Yankees 3, Angels 2
-- Two chartered airplanes sat on the tarmac on a chilly Sunday night in New York, unsure of their flight plans, or, in the case of the plane belonging to the New York Yankees, whether it would take off at all. Tropical Depression Tammy, Fox television executives and the Los Angeles Angels all conspired to make this weekend more of an adventure than the Yankees would have preferred. But they play on. The road is hard in October, especially when you win.
So, in the wee hours of Monday morning, both planes filled with weary travelers roared down runways and began making their way west, following the Yankees' 3-2 victory in a classic Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium, which tied the best-of-five series at two games apiece.
The decisive Game 5 will be Monday night at Angel Stadium of Anaheim -- New York's Mike Mussina vs. Los Angeles's Bartolo Colon -- with the winner facing the Chicago White Sox in the AL Championship Series beginning Tuesday night.
A taut pitching duel between the Angels' John Lackey and the Yankees' Shawn Chacon -- the former starting on short rest, the latter on nearly twice his normal rest -- gave way to a late-inning show of clutch hitting and lock-down bullpen work -- this time not by the Angels, but by the Yankees.
The winning formula looked like something out of the Yankees Dynasty textbook, circa late 1990s: six and one-third effective innings from Chacon, who was making his first career postseason start; a couple of clutch run-scoring hits, by Gary Sheffield in the sixth and Ruben Sierra in the seventh, that shook Yankee Stadium to its foundation; and two perfect, masterful innings of relief work from the greatest closer in baseball history, Mariano Rivera.
"You stop managing at that point," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said of Rivera. "I trust him so much, because I know one thing: Above anything else, whether it works or not, you know he's going out there with the biggest heart in the world."
Trailing by two runs in the bottom of the sixth, facing the league's deepest and most effective bullpen, and staring at another long, lonely winter, the Yankees seized the lead with a pair of runs off Scot Shields in the seventh inning.
The go-ahead run scored with one out, on the humblest of slow dribblers off the bat of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Third baseman Chone Figgins scooped it up and made an ill-conceived, ill-executed throw home in an attempt to nab Jorge Posada at the plate. The throw was in the dirt and on the first base side of the plate, and the tag from catcher Bengie Molina -- who kept the ball in his bare hand -- was a shade too late.
"It's not an easy play," Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. Figgins "just rushed it a little bit."
First pitch of Sunday night's game, a makeup of Saturday's rainout, was at 7:56 p.m. Last pitch was at 11:09. If the teams are lucky, they will arrive at their Anaheim hotels around 5 a.m. Pacific time, then assemble at Angel Stadium about 12 hours later for the first pitch of Game 5 -- with the winner getting back on a plane to head to Chicago.
Much energy was wasted trying to get the honchos at Fox to move up Sunday's start to a more travel-friendly hour. The network, of course, was committed to NFL coverage in the afternoon, and the NFL stops for no one. Baseball even discussed moving the start of the ALCS to Wednesday, but a spokesman said it will begin as scheduled on Tuesday.
"It's not much of an issue," Jeter said of the travel schedule. The Angels "are going through the same thing. It's not like they're taking the Concorde out there."
Forty-nine years and one day after Don Larsen threw the only perfect game in World Series history, Chacon and Lackey were both working on gems as the game passed its midway point. Chacon faced the minimum number of batters -- 15 -- through the first five innings, as the only two Angels base runners had been erased on the base paths. Lackey, meantime, carried a no-hitter into the fifth and a shutout into the sixth, the tension building with each scoreless frame.
"It's an honor to be part of all this history," said Chacon, a midseason acquisition from the Colorado Rockies. "You want to put your own mark on the Yankees organization and the history."
As the game entered the late innings, it became the domain of Jeter and Rivera, just like in the old days. And the planes sat on the tarmac, waiting for an outcome. The outcome finally settled, the planes climbed high into the night.