A-Rod's sacrifice fly lifts Yankees past Angels and into playoffs

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- No champagne. No plastic sheets on the lockers. Just a few handshakes and hugs on the field.

Although the Yankees secured their return to the playoffs Tuesday night after a year away that sometimes felt like an eternity, they haven't forgotten which clinchers really matter.

Brett Gardner scored the tiebreaking run on Alex Rodriguez's sacrifice fly in the ninth, and the Yankees got ready for their 14th playoff appearance in 15 seasons Tuesday night with a 6-5 victory over the Los Angeles Angels.

Rodriguez homered and drove in three runs before Mariano Rivera earned his 41st save for the Yankees, who were guaranteed a return to the postseason about 55 minutes before the last out in Anaheim when Oakland beat the Texas Rangers 9-1.

"I wish we could be a bit happier, but we're still out there trying to win," Johnny Damon said. "We didn't want to back into the playoffs, though. It's good that we sealed our own fate."

With one formality aside, the AL-leading Yankees already were thinking about what else is available to them. The win gave New York a six-game lead over Boston in the East and a 5½-game edge on the Angels for homefield advantage at the new Yankee Stadium throughout the postseason.

"The division is very important to us," said Mark Teixeira, who made the postseason with the Angels last year. "You don't see any champagne tonight, but hopefully in a couple of days you will."

The Yankees blew a 5-0 lead before rallying to win for the first time in five games this season at Angel Stadium, where they've still lost 18 of 24. Phil Hughes (8-3) allowed the Angels' tying, unearned run in the eighth on Maicer Izturis' RBI single.

Derek Jeter and his teammates are back in the postseason after staying home last fall in manager Joe Girardi's debut campaign. The Yankees won 17 playoff series and four World Series titles in a 13-year span after 1994, but New York hasn't won a championship since 2000 or even a playoff series since the 2004 division series, losing four straight.

With a weekend home series looming against the Red Sox, Jeter knows the Yankees will benefit from a difficult win in Anaheim over a team that has beaten them down over the past few years.

"It's still to early to talk about [playoff] matchups, but it's important to win against good teams," said Jeter, who set a major league record for shortstops with his seventh 200-hit season.

Chone Figgins homered for the Angels, who had won four of five. Los Angeles still has a 7½-game lead on the Rangers in the AL West, but its magic number stayed at six for clinching its third straight division title.

"We battled back against some good pitching, and that's very encouraging," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We had a lot of opportunities and had the right guys up there, but those guys made some pitches. We needed that one hit to turn it our way, but we couldn't get it."

The Yankees took a five-run lead in the fifth inning after early homers from Rodriguez, Jorge Posada and Hideki Matsui, but Los Angeles chipped away with several typical small-ball rallies, tying it when Izturis drove home Howie Kendrick with a single over the drawn-in infield in the eighth.

Gardner led off the ninth with a single and stole second on a pitchout, thanks to a poor throw by fourth-string Angels catcher Ryan Budde. After Matt Palmer (10-2) walked Jeter, and Damon put down a sacrifice bunt, Teixeira got an intentional walk from Darren Oliver to load the bases with one out -- and Rodriguez's drive to center was deep enough to get Gardner home.

"We were down five runs, but we came back and made it a baseball game," said Torii Hunter, who went 0 for 5 and couldn't throw out Gardner at the plate. "It was a very exciting game. I didn't show up, but I had a lot of fun watching it."

Rivera's streak of 36 consecutive saves ended last Friday in Seattle with only his second blown save of the year, but Posada threw out pinch-runner Reggie Willits trying to steal second base after Juan Rivera struck out in the ninth.

The Yankees hit their homers off Los Angeles starter Ervin Santana, who yielded nine hits in six innings. The Dominican right-hander's latest inconsistent outing probably guaranteed Scioscia will leave him out of the Angels' playoff rotation.

Chad Gaudin started strong before fading in the fifth inning for the Yankees, who have won each of his five starts since he arrived last month in a trade with San Diego.

Game notes
Jeter's fourth-inning single clinched his latest 200-hit season. He's one shy of breaking the club record for 200-hit seasons held by Lou Gehrig, who was passed by Jeter as the Yankees' career hits leader 11 days earlier. ... Rodriguez is three homers behind Mark McGwire for eighth place on baseball's career list. ... Gaudin hasn't received a decision in any of his five starts with New York.