By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Colin Curtis was an unlikely hero for the New York Yankees as the cancer survivor took over an at-bat and slugged his first career homer to clinch a win over the Los Angeles Angels Wednesday.
The three-run blast by the 25-year-old rookie, cancer free for 10 years since having a tumor removed, pushed New York's lead to 10-5 in an eventual 10-6 victory for the AL East leaders.
Curtis was summoned to the plate by manager Joe Girardi after left-fielder Brett Gardner was ejected for complaining about a called strike in the seventh inning.
Curtis put down his cup of Gatorade and picked up a bat, took over an 0-2 count and worked it to 3-2 before pulling a fastball from Scot Shields into the right-field bleachers.
"The first one of your career, in a big situation," beamed Curtis as he faced a horde of reporters at his locker and talked about his 27th career at-bat. "You're really excited running around the bases and hold back a big smile."
The line-drive that iced the game for the Major League-best Yankees (59-34) brought Curtis another first -- a maiden curtain call demanded by the roaring Yankee Stadium crowd.
"I had no idea what to do," he said. "Someone said, 'Hey you got to go out,' and they pushed me out.
"It was the thrill of a lifetime. You see all the Yankees' history and guys taking curtain calls. To get an opportunity to do it was amazing."
Curtis's homer followed a solo shot by designated hitter Juan Miranda, another little-known Yankees youngster, earlier in the seventh that padded New York's lead to 7-5.
The Yanks had stormed out to a 6-0 lead after four innings, boosted by a four-run outburst in the third thanks to a two-run homer by Robinson Cano and a two-run single from Mark Teixeira off Angels starter and loser Joel Pineiro (10-7).
Los Angeles battled back with three runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth on a two-run blast by former Yankee Hideki Matsui to make it an uncomfortably close 6-5.
Then long-ball lightning struck for the Bronx Bombers.
As Curtis talked about his big moment, Reggie Jackson came over and handed him a ball with an inscription from the Hall of Famer to commemorate the special day.
Curtis said he had talked with Jackson, who slugged 563 career roundtrippers, after hitting the homer.
"He said, 'I'm proud of you, Bud. I said, Yeah I'm a little bit behind you. (He said) Yeah but you're one closer.'"
"I think it reminds you about the ups and downs in life," Curtis said about being a survivor of testicular cancer.
"It gives you a little better perspective dealing with a lot of failures in baseball. It helps you get over them, just be thankful you're playing. It helps you move on. There's another game tomorrow."
He said the ball would remain a special memento.
"It's going to be something I cherish," he said. "I sent them up there to get the ball, and they asked for a (Derek) Jeter and A-Rod autograph (in return). I had to track those down."
(Editing by Steve Ginsburg)