NEW YORK — CC Sabathia pitched like a champion, and the New York Yankees are heading for Texas. A whole lot better than heading home.
Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano hit consecutive homers to build an early cushion, Sabathia made the lead stand up and the Yankees avoided elimination, beating the Rangers 7-2 Wednesday and closing within 3-2 in the AL Championship Series. "We're right where we need to be," Swisher said.
A late-arriving crowd for the late-afternoon game wondered whether this would be it for the defending World Series champs after Texas outscored them 25-5 while winning three in a row.
But Sabathia bounced back from an erratic opener, staying away from too much trouble against Josh Hamilton and Texas' big bats. Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz made an early exit with hamstring trouble, a day after Yankees star Mark Teixeira was lost for the postseason with a hamstring injury. Curtis Granderson added an eighth-inning homer for New York, his second RBI of the game.
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"There was a determination," Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said. "We have not played extremely well in this series, to say the least."
Now the teams will travel to Texas to decide the pennant in the best-of-seven series.
When they resume Friday night in Arlington for Game 6, Phil Hughes starts for the Yankees against Colby Lewis in a rematch of Game 2, won by the Rangers 7-2.
"It's not disappointing," Rangers Manager Ron Washington said. "It's a seven-game series."
In the 50th anniversary of a franchise that has never reached the World Series, Texas remains one win away. To get past the Rangers, the Yankees will eventually have to solve post-season star Cliff Lee, who would start a Game 7 against Andy Pettitte.
"Crazier things have happened," Swisher said.
New York is trying to overcome its first 3-1 post-season deficit since 1958. Since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format, 24 of the 30 previous teams to take 3-1 series leads have won pennants.
No matter what, the season is over for Teixeira. The All-Star first baseman was removed from the post-season roster and replaced by Eduardo Nunez, and Teixeira would not be eligible for the World Series. Lance Berkman took over at first base and had a scare when he slipped chasing Ian Kinsler's foul pop, causing his head and back to snap back. Berkman stayed in the game and later caught a foul popup for the final out.
"I imagine he's going to be pretty sore tomorrow," Girardi said. "He gutted it out today for us."
On what would have been Bob Sheppard's 100th birthday and Mickey Mantle's 79th, the Yankees took a 3-0 lead in the second as C.J. Wilson seemed to have trouble with a muddy mound and created a hole with a pair of four-pitch walks. Jorge Posada and Granderson had run-scoring singles, and another run scored on an error by right fielder Jeff Francoeur.
Sabathia lasted just four innings in the opener, when he started on eight days' rest and the Yankees rallied from a five-run deficit. Leads of 5-0 and 6-1 never seemed comfortable in this one as he allowed two runs and 11 hits — matching his season high — in six innings with no walks. His key outs came in the sixth, when the Rangers loaded the bases with one out.
Matt Treanor, who had homered in the fifth, hit an RBI grounder. Then, culminating an eight-pitch at-bat, Sabathia froze No. 9 hitter Mitch Moreland with a curveball to strike him out. The big man responded with a fist pump.
Kerry Wood had his second big pickoff of the series in the seventh. Elvis Andrus singled leading off, advanced on a wild pitch and was caught leaning by Wood, who caught Kinsler off first in the eighth inning of the opener. After Wood struck out three in two scoreless innings, Mariano Rivera finished in a non-save situation.
Texas has dominated, outscoring the Yankees 32-18 and outhitting them .316 to .217. New York is batting just .160 (8-for-50) with runners in scoring position, and Alex Rodriguez (.176), Swisher (.105) and Marcus Thames (.154) all have failed to hit their weight.