Brett Gardner slid into third base on the front end of a double steal, then popped up and came home with the go-ahead run as catcher Mike Napoli‘s throw rolled into left field.
With a pulsating play by the pinch runner, the New York Yankees showed the Los Angeles Angels they can play small ball, too, and cemented control of the race for home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
“They obviously didn’t put me out there to score on a single,” Gardner said after the Yankees‘ 5-3 victory Monday night. “They told me to take a chance.”
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On a night with a playoff feel, Mark Teixeira hit a two-run triple in the fifth inning and Angels center fielder Torii Hunter lost his shoe chasing the drive. Teixeira then doubled to start the go-ahead rally in the eighth.
“Shoeless Torii – that was pretty funny. My spike got caught in the wall,” Hunter said. “I was running out of my shoes right there.”
Melky Cabrera cost the Yankees a run when he ran into third baseman Chone Figgins while jumping to avoid Johnny Damon‘s grounder in the fifth, and Mariano Rivera reached 40 saves for the seventh time, the first since 2005.
The Angels‘ Vladimir Guerrero and New York’s Nick Swisher homered into the second deck in the makeup of a May 3 rainout to raise the home run total at new Yankee Stadium to 217 – two more than were ever hit in a season at the original ballpark across the street.
New York opened a 7 1/2-game lead over second-place Boston in the AL East with 17 to play. The Yankees also took a six-game lead over the Angels for best record in the AL.
“It was good to have a nice game today for kind of everyone to know we can play well against the Angels,” Teixeira said. “We know the teams that we’re going to hopefully be playing in October if we get there, and the Angels are going to be one of them.”
Los Angeles, which remained six games ahead of second-place Texas in the AL West, has gone 34-20 against the Yankees in the regular season since 2004 and eliminated New York in the first round of the playoffs in 2002 and 2005.
“I told Torii and all those guys this offseason when I signed with the Yankees, I said, ‘Hopefully, we’ll see you guys in October,”‘ Teixeira said.
If the standings stay the same, the Angels would host Boston and the Yankees would be home against Detroit in the AL playoff openers. Hunter, the Angels‘ All-Star center fielder, has been impressed by what he’s seen of the Yankees.
“This year, I think it’s something different about those guys,” he said. “It’s a fire, some kind of fire, I see in those guys. It’s totally different.”
Teixeira’s triple put the Yankees ahead 3-2; he pointed angrily that catcher Jeff Mathis interfered on the swing and said it might have cost him a home run.
“I wish they’d have stopped it right there,” said Mathis, preferring an interference call to the triple.
Kendry Morales grounded into a tying double-play grounder in the eighth after Los Angeles loaded the bases with no outs against Phil Hughes (7-3).
Teixeira doubled off Jered Weaver (15-6) with one out in the bottom half, and Alex Rodriguez walked. Darren Oliver relieved, Gardner ran for Teixeira, and the Yankees went ahead when the runners stole on a 1-1 pitch to Hideki Matsui. Catcher Mike Napoli bounced the throw past Figgins, who was playing off the bag. Robinson Cano added a run-scoring single.
“I thought we controlled his jump at second base pretty good,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “Mike threw a ball that sailed away a bit and Chone couldn’t make the play.”
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he’d probably make the same moves in the same situation in the playoffs.
“That’s what they try to do. They try to do the same thing. They try to put pressure on you,” Girardi said. “We did it a little bit different. I like the options that we have. We don’t always want to be a club that has to hit the ball out of the ballpark to score runs.”
After hitting 21 of his first 24 homers on the road, Swisher has three straight at Yankee Stadium. … There were lots of empty premium seats. Attendance was announced at 44,301, the lowest at Yankee Stadium since a makeup game on July 23, with a turnstile count of 30,070. … Teixeira hadn’t tripled since Aug. 11, 2007. … Joba Chamberlain allowed one run and four hits in four innings and was pulled after 67 pitches. After limiting his pitch count to as few as 35 in recent starts, the Yankees are allowing him to gradually build back up.