ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Bases loaded with two outs. Bottom of the ninth inning in a one-run game. The greatest closer in baseball history facing one of the best hitters of his generation.
An average Sunday afternoon game swiftly turned into a memorable moment, and Mariano Rivera made it even better for the Yankees when he struck out Albert Pujols to close out New York’s skid-snapping win.
Rivera fanned Pujols on three pitches to end the Angels’ five-run rally in the ninth, and the Yankees stopped their five-game losing streak with a wild 6-5 victory over Los Angeles.
“The moment doesn’t really get to him,” Travis Hafner said of Rivera, baseball’s career saves leader. “As long as he’s got the lead, you feel he’s going to find a way to get the win.”
Rivera would have enjoyed his 632nd save a bit more if he hadn’t caused much of the drama himself in the park where he made his major league debut in 1995 and earned his first save a year later.
CC Sabathia pitched five-hit ball into the ninth and Hafner hit a three-run homer off Jered Weaver, but the Yankees barely got enough from Rivera. New York’s famed closer gave up three hits and a walk, but still got his 24th save in dramatic fashion.
“That’s what everybody comes and pays for,” said Lyle Overbay, who had an RBI double. “That was a little closer than we thought, but I didn’t sense a lot of panic.”
Jayson Nix also drove in a run during a five-run third inning for the Yankees, who salvaged the finale of their 10-game road trip by battering Weaver (1-3) early and hanging on by their fingernails late.
Sabathia (7-5) struck out six and walked three, but tired in the ninth, leaving with two runners on. After reliever David Robertson left with a 6-1 lead, Rivera gave up Erick Aybar’s RBI groundout, Alberto Callaspo’s two-run single and Peter Bourjos’ RBI single.
Rivera then walked Mike Trout to load the bases before getting Pujols.
“That was a great rally and a lot of fun to be a part of,” said Mark Trumbo, who drove in the Angels’ first run in the ninth. “You know the odds are heavily stacked against you, especially with a guy like CC out there. That’s exactly what we wanted to see. It was very, very close, and that’s about all you can hope for against a guy like Mariano Rivera. Maybe one more blooped (hit) and we win this ballgame.”
Former Angels outfielder Vernon Wells drove in what turned out to be the decisive run with a sacrifice fly off Jerome Williams in the eighth.
Despite the finish, Sabathia decisively won the matchup of both clubs’ top starters. Weaver gave up seven hits and four walks over six innings for the Angels, who had won three straight.
Los Angeles managed just four singles off Sabathia until the crazy ninth.
Sabathia left after Trout’s leadoff double and a walk to Pujols. Trumbo then got an RBI with a line drive that hit Robertson and bounced into right field for a single. Robertson stayed in the game, but loaded the bases with a one-out walk to pinch-hitter J.B. Shuck.
That created an unlikely save opportunity with a five-run lead for Rivera, but the 43-year-old wasn’t sharp. Aybar and Callaspo drove in runs before pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe delivered his first major league hit in two years.
Bourjos then singled home Callaspo to trim New York’s lead to one run. Trout drew a walk to load the bases for Pujols, but the Angels’ $240 million man couldn’t connect.
“We really executed well in the ninth inning and had some good at-bats,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “There was some good situational hitting and some guys off the bench did a good job. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get that tying run across. Rivera made some tough pitches to Albert at the end and closed the door, but our guys were upbeat the whole game.”
New York is without injured regulars Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson and Kevin Youkilis, but got offense from less likely sources in the series finale. Nix had three hits, while Hafner’s two-out shot ended his 0-for-23 skid for the Yankees, who hadn’t scored more than four runs in eight straight games before doing it in the third inning alone at Angel Stadium.
Weaver struck out six, but repeatedly found trouble in his fourth start since returning from a 45-game stint on the disabled list. A 20-game winner last season, the Angels’ longtime ace is winless in his last three starts.
Weaver had two outs and two strikes on Hafner before the veteran hit his 11th homer. Hafner had just five hits in his previous 53 at-bats before connecting against Weaver, including a 2-for-27 start to the road trip.
“I didn’t really accomplish anything that I try to accomplish through the course of a game,” Weaver said. “Walks were bad, first-pitch strikes were bad, and I obviously didn’t get deep in the game. It’s just one of those games where I found myself battling the whole game.”
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