If this game was scripted, it veered wildly off course several times. What looked like a routine Angels win turned out not to be that at all. What looked like a classic, late-inning Yankees comeback was also an illusion.
After the Angels got those four first-inning runs, neither team scored until the seventh when they combined to score nine runs. A funny game, indeed.
"We have to keep playing all the outs,'' Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's not a forgiving team over there.''
After Chone Figgins started the game with a walk, the Angels turned the next four strikes they saw from Yankees starter A.J. Burnett into hits - a ringing double to right-center by Bobby Abreu, a ground-shot single up the middle by Torii Hunter, a rocketed double to left-center by Vladimir Guerrero, and finally, a single by Kendry Morales.
For a team that had scored 10 runs in the first four ALCS games and had not scored a single run in the first three innings of their first seven 2009 playoff games, this was a major breakthrough. And with their best pitcher, John Lackey, on the mound, the Angels were finally in control of something.
And then they weren't.
Rightfielder Nick Swisher flew out to center to start the Yankees' seventh and to left to end it. It was what went down in between that really looked like it would send the Yankees to the World Series.
Lackey left with the bases loaded and two outs, leading 4-0. Three batters prior, it looked like he might have had Jorge Posada struck out on a 3-2 pitch. It was either just at the knees or just low. It was ruled just low for a walk. Lackey then walked Derek Jeter on four pitches before getting Johnny Damon to fly out weakly to left.
Scioscia decided that Lackey's 104 pitches were enough. If he knew what would go down next, he might have reconsidered.
Lefty Darren Oliver came out of the bullpen. He turned switch-hitter Mark Teixeira around and the first baseman promptly turned his first pitch around, smoking it to the left-center gap for a double, clearing the bases. Teixeira had been just 4-for-30 (.133) before getting two hits last night.
Alex Rodriguez was walked intentionally. Hideki Matsui singled to tie it. Robinson Cano doubled in the two runners, giving the Yankees a 6-4 lead.
By all rights, the Angels should have been yesterday's news. They were not.
"When they got the sixth run, man, I was out there deflated and pissed off,'' said Hunter, the Angels' centerfielder. "So I came in the dugout, threw my glove. But after all that I settled down, and everybody settled down . . . We knew we had time left and a lot of innings left, a lot of outs left.''
The amazing Jeff Mathis, the Angels' backup catcher, led off the bottom of the seventh with his sixth consecutive hit. And the comeback was on. Burnett was soon gone and the Yankees' setup men set up the Angels' hitters. A fielder's choice got the Angels close. Singles by Guerrero and Morales gave them the lead.
Jered Weaver overpowered the Yankees in the eighth. In the ninth, Angels closer Brian Fuentes walked Rodriguez intentionally with two outs. Then, he unintentionally walked Matsui on a 3-2 pitch. Then, he hit Cano. And went 3-2 on poor Nick Swisher with the bases loaded.
"I threw strike 1, strike 2 and I'm feeling pretty good about myself,'' Fuentes said. "Then I started picking a little bit . . . Now, it's 3-2, and I'm, 'OK, you have to get a strikeout or put the ball in play.''
Swisher, now 3-for-29 in the playoffs, lofted a high pop toward short.
"I was running home to give [his catcher] a hug,'' Fuentes said. "I assumed they were going to catch it and we were alive to see another day.''
If this is just about winning another World Series and not necessarily just about beating New York in the process, the Angels' win was good news on several fronts for the Phillies. The Angels are a very good team, but the Yankees are a bit better. So, if the Angels actually win the next two games and the ALCS in an upset, this is not a bad thing. If the Angels can just win tomorrow at Yankee Stadium and get this to a Game 7 on Sunday, that is a good thing no matter who wins.
Yanks ace CC Sabathia (3-0, 1.19 ERA, 20 strikeouts, three walks in his three postseason starts) would pitch that Game 7. That would mean there would be no way he could pitch Game 1 of the World Series on 2 days' rest and could not pitch three times in the Series, if the schedule was not altered because of weather.
So, chill out on that Yanks-Phils deal and try to look at the big picture.
"This game will drive you crazy,'' Hunter said. "I've got a headache. I will get gray hair if I let my hair grow out.''
After those six hits in the first inning, both teams got just six hits combined in the next five innings as Burnett settled in and Lackey cruised. After giving up those four straight hits, Burnett gave up just four hits and a walk before coming out in the bottom of the seventh with two on and nobody out.
Baseball is a game of numbers played by real live people who get hot and then go cold. Hardly anything is preordained when two teams with talent and confidence meet up to decide something important.
"We've had it happen to us before,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We've been able to get back off the carpet or the mat or whatever you want to say and come back and win a game. We had a tough loss on Monday. Came out, played a great game on Tuesday.''
So, even though the end seemed near after the Yankees won Game 4, 10-1, on Tuesday, that was just their third win of the series. Scores don't carry over and the Angels played Game 5 exactly the way they had to play it - all in.
So, the ALCS goes on in the Bronx this weekend. And, a few hours down the turnpike, everybody waits. Somewhere in Central Jersey, there is that invisible dividing line that can't be crossed. It is Phillies. Or Yankees. Or, somewhere near Disneyland, Angels.