Angels survive another thriller

When Derek Jeter led off Game 3 with a homer into the bullpen, this AL championship series seemed uncomplicated. Power hitting and steady pitching appeared to be driving New York to the World Series.

Los Angeles Angels’ Howie Kendrick (47) is congratulated by Erick Aybar (2) after scoring on a double by Jeff Mathis during the 11th inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship baseball series Monday.

Angels 4 Yankees 2

ANAHEIM, Calif. — When Derek Jeter led off Game 3 with a homer into the bullpen, this AL championship series seemed uncomplicated. Power hitting and steady pitching appeared to be driving New York to the World Series.

About 261 minutes, 14 pitchers, six homers and several big blunders later, a winning hit by a backup catcher left only one thing certain in this cuckoo series: The Los Angeles Angels won’t be trampled by the mighty Yankees.

Jeff Mathis drove home Howie Kendrick with a two-out double in the 11th inning, and the Angels survived a second straight ALCS thriller, beating New York 5-4 Monday to trim the Yankees’ series lead to 2-1.

“There was a lot of great baseball on that field this afternoon,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

“There were a lot of twists and turns, and both teams played a terrific game. We just got it done at the end.”

Kendrick, himself a part-time infielder, homered and tripled before singling with two outs in the 11th off rookie Alfredo Aceves.

Mathis followed with his drive up against the left-field wall, and Kendrick slid home well ahead of a desperate throw, setting off an on-field celebration of the backups’ bonanza.

Mathis, a .211 hitter in the regular season, came up with his third late-inning, extra-base hit of this outlandish series, just two days after the clubs’ 310-minute, 13-inning icy epic in Game 2.

“Obviously, it’s the biggest hit of my life,” Mathis said. “For Howie to have the at-bat he did right there, and to get on base and put one in the gap to win the game, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

If the Angels had any lingering doubts about their ability to match up with the big-money Yankees after two discouraging losses in the chilly Bronx, those worries melted during their comeback in the balmy Orange County sun.

“Man, that was one of the craziest games,” said Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who lamented his 1-for-5 effort. “It was an emotional roller coaster, man. We were up, we were down. I’ve got a headache right now, but it was a lot of fun. Both teams were battling and we came through in the end. As long as you have innings and outs left, you’ve got a chance to make something happen.”

Game 4 is Tuesday night, with CC Sabathia pitching on three days’ rest against Angels newcomer Scott Kazmir. Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Thursday.

Vladimir Guerrero hit a tying two-run homer as the Angels overcame a 3-0 deficit and four solo homers by the Yankees’ stars, including Jorge Posada’s tying shot in the eighth. Bobby Abreu made a big baserunning mistake, Joba Chamberlain flopped, and Mariano Rivera made a gutsy stand with the bases loaded in the 10th before Kendrick and Mathis made it all academic with two quick hits against Aceves, the Yankees’ eighth pitcher.

Mathis entered Game 3 in the eighth, and had a leadoff double in the 10th.

“You wouldn’t think Jeff Mathis would be the guy that beats us, but top to bottom, they’re a good lineup,” said Yankees reliever Phil Hughes, who got five outs and finished the ninth.

For the second straight game, the Angels and Yankees played into tense extra innings, stretching nerves and bullpens still frayed from Saturday’s marathon New York victory at Yankee Stadium.

“This is the type of series we expected it to be,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We didn’t really stretch out any of our pitchers too far today out of the bullpen, so I believe our guys will be fine tomorrow.”

Los Angeles wasted a golden opportunity in the 10th after putting runners at the corners with nobody out against Rivera, but the ace closer came through yet again, getting Hunter and Guerrero with the bases loaded. Fans gathered across the country at Yankee Stadium erupted in cheers when Rivera retired the side — but the Angels came through in the 11th after winner Ervin Santana retired the Yankees.

“Anyone who thought we were going to breeze through a series with the Angels is crazy,” said New York’s Mark Teixeira, who finished last season with Los Angeles. “This is a great team, and they came to play today.”

The Angels ended their six-game ALCS losing streak. The Yankees had been 5-0 in this post-season, starting with a sweep over Minnesota.

The Yankees had a 3-0 lead midway through the fifth on homers by Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Johnny Damon. Andy Pettitte also appeared to be cruising toward his record 16th career post-season victory, which would have put New York one win from its first World Series in six years.

Instead, Kendrick hit a fifth-inning homer, Guerrero tied it with a two-run shot in the sixth, and Kendrick tripled off Chamberlain before scoring on Maicer Izturis’ sacrifice fly in the seventh to put the Angels ahead 4-3.

But Posada tied it again in the eighth with a shot to centre off Kevin Jepsen. Jeter stranded two runners to end New York’s eighth, and Los Angeles’ Abreu was tagged out moments later while retreating to second base after his long double to centre.

Only three teams have blown a 2-0 lead in a league championship series, but the 2004 Yankees are in that trio. After taking a 3-0 lead against Boston that infamous fall, the Yankees lost 13 of their next 17 post-season games before winning their first five this year.

Many fans hadn’t even settled into their Angel Stadium seats for Game 3 when Jeter ripped Jered Weaver’s third pitch into the bullpen beyond the left-field fence for his third career leadoff homer in the post-season. Rodriguez connected in the fourth for his 11th career post-season homer. He already has nine RBIs in these playoffs, a career best.

The 37-year-old Pettitte, a mainstay of New York’s playoff efforts since 1996, has made the most post-season starts (37) and pitched the most innings (231) in baseball history. He yielded seven hits and one walk, but Los Angeles’ two mid-game homers made him the first Yankees starter to allow more than two runs in this post-season.

Weaver gave up five hits and three walks in five innings, failing to recapture the dominance of his two-hit start against Boston nine days earlier.

Angels closer Brian Fuentes pitched a hitless ninth, showing no effects from Rodriguez’s tying homer in the 11th inning of Game 2. Manager Mike Scioscia ordered an intentional walk for Rodriguez with nobody on base and two outs, a move that paid off when pinch-hitter Jerry Hairston Jr. struck out.

NOTES: Posada apparently asked Angel Stadium officials to turn on the lights midway through the game, played under partly cloudy skies. … Abreu was 0 for 11 against his former team before his sixth-inning single.

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