Having won their first playoff series in five years by sweeping the Minnesota Twins in three games in the ALDS, the New York Yankees moved on to the 2009 American League Championship Series, where their old nemesis, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, awaited. Anaheim previously ended the Yankees’ aspirations for a world title in both 2002 and 2005, defeating them in the ALDS both times. The Angels initially advanced to the playoffs by finishing first in the A.L. West, 10 games ahead of the second-place Texas Rangers, with a record of 97-65. They then needed only three games to dispose of the wild-card Boston Red Sox in the first round of the postseason tournament.
New York and Anaheim featured two of the American League’s most potent offenses. The Yankees topped the junior circuit with 915 runs scored, 244 home runs, a .362 team on-base percentage, and a .478 team slugging percentage, and they placed second with a team batting average of .283.
The Angels finished second in the league with 883 runs scored, eighth with 173 home runs, third with a .350 team on-base percentage, and fourth with a .441 team slugging percentage, and they led the league with a .285 team batting average. As can be evidenced by their considerable edge in home runs (244 to 173) and team slugging percentage (.478 to .441), the Yankees had more power on offense than the Angels. However, Anaheim had more team speed, compiling 148 stolen bases over the course of the season, to New York’s total of 111.
Although virtually everyone in the Yankee batting order had the ability to drive the ball out of the ballpark, Mark Teixeira (39 home runs), Alex Rodriguez (30), Nick Swisher (29), and Hideki Matsui (28) were the team’s primary power threats. Teixeira (122) and Rodriguez (100) were the club’s top RBI-men; Derek Jeter (.334) and Robinson Cano (.320) led the team in batting; and Jeter (30) and Brett Gardner (26) were the club’s top stolen-base threats.
Meanwhile, Juan Rivera, Chone Figgins, Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreau, and Kendry Morales paced the Angels on offense. Rivera hit 28 homers and drove in 88 runs. Figgins batted .298 and led the team with 114 runs scored and 42 stolen bases. Hunter hit 22 homers, drove in 90 runs, and batted .299. Abreau batted .293, knocked in 103 runs, scored 96 others, and stole 30 bases. Morales batted .306 and led the team with 34 home runs and 108 runs batted in.
The Angels entered the playoffs with their pitchers having posted a team ERA of 4.45 during the regular season – a figure that placed them ninth in the American League rankings. Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders led the staff with 16 victories apiece. Weaver also led the starters with an ERA of 3.75. John Lackey chipped in with 11 wins. Although closer Brian Fuentes posted an ERA of 3.93, he topped the junior circuit with 48 saves.
New York had an even more impressive pitching staff, compiling the third-lowest team ERA in the league (4.26). C.C. Sabathia topped the circuit with 19 victories, and he also placed among the leaders with a 3.37 ERA, 197 strikeouts, and 230 innings pitched. A.J. Burnett finished 13-9 and placed second to Sabathia on the team with 195 strikeouts and 207 innings pitched. Andy Pettitte finished second on the club with 14 victories. Although Mariano Rivera’s 44 saves placed him behind Fuentes in the league rankings, the Yankee closer posted a much better earned run average (1.76).
Taking into consideration the edge they had over the Angels both on the mound and at the bat, the Yankees had to feel pretty good about their chances of advancing to the World Series. Perhaps the biggest question in their minds heading into their ALCS matchup involved their ability to finally get past a team that had been a thorn in their sides ever since Mike Scioscia took over as manager in Anaheim nine years earlier.
The ALCS opened up at Yankee Stadium on a blustery night in the Bronx. The Yankees scored two first-inning runs against John Lackey on an Alex Rodriguez sacrifice fly and an RBI infield single by Hideki Matsui. The Angels cut New York’s lead in half in the top of the fourth inning on a double by Vladimir Guerrero and an RBI single by Kendry Morales. The Yankees, though, scored single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, to increase their lead to 4-1. With C.C. Sabathia working eight strong innings for New York, limiting the Angels to just one run on four hits and striking out seven, the three-run cushion proved to be more than enough for the Yankees to come away with a victory in Game One. Mariano Rivera worked a scoreless ninth, giving New York a 1-0 series lead.
