NEW YORK - They were facing the end of their season and a miserable winter after that.
Not to worry, Joe Girardi said. Speaking in the wee hours before his players went home for a few hours sleep ahead of Game 5, the New York Yankees manager implored them not to give up.
“That was huge,” CC Sabathia said. “Just having us be able to relax and not panic.”
No panic here. Sabathia pitched like a champion, and the Yankees are heading for Texas.
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Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano hit consecutive homers to build an early cushion, Sabathia made the lead stand up, and the Yankees beat the Rangers, 7-2, Wednesday to cut their deficit to 3-2 in the American League Championship Series.
“We’re right where we need to be,” Swisher said.
A late-arriving crowd for the late-afternoon game wondered whether this would be it for the defending World Series champs after Texas outscored them 25-5 while winning three straight.
A tough comeback? Yes.
As Girardi remembered telling his players, “Before we lost the three games in a row, we won four in a row.” He added: “Just look at tomorrow. Win a game tomorrow.”
By the time Curtis Granderson hit an eighth-inning homer for his second RBI of the game and a 7-2 lead, the Yankees were believers.
Now the teams will go deep in the heart of Texas to decide the pennant in the best-of-seven series. When they resume in Arlington for Game 6, Phil Hughes starts for the Yankees against Colby Lewis in a rematch of Game 2, won by the Rangers, 7-2.
“It’s great. We’re going back home,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to win one out of two.”
And Texas may be holding the ultimate postseason ace in the hole: Cliff Lee would start a Game 7 against Andy Pettitte.
“Who cares about Cliff going in Game 7?” Texas right fielder Jeff Francoeur said. “We’ve got a game to win in Game 6.”
The Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the second as losing pitcher C.J. Wilson had trouble with the muddy mound and created a hole with a pair of four-pitch walks. Jorge Posada and Granderson had run-scoring singles, and another run scored on an overthrow of third by Francoeur for an error in right field.
Sabathia lasted just four innings in the opener, when the Yankees rallied from a five-run deficit. Leads of 5-0 and 6-1 never seemed comfortable in this one as he allowed two runs and 11 hits in six innings.
“I just wanted to fight, no matter what the situation was,” said Sabathia, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the sixth giving up one run.
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