NEW YORK (AP) — CC Sabathia pitched like a champion, and the New York Yankees are heading for Texas. A whole lot better than heading home.
Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano hit consecutive homers to build an early cushion, Sabathia made the lead stand up and the Yankees avoided elimination, beating the Rangers 7-2 Wednesday and closing within 3-2 in the AL championship series.
“We’re right where we need to be,” Swisher said.
A late-arriving crowd for the late-afternoon game wondered whether this would be it for the defending World Series champs after Texas outscored them 25-5 while winning three in a row.
But Sabathia bounced back from an erratic opener, staying away from too much trouble against Josh Hamilton and Texas’ big bats. Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz made an early exit with hamstring trouble, a day after Yankees star Mark Teixeira was lost for the postseason with a hamstring injury. Curtis Granderson added an eighth-inning homer for New York, his second RBI of the game.
Now the teams will go deep in the heart of Texas to decide the pennant in the best-of-seven series.
When they resume Friday night in Arlington for Game 6, Phil Hughes starts for the Yankees against Colby Lewis in a rematch of Game 2, won by the Rangers 7-2.
In the 50th anniversary of a franchise that has never reached the World Series, Texas remains one win away. To get past the Rangers, the Yankees will eventually have to solve postseason star Cliff Lee, who would start a Game 7 against Andy Pettitte.
“Crazier things have happened,” Swisher said.
New York is trying to overcome its first 3-1 postseason deficit 1958. Since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format, 24 of the 30 previous teams to take 3-1 series leads have won pennants.
No matter what, the season is over for Teixeira. The All-Star first baseman was removed from the postseason roster and replaced by Eduardo Nunez, and Teixeira would not be eligible for the World Series. Lance Berkman took over at first base and had a scare when he slipped chasing Ian Kinsler’s foul pop, causing his head and back to snap back. Berkman stayed in the game and later caught a foul popup for the final out.
On what would have been Bob Sheppard’s 100th birthday and Mickey Mantle’s 79th, the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the second as C.J. Wilson seemed to have trouble with a muddy mound and created a hole with a pair of four-pitch walks. Jorge Posada and Granderson had run-scoring singles, and another run scored on an error by right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
Sabathia lasted just four innings in the opener, when he started on eight days’ rest and the Yankees rallied from a five-run deficit. Leads of 5-0 and 6-1 never seemed comfortable in this one as he allowed two runs and 11 hits — matching his season high — in six innings with no walks. His key outs came in the sixth, when the Rangers loaded the bases with one out.
Matt Treanor, who had homered in the fifth, hit an RBI grounder. Then, culminating an eight-pitch at-bat, Sabathia froze No. 9 hitter Mitch Moreland with a curveball to strike him out. The big man responded with a fist pump.
Kerry Wood had his second big pickoff of the series in the seventh. Elvis Andrus singled leading, advanced on a wild pitch and was caught leaning by Wood, who caught Kinsler off first in the eighth inning of the opener. After Wood struck out three in two scoreless innings, Mariano Rivera finished in a non-save situation as the moon rose above the ballpark in right.
Texas has dominated, outscoring the Yankees 32-18 and outhitting them .316 to .217. New York is batting just .160 (8 for 50) with runners in scoring position, and Alex Rodriguez (.176), Swisher (.105) and Marcus Thames (.154) all have failed to hit their weight. Teixeira (0 for 14) has been replaced by Berkman (.222).
While the aggressive Rangers have swiped nine bases in 10 chances, they’ve also been picked off twice in the late innings.
Wilson threw just 48 of 93 pitches for strikes, giving up six runs — five earned — six hits and four walks in six innings as Texas lost for the first time in six postseason road games this year.
New York took a 3-0 lead in the second with the help of the Rangers’ sloppiness. Walks to Rodriguez and Berkman put two on with one out, and Posada singled sharply to left on a 2-0 pitch to put the Yankees ahead.
Granderson fisted a soft single into right field to drive in Berkman, and Francoeur overthrow third. Posada scored on Francoeur’s error as Wilson, who was backing up, threw past Treanor at the plate — Posada easily would have been out with an accurate throw.