Rally Monkey bails out Angels

Just when all looked lost, the Los Angeles Angels took a cue from an old friend.

Los Angeles Angel John Lackey threw six strong innings against the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the ALCS Thursday. The Angels won 7-6 to force Game six trailing 3-2 in the series.

Angels 7 Yankees 6

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Just when all looked lost, the Los Angeles Angels took a cue from an old friend.

With their Rally Monkey doing his best work in years, the Angels sent the American League Championship Series back to New York.

Kendry Morales drove in the go-ahead run with a two-out single in the seventh inning, and the Angels responded to the Yankees’ six-run comeback moments earlier for a 7-6 win Thursday night that trimmed New York’s lead in the ALCS to 3-2.

Vladimir Guerrero’s single tied it in the seventh for the Angels, who somehow didn’t surrender after blowing a 4-0 lead. New York struck immediately after manager Mike Scioscia removed ace John Lackey, with Robinson Cano capping the rally with a two-run triple.

The Game 5 theatrics continued right up to the final pitch, when Angels closer Brian Fuentes retired Nick Swisher on a full-count popup with the bases loaded.

“My hair is falling out,” said shaved-headed Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, who had a two-run single in Los Angeles’ four-run first inning.

“We’re having a little fun, man. Everybody thought we were down.”

Game 6 is Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, with Andy Pettitte facing Los Angeles’ Joe Saunders. Also in the forecast: a huge rainstorm.

When Cano put New York up 6-4, everything in sombre Angel Stadium pointed to a clinching victory and a 40th AL pennant for the Yankees.

Instead, the Angels showed off the knack for late-game comebacks they’ve possessed ever since their run to their only championship in 2002, when the beloved Rally Monkey began appearing in the late innings on their scoreboard and in plush form in the stands.

“It’s a missed opportunity, but we still have another game,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ve bounced back from tough losses all year long. We’ve had it happen to us before and been able to get off the carpet.”

Although two games in the Bronx — and shutdown starter CC Sabathia — still stand in the Angels’ way, the collapse raised the slightest echoes of what happened to the Yankees’ last big lead in an ALCS. The Red Sox famously rallied from an 0-3 deficit in 2004, making a late rally to win Game 4 before finishing off the biggest comeback in baseball history in seven games.

Only six teams have rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a league championship series — most recently in 2007, when Boston came back against Sabathia and Cleveland on the way to a title. Including the World Series, 11 of 70 teams that fell into a 3-1 hole have made the comeback.

Lackey cruised through the first six innings after Los Angeles scored four in the first, and the ace reacted with audible disappointment when Scioscia pulled him. Reliever Darren Oliver yielded a three-run double to Mark Teixeira on his first pitch, and Hideki Matsui added a tying single.

But the Angels added another comeback to a season full of them.

Jeff Mathis and Erick Aybar reached base to chase A.J. Burnett, the big-money free agent who’s still winless in three post-season starts. After Mathis scored on Bobby Abreu’s RBI groundout, Guerrero’s dribbling single against reliever Phil Hughes eluded a diving Derek Jeter to tie it — and Morales put the Angels ahead with the latest clutch hit of his breakout season.

“That’s not a forgiving team over there,” Scioscia said.

“They hit pretty quick in that inning with six runs, and we bounced back and answered with three. In the dugout between innings, guys were still pumped up. Just some real good hitting.”

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