NEW YORK — There is no one the Yankees would rather turn to in a potential elimination game than CC Sabathia, and the ace delivered hope, forcing the American League Championship Series back to Texas with a 7-2 victory over the Rangers on Wednesday.
Facing elimination, the Yankees kept alive their dreams of a 41st AL pennant as they attempt to become just the fifth team in history to recover from a 3-1 series deficit and advance to the World Series. The ALCS returns to Rangers Ballpark for Game 6 on Friday at 8 p.m. ET.
“We knew it was do or die,” said outfielder Nick Swisher, whose third-inning homer was just his second hit of the ALCS. “We came out and played like we know how. We don’t feel like we’re out of anything.
“We have one more game — and one more after that.”
With their bags zipped and a charter jet already fueled for the Lone Star State, the Yankees begged Sabathia to push 2011 off for another day, looking to the 21-game winner to lead the charge for a team that manager Joe Girardi said showed renewed focus during pregame warmups.
“There was a determination,” Girardi said. “We have not played extremely well in this series. There was determination that we were going to go out and play our game today. We knew what we had to do.”
Sabathia was ready to answer the call, hurling six solid innings after being presented with an early three-run lead that swelled as large as five runs.
“That’s what you play for — to have the chance to win a championship,” Sabathia said. “Our backs were up against the wall today. I just wanted to fight, no matter what the situation was. I was just going to try to make some pitches to make sure I got some outs.”
Sabathia never outright dominated in an 11-hit effort, but the cool lefty limited the damage to two runs, striking out seven to rebound from a troubled Game 1 start.
“We’ve got to get out of the hole we got ourselves into,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “We haven’t pitched the way we need to, and today CC went out there and did what he was supposed to do — give us a chance to win.”
New York jumped on Texas left-hander C.J. Wilson for six runs in five innings, a nice change for the Yankees, who had owned a lead for just five innings coming into Game 5.
“It’s a seven-game series, and those guys over there are champs,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said. “We didn’t expect them to lay down. They came out today and were very aggressive. We had Sabathia bending, and he didn’t break. That’s baseball.”
New York got its first three runs off Wilson in the second inning, as Posada sliced a run-scoring single to left field. Curtis Granderson followed with an RBI hit, and Posada alertly charged around the bases when Jeff Francoeur’s throw tipped away for an error, coming home while the Yankees giggled from the bench at their slow-footed catcher turned speed demon.
That was like Rickey Henderson — running around until you tag him or he scores,” Derek Jeter said. “He got things going. He got the hit that put us on the board, and then he was aggressive on the bases. When you’re aggressive, you force people to make mistakes.”
The Rangers were forced to take the champagne and beer out of the ice buckets when Swisher and Robinson Cano connected with consecutive solo homers in the third inning — the first back-to-back homers for the Yankees in the postseason since Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez in Game 3 of the 2000 ALCS against Seattle.
Cano’s four home runs are the most in any ALCS by a Yankee, and only Reggie Jackson had more among those wearing pinstripes in a postseason series, slugging five home runs in the 1977 World Series.
“I feel good at the plate, but bottom line, you just won the game,” Cano said. “If you didn’t win, it doesn’t mean anything. You win or you go home. We know what it feels like to go to the World Series and win a championship, and now we want to go back again and just keep having fun.”
Sabathia kept the Rangers off the scoreboard until the fifth, when Matt Treanor smashed a solo homer into the left-field seats. Texas continued threatening, getting Josh Hamilton to the plate with two men on, but Sabathia induced the slugger to hit into an inning-ending double play.
“I felt a lot sharper than I did in Game 1,” Sabathia said. “I was able to make some pitches when I got in trouble. In Game 1, I really had no clue.”
Three one-out singles set up a Treanor run-scoring groundout in the sixth, a ball too slowly hit for third baseman Alex Rodriguez to attempt to turn a double play, but Sabathia stranded two runners aboard by winning an eight-pitch battle with Mitch Moreland on an inside slider for a called third strike.
“He battled — Texas can hit,” Jeter said of Sabathia. “It’s pretty tough to just completely shut them down, but he was able to get some big outs when he needed it and make some big pitches when he needed it.”
With Sabathia done after six innings and 112 pitches, Kerry Wood fired two scoreless innings, helped by a pickoff of Elvis Andrus from second base in the seventh. Curtis Granderson gave Mariano Rivera additional cushion for a non-save situation in the ninth, slugging a solo homer off Alexi Ogando.
The Rangers had been a perfect 5-0 on the road this postseason, but the Yankees put an end to that, scurrying off to the airport with a sense of accomplishment. They still must win out to advance, including toppling Cliff Lee in a potential Game 7, but just getting to the runway was enough for now.
“We had a great attitude,” Swisher said. “Guys came in, everyone was wearing their suits and it wasn’t time for us to end this thing. Especially at home, that’s the last thing we wanted to happen, ending this here.”