The Angels kept hope alive on Thursday night, extending the American League Championship Series with a 7-6 victory over the New York Yankees. There was a long and winding road leading to this outcome. The Halos appeared to have the game in hand early, but the Bombers scored six runs in the seventh. The Angels came back with three in the bottom of their half and then hung on for dear life.
Objectively, Major League Baseball is probably fortunate that the Angels won, and not because this marquee series was kept alive so that more revenue could be produced. If the Yankees had won, there would have been yet another umpiring controversy.
One of the at-bats that got the Yankees rolling in their seventh-inning rally was a walk to Jorge Posada. The 3-2 pitch to Posada appeared to be a strike at the knees, a terrific pitch from Halos ace John Lackey. But the pitch was not good enough for home-plate umpire Fieldin Culbreth. Replays indicated that this pitch was definitely not a ball. In fact, a pitch in this location has been a strike since the 1800s; this is no time to change that. Lackey protested vehemently, to no avail. Had the Yankees won this game, this call could have been a centerpiece of another round of the truly unfortunate push for a wider use of instant replays. But the umps are bringing some of this on themselves.
There was a record-setting ebb and flow going on in this one. Lackey was a giant for the Angels for six innings, shutting out the mighty Yankees.
"Yeah, he was throwing real well," catcher Jeff Mathis said. "Obviously, what you saw, he had his breaking ball working and a good heater. He had good stuff tonight."
But Lackey was shortly to depart this contest, and things went downhill for the Angels soon after he left. With two outs, the bases loaded and the score still 4-0, he was lifted in favor of lefty reliever Darren Oliver. Lackey had thrown 104 pitches at that point. Lackey let his displeasure with this managerial decision be publicly known, as he typically does when he is relieved. He doesn't like to leave games.
"He's a bulldog," Mathis said.
Oliver gave up a three-run double to Mark Teixeira, an intentional walk and an RBI single, and a 4-0 game had become a 4-4 game, with damage still to be done by the Yanks.
In explaining the decision to take out Lackey, manager Mike Scioscia said he went with his head over his heart. Those head vs. heart decisions are always the toughest ones. In this case, the thought was to have Teixeira batting right-handed.
"John still looked like he maybe had a little bit left in him," Scioscia said. "In making that move, I just ... my heart said, 'Hey, leave John in.'
"My head said, 'Let's try to turn Tex around and get out of that inning right there.' I have a lot of confidence in John. He might have had enough to get in there and get Tex out, but I thought to turn him around at that point was the move. Obviously, it didn't work."
The Yankees took a 6-4 lead, but the Angels, as it turned out, were far from done. They got their own boost when Yankees manager Joe Girardi opted to leave starter A.J. Burnett in the game for the bottom of the seventh.
Burnett had pitched well after surrendering four runs in the first inning and had thrown only 89 pitches. But the top of the seventh was an extraordinarily long half-inning. When Burnett returned to the mound for the bottom of the seventh, he did not appear to be sharp, giving up a single to Mathis and a walk to Erick Aybar. Burnett was lifted, but both of his runners scored in what turned out to be a decisive three-run inning for the Angels.
Girardi's decision-making was also undercut by the ineffectiveness of reliever Phil Hughes, the eventual losing pitcher, later in the inning. But starting the frame with Burnett had initiated the problem. Girardi said he had considered removing Burnett at the beginning of the inning, but he decided against it.
"Yeah, we talked about it, but he was throwing the ball so well," Girardi said. "He put up five shutout innings. He had only thrown 80 pitches. And we with just liked what we saw from him, and we stuck with him.
"A.J. was throwing great. You know, if he's around 105 pitches, it's probably a different story. But because his pitch count was low, he felt great, we stuck with him."
Amid this roller coaster of emotions, with Angel Stadium littered with borderline decisions in both directions, the one constant was the resilience of the Angels. Facing elimination, they turned this into a 3-2 series. They now face the truly daunting task of winning back-to-back games in the Bronx. But they have won the right to try at least once more.
"Yeah, anything's possible, man," said center fielder Torii Hunter. "Baseball is a crazy game, man. You see some crazy things. Every time you come to the game, you've probably been to 1,000 games and you see something different every year.
"We're excited about it. I mean, we're going out there [to New York]. We've got [Andy] Pettitte on Saturday, we're going to take it one game at a time. That's all we can do. We can't think about Game 7 or CC [Sabathia] or anything like that. We're just going to take it one game at a time and be ready to go. That's what we did today."
Michael Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.