The Yankees are back where they belong -- in the World Series -- after capturing their 40th American League pennant Sunday.
Andy Pettitte pitched 6-1/3 terrific innings, Johnny Damon had a huge two-run single, the Angels fell apart defensively and Mariano Rivera was there on the Yankee Stadium mound to close out a 5-2 victory to give the Yankees the American League Championship Series, 4-2. CC Sabathia was named MVP, winning two games in the series and allowing two runs in 16 innings.
The 2004 ALCS collapse against the Red Sox, the first-round exits in '06, '07, '08 are all things of the past. None of that can haunt the Bombers now. Make no mistake, winning this pennant is oh, so sweet!
The Yankees are back in the World Series for the first time since 2003, seeking their first championship since 2000. They will face the defending champion Phillies with Game 1 set for Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
The last time the Yankees and Phillies met in the World Series was in 1950 with the Bombers sweeping the "Whiz Kids."
But the Yankees had business to take care of Sunday and they did not mess around.
Joe Girardi has made many questionable decisions this postseason, including several more in this game, but the one decision he nail head-on was starting Pettitte.
Pettitte may choose to retire after this season, but he's far from done physically. And when there is a big game, he is still a guy who you want on that mound. He's has delivered so many times in the past and he delivered yet again Sunday.
He's now won 16 postseason games, taking sole possession of the record from John Smoltz. And for the second time this season, he's won a series clinching game, the fifth time he done that in his career -- also a record.
Pettitte was strong from the start, cruising through the first two innings, getting some help from Nick Swisher in the second when charged Kendry Morales' pop to right, caught it and doubled Vladimir Guerrero, who had singled to start the inning, off first.
Jeff Mathis, however, led off the third with a double and came around to score two outs later on Bobby Abreu's single to right to make it 1-0.
That lead wouldn't last long as the Yankees finally broke through in the fourth.
Through the first three innings, the Yankees made Angels starter Joe Saunders work, putting two runners on in the first and loading the bases in the second, but failing to come up with the big, two-out hit.
Saunders' luck, though, finally ran out as he walked Robinson Cano to lead off the fourth before Nick Swisher grounded a solid single to left. After Melky Cabrera moved the runners up with a sacrifice and Derek Jeter walked, Damon delivered the big blow, lining a 2-and-1 single to center to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead.
Mark Teixeira followed with a single to load the bases before Alex Rodriguez walked to make it 3-1 and knock out Saunders, who ended up allowing three runs on seven hits and five walks in 3-1/3 innings.
That's all Pettitte would need, cruising though the fourth and fifth before escaping a second-and-third, two-out jam in the sixth by getting Morales to ground to first.
Pettitte ended up allowing seven hits and one walk, while striking out six and throwing 64 of 99 pitches for strikes. He gave the Yankees everything they could have asked for and proved yet again why the Yankees trust him so much.
Girardi pulled Pettitte after he allowed Juan Rivera's single with one out in the seventh. Giradi then made his first questionable move the night by bringing in the struggling Joba Chamberlain instead of going with the hot hand of David Robertson.
But the move worked out as Joba seemed comfortable and confident at home, and got Macier Izturis to ground into a force out before getting Erick Aybar to ground out to end the inning.
And with the Yankees' six outs away from the pennant, that left Girardi free to go to Mo to start the eighth, though that is not a move without its risks.
Mariano has now saved a record 37 postseason games, 21 more than the Phillies' Brad Lidge, who is second on the list. In addition, Mariano has 29 postseason saves of 1+ innings and 13 of two innings.
There is no closer pitching today who is better equipped to go two innings to close out a series.
That said, Mariano does have five blown saves in the postseason and in each of those games, he entered in the eighth, including starting the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the Diamondbacks. We all know what happened there. No need to recount it.
And for a moment Sunday, there was reason to worry.
Chone Figgins led of the eighth against Rivera with a single and went to second on Abreu's ground out. Hunter then hit a grounder back through the middle that seemed targeted for center, but Cano had been holding Figgins close and was in position to not only make the play, but force Figgins to hold at second.
But Rivera couldn't keep the Angels off the board as Guerrero singled to right in a nine-pitch at-bat to drive in Figgins and make it 3-2. It was the first postseason earned run Rivera had allowed at home since the 2000 World Series against the Mets.
Kendry Morales then grounded out to end the inning, leaving the Yankees in need of more runs.
The offense delivered.
Cano walked against Ervin Santana to lead off and Mike Scioscia brought in lefthander Scott Kazmir to face Swisher.
The Girardi made another questionable move, asking Swisher to bunt. Swisher is not normally asked to bunt and was going to come out of the game for defensive purposes after the at-bat anyway, so why not send up Brett Gardner, who is more prolific at a bunter, instead?
Turns out the Ghost of Phil Rizzuto was in the park on this night.
Swisher got down a beautiful bunt down the first base line that Morales fielded and threw to Howie Kendrick at first. Kendrick, however, dropped throw for an error, putting runners on first and second.
Gardner was sent in to run for Swisher and Girardi then properly had Cabrera lay down another sacrifice that Kazmir fielded, but his throw to first was off the mark, sailing down the right field line and allowing Cano to score to make it 4-2.
With runners on second and third and no outs, Jeter grounded back to the box before Damon walked to load the bases. Teixeira followed with a sacrifice fly and the Yankees had an insurmountable three-run lead.
That was more than enough for Mo in the ninth as he got Kendrick to ground out and Juan Rivera to fly out before striking out Gary Matthews Jr. to end the game and start the celebration.
The Yankees are back in the World Series.
Championship No. 27 is within reach.
Runners In Scoring Position
World Series Game 1
Wednesday vs. Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX
Cliff Lee (14-13, 3.22 ERA; Postseason: 2-0, 0.74 ERA in 3 starts; 2009 vs. Yankees: 1-1, 3.00 ERA in 2 starts)
Sabathia (19-8, 3.37 ERA; Postseason: 3-0, 1.19 ERA; 2009 vs. Phillies: 0-0, 3.38 ERA, 1 start)