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Yanks' last gasp or history in grasp? Stay tuned


NEW YORK -- Most of the time, it's just a last gasp.

Once in a very long while, it's something more.

You never know at the time. You never know if a team really has saved its season in Game 5, the way the Yankees hoped they did on Wednesday.

You never know if the losing team simply had its celebration postponed by a few days, or put off completely.

Game 5 in a series that one team led three games to one never feels all that significant at the time, at least not when the team with the 3-1 lead loses the fifth game, not when the team with the series lead is heading home for Games 6 and 7 (if needed), not when the team with the lead has the unbeatable pitcher still set to pitch in Game 7, if needed.

"I think we like the position we're in," Rangers third baseman Michael Young said, after CC Sabathia (maybe) saved the Yankees' season with Wednesday's 7-2 win.

Kerry Wood knows how he feels.

He was there in 2003, where the Rangers are now, on the verge of something historic. They're trying to make the World Series for the first time in club history. His Cubs were trying to make the World Series for the first time in decades, trying to win it before the drought got to 100 years.

They were up three games to one over the Marlins. They lost Game 5 in Florida to Josh Beckett, who was even better than Sabathia was Wednesday. They had Wood and Mark Prior -- both of whom seemed as sure bets then as Cliff Lee seems now -- set to go in Games 6 and 7 at Wrigley Field.

"I was thinking about that last night," Wood said Wednesday. "I was on a team that was up 3-1, and we didn't get it done. And we were a much better team."

The Cubs were going to win that series, even more than the Rangers were going to win this series.

"I think we all thought that," Wood said.

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I know I did. I covered that 2003 NLCS, and I went back Wednesday to look at what I wrote after Game 5.

"The Cubs still win this series," I told Booth Newspapers' readers. "They'll win it at home. It's better that way."

It didn't seem outrageous, and it didn't seem wrong. Not until three days later.

"It'll be great for Cubs fans," Cubs outfielder Doug Glanville told me that day. "Now the whole city will join us."

The whole city joined them all right. The whole city grieved right along with them.

Who knows if the same will happen this weekend in Arlington? Who knows if fans who are just starting to remember that the Rangers exist will feel completely let down?

It doesn't happen often.

Almost always, when the home team holds off elimination by winning Game 5, the team that led the series 3-1 goes on to win the series. It's as if the one team couldn't stand to see its season end at home, but doesn't mind as much when it ends quietly somewhere else.

In fact, over the last 20 years, 16 teams have done what the Rangers did, winning Game 4 on the road to take a three-games-to-one lead in a best-of-7 series. Ten of those 16 lost Game 5 on the road.

Only one of those 16 -- Wood's 2003 Cubs -- actually lost the series.

So no matter how it looked Wednesday, no matter if the Yankees' bats seemed to wake up or if the Rangers' magic seemed to wear off, history says the Rangers still probably win this series.

"Hopefully tonight is a start for us," Yankees designated hitter Marcus Thames said. "We know what we have to do. Our backs are against the wall, and we have to come out fighting."

They did that Wednesday. They scored three times in the second inning, and again on back-to-back home runs by Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano in the third. They saw Sabathia fight his way through 112 pitches in six innings (good thing he was on normal rest), somehow holding the Rangers to two runs on 11 hits.

They saw the Rangers make a few mistakes, throwing the ball around in the second, and getting Elvis Andrus picked off by Wood in a 6-2 game in the seventh.

They understood that what they did Wednesday won't be remembered, not unless they find a way to win on Friday and Saturday, too.

"You know, we've got to climb and we've got to get out of the hole we got ourselves into," catcher Jorge Posada said. "We haven't pitched the way we need to, and today CC went out there and did what he was supposed to do, give us a chance to win."

They'll need Phil Hughes to do the same Friday. They'll need another great effort from Andy Pettitte on Saturday, and of course they'll need to find a way to beat -- or at least neutralize -- Cliff Lee.

From the time this series began, plenty of people said the Yankees had to win it in six games or less, because there's no way they would beat Lee in a Game 7. Plenty of people are sure to say the same thing over the next two days.

Not me. And, I'm sure, not Kerry Wood.

The Rangers are right. They are in a good position, going home with a three-games-to-two lead, going home for Game 6 with a chance to clinch in front of fans who have never seen anything like this before, going home with the knowledge that Cliff Lee is there for them if needed in Game 7.

"We're in a good position," second baseman Ian Kinsler said.

Yeah, and so were Kerry Wood's Cubs.

There's no way to know yet whether the trying-to-make-history Rangers are just like those trying-to-make-history Cubs. There's no way to know, not after Game 5.

Stick around for another couple of days, and we'll let you know.


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