Commentary

Another wild walk-off for the Yankees

Late-inning heroics becoming routine for a New York team now up 2-0 in the ALCS

Originally Published: October 17, 2009
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- When the Yankees took the field for pregame stretching early Saturday evening, they couldn't help but notice the foreboding sky, the intermittent freezing raindrops and the widespread speculation that they were about to spend the night in Doppler hell.

So it was only human nature that some of them carved out best-case scenarios in their minds.

"It was cold and it was nasty," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I was like, 'Man, let's have a quick pitchers' game tonight and win 2-1 and get out of here in an hour and a half.' It definitely didn't happen like that."

Not exactly. On the way to a 4-3, 13-inning victory over the Angels in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, the Yankees set a record by using 21 players in an extra-inning game. Alex Rodriguez enjoyed yet another Mr. Clutch moment, New York manager Joe Girardi used eight pitchers and Jerry Hairston -- whose previous plate appearance came 13 days ago in Tampa Bay -- singled to lead off the final inning and scored the winning run on a throwing error by the Angels' Maicer Izturis.

And just think: The game took a mere 5 hours, 10 minutes to complete. It lasted long enough that the Yankees had to hustle to catch a 2 a.m. bus to the airport for their flight to California. They also canceled their scheduled workout for Sunday in Anaheim.

Hey, it could have been worse.

"There could have been a couple of rain delays, and who knows?" Teixeira said. "We could have been playing at 4 o'clock in the morning. Or even worse, they might have made us come back in the morning to finish it off. In the end, we got a win. It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it."

Ever since the Yankees recorded a 9-8 walk-off win over the Mets in June on a dropped pop fly by Luis Castillo, they've become conditioned to believe that anything is possible -- particularly in their new home in the Bronx. They led the major leagues with 51 comeback victories during the regular season, and they overcame deficits in all three victories during their AL Division Series sweep of the Minnesota Twins.

But even by those lofty expectations, Saturday's win was special. The weather conditions, the emotional highs and lows and the stakes combined to make this one exhausting battle of attrition.

Yet again, the Yankees received a momentous contribution from Rodriguez, who has done everything but sail across the sky in a Mylar balloon this month. He has three homers in the postseason, and all three have either tied the game or put the Yankees ahead. He's hitting .368 (7-for-19) in the playoffs, and he's driven in at least one run in all five of New York's postseason games.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Burnett
Noah K. Murray/THE STAR LEDGER/US PresswireIt was such a long night at Yankee Stadium, it was hard to remember A.J. Burnett started Game 2.

Saturday night's victim was Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who led the majors with 48 saves this season but blew seven opportunities and posted a middling 3.93 ERA. Fuentes, called upon to protect a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 11th inning, got ahead 0-2 in the count on A-Rod. Then he made the mistake of throwing a fat, 90 mph fastball above the belt, and Rodriguez hammered it over the right-field fence to tie the game 3-3.

The A-Rod turnaround story has gone from improbable to routine to borderline ridiculous -- unless you're a Yankees fan. The more reporters probe for the secret to his success, the more reticent he seems to discuss it.

"I know you guys are probably looking for something profound," Rodriguez said during a postgame media session. "I mean, I'm just in a good place. I'm seeing the ball, and I'm hitting it. I mean, that's about it."

His teammates can only sit back and marvel at what he's doing. Right fielder Nick Swisher said it was "pandemonium" in the Yankees' dugout after Rodriguez went deep against Fuentes.

"We know Alex has it," Swisher said. "It's funny to hear people write about what's happened in the past, and this and that. This is 2009, man. He's having a tremendous year, and you guys need to keep writing all those nice things about him, because he keeps going out there and doing it."

As so often happens in these October slopfests, the two teams were forced to overcome miscues and shaky moments. Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera pitched out of trouble in the eighth inning after Derek Jeter booted a routine ground ball. Four innings later, Jeter weaved, wobbled and squinted his way to catch a Vladimir Guerrero pop fly. He looked like a guy trying to read a book in the shower.

"Man, that's the highest popup I think anyone has ever hit me," Jeter said. "It went above the lights, and it started over by third base and went over as the rain was coming. I was saying, 'Oh, God.'"

Stick around long enough under conditions like these, and something unexpected is bound to happen. Hairston, who had appeared in 1,029 career games without a postseason appearance before this year, led off the 13th with a single off Ervin Santana. He advanced on a sacrifice bunt, then scored the winning run when Izturis exercised terrible judgment by going to second base for a forceout on Melky Cabrera's grounder.

The throw eluded shortstop Erick Aybar, and Hairston hustled around to score and was mobbed instantly at home plate.

"I didn't mean to, but I think I knocked Jerry down," Swisher said. "The last thing you want to do is have somebody get all busted up in one of those things. But I think he's good. At that point in time, I don't think he felt anything."

After getting whipped by Swisher, Hairston got Cool Whipped by the Yankees' resident piemaster general, pitcher A.J. Burnett, in the middle of a TV interview.

"I played with Jerry in Texas, and that's the one thing I tell people: He's a professional," Teixeira said. "He gets the job done no matter what position you put him in. [In Game 2], he was huge for us."

Say what you will about the Yankees' gargantuan payroll and star-studded roster. They've been a resourceful and resilient team, and every comeback, walk-off win fuels the perception that they have something special working.

The math certainly bodes well for them. Since Major League Baseball adopted a best-of-seven format for the ALCS in 1985, the team that won Game 2 has advanced to the World Series 17 of 23 times.

"One great thing about going out to Anaheim is that we don't have to bring our long sleeves, which is nice," Swisher said.

The Angels had better hope the Yankees don't bring their home-field magic with them, or this series could be over in a hurry.

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN.com. His book "License To Deal" was published by Rodale. Click here to order a copy. Jerry can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer