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10/26/09 3:09 AM EST

Yankees undaunted on road to Series

Bombers rode A-Rod, starting pitching to Fall Classic berth

NEW YORK -- The formula is simple: heaps of A-Rod and CC Sabathia, mixed with just the right amount of Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Throw in a Nick Swisher slump here or some shaky middle relief there -- just for the drama of it, really. And the result, apparently, is a World Series berth, the Yankees' first since 2003.

"You think about all the people that have come up and played and had an impact on our season so far," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's just been a real team effort."

The second act of the Yankees' postseason play came to a close Sunday night, in a journey that has at times seemed simple and at others complex. But it has certainly never been boring.

Because the Yankees clinched their postseason berth and home-field advantage with a week to go before the end of the season, they had to wait to learn exactly who they would play. Then the season ended, and they had to wait some more.

It was not until the Twins eked out a win over the Tigers in Game 163 that the Yankees learned the identity of their opponent, before proceeding to dismantle it.

An uncommonly heavy favorite heading into the Division Series, the Yankees played the Twins tight in three games but ultimately won all of them, using Alex Rodriguez's power surge and sudden clutch ability to hurdle over their first obstacle. Just as important, the Yankees enjoyed strong starts from each of their starters, never allowing the Twins to jump out to leads.

After dispatching the Twins, the Yankees knew immediately who they would play next: the Angels, who swept the Red Sox in three games to create a nightmare matchup in the Bronx. Since the turn of the century, the Angels are the only team with a winning record against the Yankees -- and they had fared even better in two previous postseason series this decade.

2009 World Series
Gm. 1 PHI 6, NYY 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 2 NYY 3, PHI 1 Wrap Video
Gm. 3 NYY 8, PHI 5 Wrap Video
Gm. 4 NYY 7, PHI 4 Wrap Video
Gm. 5 PHI 8, NYY 6 Wrap Video
Gm. 6 NYY 7, PHI 3 Wrap Video

No matter. Again on the strength of Rodriguez, and again backed by some solid starting pitching, the Yankees downed the Angels in six games, setting up a World Series with the Phillies.

Sabathia was named American League Championship Series MVP, after pitching the Yankees to an early lead and coming back on three days' rest to win a pivotal Game 4 at Angel Stadium. After that second victory, it appeared all but certain that the Yankees would advance to their first World Series since 2003.

As is often the case in baseball, however, it was hardly that easy. The Angels came roaring back to win Game 5, sending the series back to New York and putting the Yankees in this precarious position: If they lost Game 6, they would have to beat the Angels in a must-win Game 7, using Sabathia in the process and messing up their rotation for the World Series.

It didn't come to that, of course. Pettitte fired 6 1/3 effective innings, Rodriguez and Johnny Damon led the offense and the Yankees won to advance to that elusive World Series, besting both the Angels and their own recent postseason demons.

"They've got a great team over there," Derek Jeter said. "They never give up. They're one of the best teams in baseball."

Not everything was smooth along the route. Swisher slumped and continues to slump, drawing the ire of fans and forcing Girardi to defend his decision to continually pencil him in the lineup. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain both faltered time and again, leaving Girardi with no reliable bridge to Mariano Rivera. And Girardi himself faced the wrath of fans and media, taking heat for some questionable pitching decisions throughout the postseason.

But in the aftermath of the Yankees' Game 6 win over the Angels, none of that seemed to matter. For all its twists and turns, the path has led to the World Series. And the Yankees know they are now just four wins away from achieving their ultimate goal, a dream that has since wilted in 28 other big league towns.

"This is a completely different animal," A.J. Burnett said. "I'm just glad to be a part of it and hopefully to bring a World Series championship back to this city. There's no other goal."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.