Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of every playoff rally for the New York Yankees.
NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez was in the middle of every playoff rally for the New York Yankees. And once his first trip to the World Series was secured, he was at the center of the celebration, too.
Teammates dashed from the dugout and in from the outfield, swarming Rodriguez in a sea of pinstripes after the Yankees beat the Los Angeles Angels 5-2 in Game 6 of the AL championship series Sunday night behind the savvy pitching of that old October pro, Andy Pettitte.
"Pretty incredible, especially with all the stuff I've been through this year," Rodriguez said. "I just felt very happy and very blessed, and all I cared about this year was winning games."
A-Rod delivered another splendid postseason performance and the Yankees, baseball's biggest spenders, finally cashed in with their first pennant in six years.
Next up, New York hosts defending champion Philadelphia in the World Series opener Wednesday night. Cliff Lee is expected to face ALCS MVP CC Sabathia in an enticing matchup between former Cleveland teammates — and the past two AL Cy Young Award winners.
"I couldn't be more excited," Rodriguez said. "I feel like a 10-year-old kid."
Soon after Mariano Rivera got the final out, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and the Yankees partied with bubbly and beer in their swanky, high-tech clubhouse.
Nearby, manager Joe Girardi thought about longtime owner George Steinbrenner.
"This is a great time, but we're not done yet," Girardi said. "We're trying to do this for pops, Mr. Steinbrenner."
Ridiculed in the past for October flops, Rodriguez played a huge role in leading the Yankees through the playoffs, batting .438 with five home runs and 12 RBIs. Thriving under late-inning pressure, the three-time MVP earned his first trip to the Fall Classic during a 16-year career in which he's accomplished almost everything else.
"That's what you play for," Rodriguez said. "In order to win a World Series, you have to get there first."
Pettitte set a postseason record for wins, Johnny Damon hit a two-run single and Rivera closed it out in familiar fashion with a six-out save as the $201 million Yankees won their 40th American League crown by vanquishing the Angels, a longtime nemesis.
"It's really not a surprise that we are here. I hate to sound like that," said Sabathia, signed along with fellow free agents Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett in a $423.5 million offseason spending spree.
For manager Mike Scioscia and his sloppy Angels, it was their latest playoff failure during a decade of regular-season success. Since winning their only championship in 2002, the Angels are yet to return to the World Series despite five AL West titles in the past six years.
"At times we played good baseball. At times we shot ourselves in the foot," Scioscia said.
After Rivera fanned pinch-hitter Gary Matthews Jr. for the last out at 1 minute past midnight, Teixeira, Jeter and most of the Yankees rushed to mob a jubilant Rodriguez only steps from his spot at third base.
It was a poignant scene — not long ago, Rodriguez was thought to be unpopular in the New York clubhouse, a glamour-seeking star who crumbled at key moments.
His tumultuous year began with a tense news conference to admit steroids use from 2001-03 with Texas, then hip surgery that sidelined him until May.
It will end on the game's grandest stage.
"I feared that I wouldn't be able to contribute, so I had a lot of limitations," Rodriguez said about his previous playoff failures. "The whole year for me was about trusting my teammates and being one of the guys."
Now, the Yankees go for their record 27th title. When Girardi was hired two years ago, he took jersey No. 27 with that in mind.
The World Series — not a bad way for Jeter, Jorge Posada and crew to finish up the first season at the team's new $1.5 billion ballpark.
"We want to enjoy this tonight. We'll worry about Philly tomorrow," Jeter said. "Hopefully, we can play one more great series."
After rain postponed Game 6 for a day, the clear weather and mild, 58-degree temperature at first pitch was a stark change from the first two games of the series, when the Angels froze up in the raw chill at Yankee Stadium.
Rodriguez reached base all five times up and drew a bases-loaded walk in the fourth that put New York ahead 3-1. Earlier in the inning, Damon gave the Yankees the lead with a single off 16-game winner Joe Saunders.
The 37-year-old Pettitte left to a standing ovation in the seventh and tipped his cap to the sellout crowd of 50,173, the largest at the new ballpark. He earned his 16th postseason win, breaking a tie with John Smoltz, and his fifth to close out a postseason series — also a major league record.
"We've got a lot of confidence in Andy when he's on the mound. He's been a big-game pitcher for us for 14 years," Jeter said.
Joba Chamberlain got two key outs and Girardi went to a well-rested Rivera in the eighth. He gave up a two-out RBI single to Vladimir Guerrero, making it 3-2, then retired Kendry Morales to end the inning.
A diving play by Teixeira at first base helped Rivera avoid further damage. The Yankees added two insurance runs in the bottom half on a pair of Angels errors and Teixeira's sacrifice fly.
Rivera finished for his record 37th postseason save, and the Yankees had their elusive pennant.
"You bring him in, you feel like the game's over. He's the best," Pettitte said.
After the last out, one fan raised a sign with an Angels halo that read: "Is this Heaven? No, it's Da Bronx!" As Yankee Stadium grew dark, Sabathia's and Girardi's kids ran around the bases on an otherwise empty infield.
Including their unprecedented collapse against Boston in 2004, the Yankees had lost five straight times with a chance to close out an ALCS — and six in a row with an opportunity to end a playoff series.
But this time, New York got it done with leadership from Jeter, Pettitte, Rivera and Posada, all part of the late 1990s dynasty under manager Joe Torre.
"They beat us fair and square," Angels outfielder Torii Hunter said. "It's just frustrating right now."