The Yankees broke on top again in Game Two, scoring single runs in the second and third innings on an RBI triple by Robinson Cano and a solo home run by Derek Jeter. However, the Angels fought back, tying the score at 2-2 in the top of the fifth inning on an Erick Aybar RBI single and an A.J. Burnett wild pitch with the bases loaded. Although both teams threatened multiple times in the ensuing innings, the score remained knotted at 2-2 until the top of the 11th inning, when the Angels scored the go-ahead run on an RBI single by Chone Figgins. The Yankees came right back in the bottom of the frame, though, with Alex Rodriguez continuing his postseason heroics by hitting a leadoff home run off Angels closer Brian Fuentes. The contest eventually entered the 13th inning, at which point the Yankees finally put an end to the five-hour, 10-minute marathon by scoring the game-winning run on a throwing error by second baseman Maicer Izturis. The 4-3 victory gave the Yankees a 2-0 series lead, with the next three games scheduled to be played in Anaheim.
Game Three was another extremely competitive contest that went into extra innings. New York entered the bottom of the fifth inning with a 3-0 lead against Angel starter Jered Weaver. The Yankees scored their runs on a first-inning leadoff homer by Derek Jeter, a fourth-inning blast by Alex Rodriguez, and a solo shot by Johnny Damon in the fifth. The Angels finally broke into the scoring column against Andy Pettitte in the fifth inning on a solo home run by Howie Kendrick. Vladimir Guerrero tied the score at 3-3 in the following frame with a two-run homer off Pettitte. The Angels took their first lead of the night in the bottom of the seventh on a Howie Kendrick triple and a Maicer Izturis sacrifice fly. However, the Yankees tied the score again in the top of the eighth on a solo home run by Jorge Posada off Kevin Jepsen. Neither team scored again until the bottom of the 11th inning, when the Angels pushed across the winning run against Yankee reliever Alfredo Aceves.
After David Robertson retired the first two Anaheim batters he faced in that fateful 11th frame, Yankee manager Joe Girardi curiously chose to replace him on the mound with Aceves – a move that later received a considerable amount of criticism from the New York media. After immediately yielding a single to Howie Kendrick, Aceves surrendered a game-winning RBI double to backup catcher Jeff Mathis that gave the Angels a hard-fought 5-4 victory and cut New York’s lead in the series to two-games-to-one.
Just as it appeared the Angels might be on the verge of getting back into the series, the Yankees regained control of the ALCS by administering a 10-1 beating to Anaheim. Starting on only three days’ rest, C.C. Sabathia pitched eight strong innings, allowing Anaheim just one run on five hits. Meanwhile, the Yankee bats exploded for 10 runs on 13 hits against five Angel pitchers. Included in the Yankee assault were three hits and four RBIs by Melky Cabrera and home runs by Johnny Damon and Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod’s two-run blast in the fifth inning tied a postseason record set by Lou Gehrig and Ryan Howard for recording an RBI in eight consecutive games. The 10-1 victory gave New York a commanding 3-1 lead in the series.
After falling behind early in each of the first four contests, the Angels scored four times against A.J. Burnett in the bottom of the first inning of Game Four, to grab a 4-0 lead that they took into the top of the seventh inning. Scoring all their runs before Burnett recorded a single out, the Angels crossed the plate on a two-run single by Torii Hunter, an RBI double by Vladimir Guerrero, and an RBI single by Kendry Morales. Neither Burnett nor Anaheim starter John Lackey allowed another run to score until the seventh inning. After Lackey worked himself into a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh, manager Mike Scioscia elected to replace him with Darren Oliver. Mark Teixeira connected with the left-hander’s first pitch for a double that cleared the bases, cutting Anaheim’s lead to 4-3. After an intentional walk to Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui singled to drive in Teixeira with the tying run. Kevin Jepsen replaced Oliver on the mound for Anaheim and subsequently yielded a triple to Robinson Cano that scored Rodriguez and Matsui, giving New York a two-run lead. However, the Angels responded with three runs of their own in the bottom of the frame, scoring on an RBI groundout by Bobby Abreau and RBI singles by Vladimir Guerrero and Kendry Morales. The three-run rally gave the Angels a 7-6 lead that Brian Fuentes protected in the top of the ninth inning, even though he loaded the bases before he retired Nick Swisher on a game-ending pop out.
After the two teams returned to New York for Game Six, the Yankees put an end to the suspense by riding the strong pitching of Andy Pettitte to a pennant-clinching 5-2 victory. Pettitte allowed the Angels just one run over 6 1/3 innings, while striking out six. Mariano Rivera worked the final two frames to earn a six-out save. Meanwhile, the Yankees got all the runs they needed in the bottom of the fourth inning on a two-run single by Johnny Damon and a walk by Alex Rodriguez with the bases loaded. They added two more runs in the bottom of the eighth on a pair of Anaheim errors and a sacrifice fly by Mark Teixeira. The 5-2 victory gave the Yankees their 40th American League pennant, and their first in six years.