Yankees set sights on World Series

Tim Brown
Yahoo! Sports

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Thankfully, Yankee Universe is back on orbit, it having moved deftly from crisis mode to dawn of a dynasty in time for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees are always dawning or dying, of course, depending on the result from the night before and whether Derek Jeter(notes) reached a couple balls to his left or not. It can be confusing, but that's part of the charm of the pinstripes, reeling from one end of the universe to the other while Joe Girardi changes pitchers.

Now Alex Rodriguez(notes) is hitting like he's never hit before in October, and Melky Cabrera(notes) is raking, and CC Sabathia(notes) has given up three earned runs in 22 2/3 postseason innings, all of it going so well Mark Teixeira(notes) can hit .133 and you'd hardly notice. Teixeira is fortunate to have an A-Rod while, for years, A-Rod didn't have an A-Rod, so Tex channels Doug Mientkiewicz(notes) and he's not a fraud, he's a guy who helps you in so many ways.

It's a subtle difference.

The Yankees need one win in the next three games, which shouldn't be too hard if the Angels are going to continue batting .201 and scoring about twice a night. Presumably the Yankees' pitching has something to do with that, along with the .273 on-base percentage, but Chone Figgins(notes) led off the most important game of the season Tuesday night by swinging at the first pitch Sabathia threw, which can't possibly be the strategy.

Mid-morning Wednesday, the Yankees gathered in the visitors clubhouse at Angel Stadium, their hair mussed and their veins swollen with energy drinks. A.J. Burnett(notes), who will pitch Thursday to put them all into the World Series, sat on a stuffed leather chair and chewed on slabs of watermelon. A huge plate of deli sandwiches went untouched, but the glazed donuts were going fast.

“We're close now,” Johnny Damon(notes) said. “It's not quite done yet.”

He meant the series, not the box of cinnamon twists.

The old Yankees, the ones these Yankees constantly are answering to, finished these series. They won these games. The Angels have looked overmatched, but they're not incapable of winning a few in a row. Sabathia and his Indians were up, three games to one, on the Red Sox two years ago, and lost. Damon and his Red Sox were down, three games to none, to the Yankees five years ago, and won.

It happens. Not often, but it happens.

Thing is, the Yankees appear to have found something close to their optimum game (Teixeira's slump notwithstanding) while the Angels have collapsed. Jeff Mathis'(notes) game-winning double of Game 3 was nice for them and all, but their big fellas – Vladimir Guerrero(notes), Torii Hunter(notes), Kendry Morales(notes), Bobby Abreu(notes), Chone Figgins – have five extra-base hits between them, and they've looked like they're waiting for Mathis to hit game-winning doubles.

The Yankees hit home runs while the Angels swing over the top of 0-and-1 changeups.

It's a subtle difference.

Late morning Wednesday, the Angels gathered in the home clubhouse. Morales wandered the room asking teammates to sign his jersey in black marker, tying up loose ends. John Lackey(notes), who will pitch to run their season into Game 6 Saturday in the Bronx, surely had the Yankees on his mind, along with the notion he might never wear the Angels uniform after Thursday night because of his impending free agency.

In a place where they all wondered where the series had gone, an informal poll of the pitchers revealed real concern about the offense, which at least got them through the division series this October, and conversations with hitters suggested it might be time to move A-Rod off the plate with an inside fastball or two.

Neither would work by itself. They would agree none of it felt quite right, they weren't playing their usual game, and were in serious danger of being run off without ever having done so.

“Man,” Hunter said, “we've been wanting that since the first game. We haven't quite gotten there yet. It's getting late. That bell's about to ring.”

Catcher Mike Napoli(notes) granted that the trip from in the thick of the series to seemingly out of it was rather speedy.

“It's a little deflating,” he said, “but my feeling is we've gotta get out there and play our game.”

Right, well, and that's the problem for the Angels, and the talent of the Yankees. They survived the bad weather better than the Angels did, recovered from a loss better than the Angels did, and seemingly have played from ahead the entire series.

That leaves them with Thursday, the series teed up for Burnett, the World Series very close, an awful lot going well. Jeter has been coughing into his fist since he got here, and everywhere he goes Girardi or coaches or teammates say to him, “How you feelin,' Jeet? You OK?” He keeps nodding his head, moving along, clearly fighting back a cold. Can't stop now, though.

“If you have the opportunity to get something over,” he said, “you'd like to do it.”

The Angels, on the other hand, play for survival.

Yeah, subtle difference.

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