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25 Best Yankees Playoff Games of the Past 25 Years: A-Rod to the rescue again

Alex Rodriguez continued his big October as he helped the Yankees take a 2-0 lead in the ALCS.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v New York Yankees, Game 2 Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images

Alex Rodriguez was a headache; nobody’s denying that. But amidst all the controversies, the PED scandals, and the big contract that was an albatross at the end, it’s easy to forget that he was a really, really great baseball player. He won the AL MVP in 2005 and 2007, was named to the All-Star team in six of his first seven seasons in pinstripes, and won multiple Silver Sluggers.

Most importantly, however, he was a critical part of the Yankees’ 2009 World Series run. By the time the American League Championship Series against the Angels rolled around, Rodriguez had already begun to shake off the “not clutch” label with a game-tying home run in Game 2 of the ALDS, but that would just be the first of several highlights from the third baseman that October.

2009 ALCS Game 2- October 17

Final Score: Yankees 4, Angels 3 (13 innings)

Game MVP: Alex Rodriguez

Much like the game’s hero, the Game 2 starter for the Yankees, A.J. Burnett, has received a lot of flak from the fanbase. While he would earn the boos from the Yankee Stadium crowd in 2010 and 2011, the former Marlins and Blue Jays starter earned his pinstripes in 2009. He was a solid No. 2 starter behind ace CC Sabathia, having posted a 4.04 ERA (an above-average 114 ERA+ in 2009) en route to a 13-9 record. More importantly, he regularly came up big during the postseason, notching the win over the Minnesota Twins in Game 2 of the ALDS and tossing seven innings of one-run ball in Game 2 of the World Series.

While he did throw a pair of six-run ducks in Game 5 of the ALCS and World Series, his performance in Game 2 of the Championship Series mimicked his Game 2 outings in the Divisional Series and World Series. Up against a lineup that did not have a single hitter post an OPS+ below 104 (Erick Aybar) and that had four hitters above 118 (Kendrys Morales, Torii Hunter, Mike Napoli, Bobby Abreu), Burnett looked every bit the pitcher the Yankees were looking for when they paid him $82.5 million the previous winter, allowing just two runs on three hits, striking out four and walking two. Of course, the wildness that plagued Burnett’s entire career reared its head — one of those runs allowed came on a bases loaded wild pitch in the fifth — but overall, against that potent lineup, his performance was more than adequate.

In the early goings, it looked like the Yankees were going to be putting up runs in bunches off Angels starter Joe Saunders, who posted a 4.60 ERA during the regular season. They consistently kept runners on the basepaths throughout the game, recording six hits and working a walk in seven innings, but aside from scratching across a run in the second off a two-out RBI triple by Robinson Canó in the second and another in the third via a Derek Jeter solo homer, they were not able to take advantage.

Burnett handed the ball to Phil Coke, who in turn handed it off to Joba Chamberlain to get through the seventh. Phil Hughes came in to get two outs in the eighth before turning it over to Mariano Rivera. On the other side of the ball, Saunders turned it over to Kevin Jepsen after the seventh, who would pitch two innings. All would provide scoreless work, sending Game 2 into extras.

The Angels struck first. Gary Matthews led off the top of the 11th with a walk off of Alfredo Aceves. Erick Aybar bunted him over to second, and Chone Figgins knocked a line drive single to left that brought Matthews around to score to give LA the lead. Fortunately, he was able to stop the bleeding there, walking Bobby Abreu intentionally to set up the double play that Torii Hunter most generously provided. Still, if the Yankees wanted to head to Anaheim with a 2-0 lead in the series instead of being tied at one apiece, they had their work cut out for them against Angels closer Brian Fuentes, who led the majors with 48 saves in 2009 and was named to his fourth All-Star team that year.

Except, actually, it wasn’t that hard at all.

It was a Short Porch special, not a moonshot, and while we don’t have Statcast data that far back, there’s a good shot that would have been a loud out in a large number of stadiums. Fortunately for the Yankees, the game was played in the Bronx, and history would remember it not as the first out of the inning, but a game-tying home run over the leaping try of Bobby Abreu that A-Rod wasn’t absolutely certain was a home run until he got to second base.

From there, the Yankee win was still no sure thing — the game would go on for another two innings, and while both teams would get the go-ahead run to third base in the bottom of the 12th and top of the 13th, Ervin Santana and David Robertson were able to keep them there.

Eventually, though, the home team managed to pound the run in. Pinch-hitting for speed specialist Freddy Guzmán, Jerry Hairston Jr. led off the inning with a single. Brett Gardner, who had pinch-run for Nick Swisher in the seventh, then bunted him over to second, and after Robinson Canó was intentionally walked, Melky Cabrera hit a grounder to second that should have been an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

Maicer Izturis, however, threw it wide left, resulting in a walk-off E4:

To their credit, the heartbreaking loss did not sink the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, as they bounced back in Game 3 with an extra-innings walk-off win of their own and gained some vengeance on Burnett in Game 5 by knocking him around in a 7-6 victory that send the series back to the Bronx. But this Game 2 win put New York in the drivers’ seat, and played a major role in eventually sending them on their way to World Series No. 27.