already has shut down the Angels twice in the series.
“Yes, we’ve talked about a lot of different scenarios,” Scioscia said before the Angels’ flight. “We’re going to let this thing unfold a little bit and see how the weekend goes. If there is an opportunity to look at bringing a guy like John back, it’s something we certainly would consider. We’ve talked about a bunch of things.”
Jered Weaver(notes), who pitched an outstanding eighth inning of relief in Game 5, is the scheduled starter for Game 7—but Lackey is the Angels’ best, most experienced pitcher. Lackey, a soon-to-be free agent with every motivation to star in the playoffs, confounded the Yankees for six innings of Game 5 before Scioscia removed him with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh, precipitating New York’s six-run comeback.
But the Angels made a three-run comeback of their own in that sublime seventh. Closer Brian Fuentes(notes) slept soundly after finding trouble and escaping it in the ninth inning of Los Angeles’ 7-6 comeback victory, retiring Swisher on a bases-loaded popup with a full count and two outs.
Fuentes is no stranger to high stakes, and the major leagues’ saves leader knows his teammates also thrive in such straits. Ever since the tragic start to their season with the death of pitcher Nick Adenhart(notes), the Angels have tapped untold wells of strength on the way to an AL West title, 97 victories, a first-round series win over Boston—and now an ALCS that gets more tense by the inning.
“Pressure is something you put in your car tires,” Fuentes said. “I don’t feel like it’s any different now. We’ve still got to keep playing, still got to keep doing our work for another game. We don’t get anything extra for that one. … If it’s raining, we’ve all got to play in it. If we get postponed, we’ll be ready when we get the chance.”
Los Angeles is quietly confident about its chances against Andy Pettitte(notes), who is expected to make the Game 6 start even if it’s pushed back a day and can set two records with another solid postseason outing. The left-hander has four series-clinching wins among his 15 career playoff victories—both tied for the most in baseball history.
“However many starts I’ve had in the postseason or how many innings, it’s not going to help me tomorrow when I go out there,” Pettitte said. “It’s a matter of getting out there and my cutter cutting, my location being good, and this is a game of just inches.”
AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen in New York contributed to this story.