ANAHEIM — Alex Rodriguez limited the celebration of his latest playoff homer to a brisk trot and a few high-fives. CC Sabathia barely even pumped a fist while mowing down the Angels for eight innings.
Even while they shined at a pivotal point in the American League Championship Series, the slugger and the workhorse starter seemed determined to stick to business.
Although none of the Yankees’ 26 World Series championships included these two stars, their no-nonsense excellence in a 10-1 victory Tuesday night put New York one win from routing the Los Angeles Angels and playing for another title.
“We just need to close it out,” Sabathia said simply. “It’s that time.”
Rodriguez homered in the third straight game of his outstanding postseason, Sabathia pitched five-hit ball on three days’ rest, and the Yankees took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven ALCS with superstars living up to their big contracts.
Johnny Damon added a late two-run homer for the Yankees, who could sew up their first trip to the World Series in six years with a win in Game 5 on Thursday night at Angel Stadium. New York’s A.J. Burnett faces Angels ace John Lackey.
Rodriguez had three hits and scored three runs, while Melky Cabrera drove in four for the Yankees, who built a commanding cushion in this once-wild series by draining the drama from it.
One day after the Angels handed New York its first playoff loss in an extra-inning thriller, the Yankees put together two early rallies before piling on five runs late — all backed by Sabathia’s steady work in his second win of the series.
“This team’s good. We have great players, Hall of Fame players,” said Sabathia, who has won three of the Yankees’ seven playoff games. “We’ve got all the confidence in the world.”
With a two-run homer to left field that silenced an excited Anaheim crowd in the fifth, Rodriguez drove in a run in his eighth straight postseason game, tying the Major League record. It was his fifth homer in New York’s seven postseason games, matching Reggie Jackson’s iconic 1977 effort for the second-most homers in a single playoff year for the Yankees.
“Well, the game slows down for you, no doubt about it,” said Rodriguez, who is 6 for 16 with three homers and five RBI in the ALCS. “You feel like you want to see the ball and hit it hard and not try to do too much, but the best way I can describe it is you feel like the game is slowing down.”
Bernie Williams holds the New York record with six homers in 1996, but that mark seems ripe to be toppled by A-Rod in the first phenomenal postseason for a superstar who mostly sputtered in October until now.
Rodriguez also singled and scored New York’s first run in the fourth, and he doubled and scored on an error in the ninth to cap his do-it-all day.
“He did something different,” Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said of Rodriguez. “I think he’s shorter with his swing and being patient, a lot more patient. He looks different at the plate. He definitely wants it. You can tell by the way he’s swinging. That guy’s a bad guy, man. I wish he was on my team.”
After playing 24 innings over 91⁄2 hours and making a coast-to-coast flight over the previous three days, both teams needed a snappy victory. Sabathia came through for the Yankees, providing rest for New York’s taxed bullpen while further frustrating Los Angeles’ lineup, which is foundering in the playoffs after an outstanding regular season.
Sabathia was 2-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five playoff starts with Cleveland and Milwaukee before this season, but he’s been dominant this October. The Yankees’ left-hander yielded two walks and struck out five in Game 4, throwing 101 pitches.
“We’ve still got a little ways to go, but I’ve been feeling good,” Sabathia said. “I never had any doubt about me being able to perform on this stage and to pitch well late in October, but it seems like people did. But I feel great.”
After he retired Hunter on a weak grounder to end the eighth, thousands of fans stood up and left Angel Stadium, not sticking around for the final demise of their suddenly punchless club.
Kendry Morales homered for the Angels, whose bats have been mostly awful in the ALCS. The club that had nine .300 hitters in its lineup in mid-August is batting .201 in the series, and the Angels managed just one extra-base hit in Game 4.
“We got beat pretty badly tonight, (but) it was one loss. That’s it,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “Our guys are confident. There is nobody in that clubhouse that’s down. We know where we have to get to, and there’s a terrific challenge for us.”