"It's happened a lot, that's for sure," Pettitte said.
Amid growing concerns over the effectiveness of the Yankees' relievers and manager Joe Girardi's use of them, Pettitte pitched into the seventh inning -- and closer Mariano Rivera got the game's final six outs -- as the Yankees defeated the Angels 5-2 in Sunday night's American League Championship Series Game 6. New York eliminated the Angels four games to two and advanced to the franchise's 40th World Series to play the National League champion Phillies, starting Wednesday night in the Bronx.
Before a record 50,173 fans at the new Yankee Stadium, the Bronx Bombers also reversed a bit of recent history. Ever since the Red Sox's historic comeback in the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees hadn't advanced beyond the first round of the postseason and even missed the playoffs altogether last year. But in their $1.5 billion new homefield the Yankees won their first AL pennant since 2003 and vanquished the Angles in a postseason series for the first time this decade, after losing to them in 2002 and '05.
Pettitte, a 37-year-old making his 38th career playoff start, pitched efficiently, scattering seven hits and one walk over 6 1/3 innings and striking out six. Protecting a 3-1 lead in the top of the sixth and facing Kendry Morales with runners on second and third with two outs, Pettitte saved the potential tying runs by knocking down a chopper up the middle. He grabbed the ball and threw to first to end the threat.
It was Pettitte's record fifth series-clinching win, breaking a tie with Dave Stewart, Catfish Hunter and Roger Clemens. It also saved Yankees ace CC Sabathia -- the ALCS MVP -- from starting a possible Game 7, allowing him to open the first game of the World Series and against the Phillies' Cliff Lee.
Of course, part of the storyline is the attrition -- only Pettitte, Rivera, Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada have played a World Series game in pinstripes -- and the top-dollar, free-agent signings New York has brought in. Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeria and A.J. Burnett will all be making their Series debuts. And they are now four wins away from joining the club's inner sanctum.
"To be a Yankee, you've got to win a World Series," said Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.
Looking to advance to the World Series for the first time in his career, Rodriguez did about as much as he could, reaching base in all five plate appearances, singling twice and walking thrice. It was a fitting end to an ALCS in which he had nine hits and eight walks in 29 plate appearances, a .586 on-base percentage. Including the division series win against the Twins, Rodriguez has hit five home runs with 12 RBIs.
In 17 previous postseason games before 2009, A-Rod had batted just .148 with a mere three RBIs, much to the consternation and growing choruses of boos from Yankee fans, who have rallied behind their resurgent slugger.
"He finished second in the MVP voting when he was 19," Swisher said of Rodriguez. "This guy can play, man. There are a lot of people writing a lot of bad things about him in the postseason, but he shut all them up."
Angels starter Joe Saunders had pitched in and out of trouble early while stranding six New York runners on base in the first three innings. But it caught up to the southpaw in the fourth, when the Yankees scored three runs.
Following two walks and a single, Johnny Damon laced a 2-1 fastball into center field for a two-run single. An infield single by Teixeira and a walk to Rodriguez forced in another runner and forced Angels manager Mike Scioscia to the mound for a pitching change. Reliever Darren Oliver got the first batter he faced, Posada, to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Saunders had trouble locating the strike zone, starting only seven of the 22 batters he faced with strikes and throwing only 42 strikes to 41 balls. In 3 1/3 innings Saunders walked five and allowed seven hits and three runs.
The Angels, who committed five errors in Games 1 and 2 at Yankee Stadium, continued their string of inexplicable road blunders. The two most damaging miscues came in the eighth inning on consecutive Yankee bunt attempts. Second baseman Howie Kendrick dropped a throw at first base while covering on a Swisher sacrifice bunt, allowing him to reach base, and when Melky Cabrera laid down his own sacrifice bunt, pitcher Scott Kazmir sailed his throw to first base into right field, allowing a run to score. Mark Teixeira hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning for New York's fifth run.
"They took advantage of every mistake that we made," Angels rightfielder Bobby Abreu said.
Those weren't the only bad plays by the Angels. In the second inning, after Vladimir Guerrero led off with a single, Kendry Morales hit a routine fly to right, but Guerrero strayed too far off first base and was doubled up on a good throw by Swisher. In the sixth inning Chone Figgins ran into his own bunted ball while trying to drop down a hit.
"At times we played good baseball," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "At times we shot ourselves in the foot. The Yankees are a team that you can't give extra outs to. We did it in a couple of games. And obviously it cost us. You know, I think the bottom line is they played better baseball and they beat us."
The Angels scored first for the first time in the three ALCS games at Yankee Stadium and only the second time all series. Reserve catcher Jeff Mathis, who drove in the winning run in Game 3 and entered the game batting 6-for-10, continued swinging his hot bat, doubling to lead off the third. Right fielder Bobby Abreu singled him home for just his second RBI of the series.
Los Angeles scored a second run in the eighth, when Guerrero punched a ground ball single through the right side of the infield, scoring Figgins from second base. It was the first earned run allowed by Rivera in a home playoff game since Game 2 of the 2000 World Series against the Mets, snapping a streak of 25 consecutive appearances with an ERA of 0.00.
One notable absentee for the Yankees was, of course, its ailing owner, George Steinbrenner. His son, Hal, the team's managing general partner said in the winning clubhouse that the players have stated a desire to win the World Series for the senior Steinbrenner, who is expected in town on Wednesday.
"All of the players, they're doing this for him," Hal Steinbrenner said. "We want to win this whole thing for him. I think we feel like he's here."
The World Series will feature each league's highest-scoring offense and most prolific home-run hitting offense. The Yankees and Phillies have met in one prior Series, in 1950, which New York swept 4-0.