"It's win or go home, so you don't want to come in, pitch the game and have the end of the season on your shoulders," Chacon said. "When gametime came, I had to put all of that stuff out of my mind. I had to go out and execute my ballgame."
Chacon was perfect through three, and faced the minimum 15 batters through five innings. He ran into trouble only in the sixth, when the Angels scored both of their runs.
Juan Rivera led off the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Adam Kennedy grounded out, and then Chone Figgins and Orlando Cabrera laced back-to-back RBI doubles.
Manager Joe Torre removed Chacon the next inning, after the pitcher allowed a one-out single to Bengie Molina. Torre said it was a move he knew would be unpopular -- Yankees fans heartily booed the decision -- but it was one he had to make.
Torre had both Tom Gordon and Al Leiter warming up in the bullpen, and was prepared to use either if an Angel reached base. With Molina followed by left-handed-hitting Darin Estad in the batting order, Torre tabbed Leiter to enter. Leiter quickly induced an inning-ending double play. When the Yankees tied the game in the bottom of the inning, Chacon was off the hook.
"When I was on the mound, I was pretty relaxed," Chacon said. "I was focused. I don't know what it is, but I'm more nervous before I pitch and then after I come out of the game. When I'm in there, I don't feel any of that."
The performance earned raves from his manager, who compared the unpredictability of starting the untested Chacon to sending Orlando Hernandez to the mound against Cleveland in the 1998 AL Championship Series. "El Duque" had sat out the two weeks prior, but pitched seven shutout innings during his first postseason start.
Torre compared their similar styles, saying each bases his success on feel, and was encouraged when Chacon hit his spots early.
"He's cool," Torre said. "He's having a good time. He just really told people a lot more with this last start than we learned since he came over from Colorado."
The Yankees had found out Chacon truly benefited from a change of scenery. After going 1-7 with a 4.09 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) with the Rockies, Chacon went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) for the Yankees. His pitching down the stretch solidified a fractured Yankees rotation and helped New York overtake the AL East-leading Red Sox in the season's final week.
"He's been doing it all summer," Alex Rodriguez said. "He reminds you of a David Cone, a seasoned veteran who has been through these wars many times."
Chacon, who is arbitration-eligible, will likely return to the Yankees and have the chance to become exactly that.