Angels answer rally, send ALCS back to New York

ANAHEIM, Calif. — With stunned fans halfheartedly singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," Torii Hunter chucked his glove at the dugout wall after the Angels turned a four-run lead into a two-run hole. Down the hall and around the corner, clubhouse attendants began icing crates of champagne and beer for the New York Yankees.

Both the center fielder and the clubbies were a bit premature. Didn't they realize this wacky AL championship series is usually just warming up during the seventh-inning stretch?

With one more rally and one improbable save in a 7-6 victory Thursday night, the Los Angeles Angels earned at least a two-day extension on their championship dreams — and Hunter got to pack that glove for New York.

Vladimir Guerrero tied it and Kendry Morales put Los Angeles ahead with run-scoring singles for the Angels, who responded to the Yankees' six-run comeback with a three-run rally of their own. It all happened during a jaw-dropping, 45-minute, 63-pitch seventh inning that trimmed the Yankees' ALCS lead to 3-2.

"It's a good team over there, and we battle," said Hunter, who went 2 for 2 with two RBIs and two runs scored, including the go-ahead run on Morales' single to right. "Our backs are against the wall, man. We're just kicking, punching, scratching, doing whatever we've got to do to get off that wall."

From the Angels' four-run first inning to closer Brian Fuentes' final, perilous out, Game 5 had more swerves than a Bronx cab ride and far more good parts than a Hollywood blockbuster. Hunter still ranked it as only the second-most exciting game of the series, behind the 13-inning, 310-minute magnificence of Game 2 in New York — or maybe behind the Angels' 11-inning victory in Game 3.

Game 6 is scheduled for Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, with Andy Pettitte facing Los Angeles' Joe Saunders. New York also is slated to get more of the miserable weather that affected the first two games, with a prospective Saturday rainstorm raising the possibility of postponement.

"It gives them a couple more days of hope, and hopefully that hope ends on Saturday because anything can happen, especially with as tough of conditions as we're going to be playing in," said New York's Johnny Damon, who went 1 for 5. "They still have to beat us two times at our place, and hopefully that's going to be tough to do."

Facing elimination for the first time, the Angels got their first early-inning lead of the postseason and a sterling pitching performance from John Lackey — yet they fell apart immediately after manager Mike Scioscia pulled his ace with two outs in the seventh. Mark Teixeira broke his slump with a three-run double on the bullpen's first pitch before Hideki Matsui tied it, and Robinson Cano put the Yankees up 6-4 with a two-run triple.

"It was definitely a do-or-die situation," Lackey said. "The guys showed a lot of character tonight, for sure. Having the rough seventh inning and then coming right back and scoring three runs showed a lot about our team."

Somehow, the Angels didn't surrender. They speedily reclaimed the lead in a stadium that grew to expect desperate rallies this season, when Los Angeles set a club record with 47 comeback wins.

When Fuentes retired slumping Nick Swisher on a bases-loaded, full-count popup to end it, the Angels stoked the embers of the Yankees' last trip to this stage of the postseason, which ended in their unprecedented four-game flameout in 2004.

"This is the biggest moment you could have in the game, especially with a one-run lead," said Fuentes, who intentionally walked Alex Rodriguez with nobody on base before issuing another walk and hitting a batter. "I knew what I had to do, and I knew the consequences."

Although two games in the Bronx — and shutdown starter CC Sabathia — still stand in the Angels' way, New York's fans must remember what happened to the Yankees' last big lead in an ALCS. The Red Sox famously rallied from an 0-3 deficit in 2004, making a late rally to win Game 4 before finishing off the biggest comeback in baseball history in seven games — and New York hadn't been back to the ALCS since.

Only six teams have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a league championship series — most recently in 2007, when Boston came back against Sabathia and Cleveland on the way to a title. Including the World Series, only 11 of 70 teams that fell into a 3-1 hole have come back to win.

Four teams previously have won the final two LCS games on the road.

"It's a missed opportunity, but we still have another game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We've bounced back from tough losses all year long. We've had it happen to us before and been able to get off the carpet."

The Angels hadn't scored a run before the fourth inning of any playoff game this fall until they jumped on Yankees starter A.J. Burnett, who yielded eight hits and three walks while remaining winless in three career playoff starts.

Lackey, soon to be among the sport's most coveted free agents, cruised through the first six innings. The ace reacted with audible disappointment — "This is mine!" he shouted — when Scioscia pulled him from what might be his final start with his only team.

Lackey left to a standing ovation with a tip of his cap — and the Yankees probably were cheering, too.

When Cano jubilantly rolled into third base after putting New York up two runs in the seventh, everything in somber Angel Stadium pointed to a clinching victory, a record 40th AL pennant and a date with Philadelphia next week for the big-budget, big-talent Yankees.

"You don't want the season to end, that's for sure," said Angels catcher Jeff Mathis, an unlikely ALCS offensive star with hits in six straight at-bats, including three in Game 5. "We're still battling to get to the next day, and that's what we're going to do from here on out."

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