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alcs

Bring on the Phillies!

Through the first three innings of Game 6, it appeared as if the Yankees were on their way to beating themselves. Joe Saunders clearly didn't have it, but the Yankees had already stranded six runners, and despite all the men on base, had no runs to show for it. If this had kept up, a Game 7 Monday was a very real — and very terrifying — possibility.

Then with one out in the fourth and the bases loaded, Johnny Damon — the man who broke Yankees' fans hearts in Game 7 of the ALCS five years ago — lined a single to drive in two runs. A Mark Teixeira infield hit then loaded the bases for Alex Rodriguez, who walked on a questionable ball four — lip-readers could see A-Rod suppressing a grin on first and saying "That ball was a strike" — to plate another run and end Joe Saunders' night. Jorge Posada would hit into a double play to end the inning, but the Yankees had their lead, 3-1. It was a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Andy Pettitte lasted six and a third innings, allowing one run on seven hits. But most importantly, he recorded perhaps the biggest out of the year, getting Kendry Morales to ground back to the mound with men on second and third and two outs in the sixth. A hit could have tied the game and would have ended his night — and dropped Joba Chamberlain right into the middle of an Angels rally. Instead, Joba would enter an inning later.

Joe Girardi took would take no chances with his middle relief in the eighth, bringing in Mariano Rivera for the final six outs. Phil Hughes had a nice regular season, but after shaky Game 5, this was no time to work out the kinks. And though Rivera made things interesting by allowing a run in the eighth, the Yankees would get that run back and then some in the bottom of the inning, thanks to some of the worst infield defense you'll ever see. Considering the costly errors the Angels made in games 1 and 2, it was only right that it would end like this.

The game featured at least three things we're not sure we'd ever seen before: Bobby Abreu made a catch while crashing into a wall, Vladimir Guerrero struck out looking, and whaddya know, Nick Swisher got a hit. It was truly a historic night. Best of all, the Yankees' win tonight keeps their rotation in order, meaning ALCS MVP CC Sabathia can start Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday against the Phillies, who have had all the time in the world to set up their own rotation exactly how they'd like.

Any Yankees player — and probably any Yankees fan, too — would tell you that tonight's not the real prize, that they've got four more games to win, and that it's World Series or bust. Maybe that's ridiculous, but, hey, that's how we've all been conditioned. But do yourself a favor and soak it in: There was no folding against the Angels this time. There was no ALCS choke job. The Yankees are American League champions for the 40th time. Finally.

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Photo: Getty Images