The Angels sure didn't waste any time on Thursday in Game 5 as they erupted for four runs in the first inning against right-hander A.J. Burnett after making an adjustment based on his success in Game 2.
The Angels tried a patient approach against Burnett in his first start of the series, but it backfired when they fell behind in counts. Burnett ended up allowing just two runs over 6 1/3 innings in an eventual Yankees' win.
So in Thursday's game, the approach was to swing early in counts, and it certainly worked as the first five hitters for the Angels reached base, including four straight hits that came early in the count. In fact, Burnett threw no more than three pitches to any of the four batters that had those four consecutive hits in the big inning.
"It wasn't a strategy, but last time at Yankee Stadium, we thought he'd get behind, but he kept pounding the strike zone," Torii Hunter said. "So we just made an adjustment a little bit."
It was Hunter who put the Angels on the board with a two-run single after Chone Figgins led off with a walk and Bobby Abreu hit a double on a second-pitch fastball.
Hunter's hit came on a first-pitch fastball and marked the first time in the series that the Angels scored first. It was a clear message that the Angels weren't going to back down despite facing elimination after losing three of the first four games of the series.
"In the first inning, we were hungry," Hunter said. "We didn't want anybody clinching on our field."
After Hunter's single, the Angels kept it going with a double from Vladimir Guerrero on a first-pitch fastball that scored Hunter all the way from first. Kendry Morales followed with an RBI single on a 2-0 fastball from Burnett, and suddenly the Angels were up, 4-0.
The four-run outburst marked the first time the Angels scored in the first inning this postseason, and matched their entire run total from the series' first two games.
It was just the second time all season that Burnett allowed four runs in the first inning. Burnett could only tip his cap to the Angels for changing their strategy against him.
"I think they made a good adjustment," Burnett said. "They've been a patient team for the most part, making me work and throw a lot of pitches. They came out hacking."
FIRST THINGS FIRST
|Torii Hunter||1||Two-run single|
|Vlad Guerrero||1||RBI double|
|Kendry Morales||3||RBI single|
|Maicer Izturis||5||Flyout to right field|
|Juan Rivera||4||5-4-3 double play|
But Burnett then used the Angels' strategy against them and threw five scoreless innings after his rough first inning.
It proved important when the Yankees put together a six-run seventh inning to take a 6-4 lead against the Angels.
Suddenly, the Angels were on the brink of elimination and had to score in a hurry, especially because they knew Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was waiting in the wings.
"I came in the dugout, threw my glove," Hunter said. "But after all that, I settled down, and everybody settled down. We went out there. We knew we had time left and a lot of innings left, lot of outs left."
It was easier to settle down when Game 3 hero Jeff Mathis delivered yet again with a single to open the inning against Burnett. The single marked his sixth hit in his last six at-bats to set an Angels postseason record, which is even more impressive considering he is a career .200 hitter during the regular season.
"When he got that hit, it calmed everybody down," Hunter said. "He's just been great, especially with what he went through during the regular season. He's showing what he really can do."
Erick Aybar then followed with a walk, and Burnett was removed from the game after throwing 89 pitches. Figgins then followed with a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third before Abreu got the Angels within one run of the Yankees with an RBI groundout.
Hunter then worked a two-out walk to set the stage for Guerrero, who previously delivered the game-winning hit in the clinching game of the Division Series against the Red Sox.
Guerrero delivered yet again with a hit up the middle on a 1-2 fastball from reliever Phil Hughes to tie the game at 6. The hit back up the middle was similar to the one he had against the Red Sox, and he admitted that he had a similar approach.
"The main thing is seeing the ball and hitting it hard," Guerrero said through a translator. "It's about not swinging for the home run. It's about cutting the swing down more in that situation."
But the Angels weren't done as Morales followed with the go-ahead single on a 3-1 fastball from Hughes to give the Angels the lead for good.
"We showed a lot of heart and resolve there," starter John Lackey said. "They really came through in the clutch."
After their three-run outburst, the Angels were able to hold on for a wild 7-6 win and now will head to New York trailing, 3-2, with Game 6 set for Saturday night at Yankee Stadium.
"This is going to be a good trip, and we still have a huge challenge in front of us, but you're still in the game," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We're going to come out and hopefully have a good game Saturday and we'll just take it one step at a time."
Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.