The spine

teixeira_300_110209.jpgAs the old saying goes, momentum in baseball is only as good as your next day’s starter. The Phillies have a very good starter going in World Series Game 5, so perhaps it is premature to say that the Yankees may have broken their opponent’s spine. Yet, the dramatic action of Game 4’s eighth and ninth innings, which wrapped an entire “Yankees Classic’s” worth of action into about 20 minutes, suggests that conclusion.

Let’s review. The Yankees took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth. CC Sabathia, looking a bit frayed around the edges, pitched just that much better than Joe Blanton. The fifth inning was particularly tough, with the Phillies putting two on with none out for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and the deadly-to-lefties Jayson Werth. Sabathia induced pop-ups from Utley and Howard, and struck out Werth to end the threat. In many games, that might have been the end right there.

Regarding the Sabathia- Utley relationship: I am reminded of Don Mattingly vs. Don Aase, who was the Orioles closer for a couple of years during the center of Mattingly’s career. Aase was often a good pitcher, but he could do nothing with Mattingly, who went 6-for-7 with two home runs against him. After Mattingly hit his second ninth inning homer off of Aase in a year, Orioles manager Earl Weaver was asked if he would ever let Aase pitch to Mattingly again. “Not even to intentionally walk him,” Weaver said. It’s getting to that point with Sabathia and Utley.

Utley’s home run in the seventh chased Sabathia, so Joe Girardi bringing in Damaso Marte’s fresh arm to go after Howard. Marte again rewarded Girardi’s faith in him this series. The Yankees stranded two runners in the top of the eighth, and Girardi decided to roll the dice on a new eighth inning man… Firpo Marberry! Actually, with Werth due up, he went for Joba Chamberlain with Phil Hughes being too scary and David Robertson having left the stadium to pick up some Chinese take-out. Joba is right-handed and has pitched a good inning in this series, so the manager was entitled to his fantasies of 2007.

Chamberlain seemed set to pay those off, as the old Joba was suddenly back, back for perhaps the first time all year, pumping 97 mph fastballs at the Phillies hitters. Unfortunately, Pedro Feliz took one of those 97 mph fastballs and made a souvenir out of it. Joba came back to get Carlos Ruiz on off-speed pitches, striking out the side around the game-tying home run. Baseball is a punishing game. For a moment, Joba had turned back the clock, and yet he still was punished. It’s like something out of Greek myth.

That sets up the ninth. With the game tied, the Yankees finally got their first look at Brad Lidge, the lost-then supposedly-found closer. Lidge looked very tough in retiring Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter, but then came Johnny Damon’s terrific, nine-pitch at-bat. As Lidge threw fastball after fastball trying to get the elusive third strike, you could see Damon getting his timing down. We’ll never know why Lidge didn’t go back to his slider in any of his last five pitches to Damon given that the fastball wasn’t fooling the left fielder. Damon finally singled to keep the inning alive. If Lidge wasn’t unnerved at this point, he surely was after Damon — who didn’t run much in the regular season (and why would you if you’re on base in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez?) — promptly stole two bases on one play, one by taking advantage of the Phillies’ defensive alignment to swipe an unguarded third.

That was all it took for Lidge to turn into the pitcher who went 0-8 with 11 blown saves this year. He hit Teixeira, grooved a pitch to A-Rod for an RBI double, and couldn’t retire Jorge Posada despite getting ahead 0-2. By the time Posada retired himself on the bases, the Yankees were up 7-4. Now, here is where I think we find the broken spine. Girardi called on Mariano Rivera to close out the game. The Phillies have now seen Mariano more times than I’ve seen “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That’s about a bajillion times, for those keeping score at home. Nonetheless, the Phillies did not battle, did not make it tough on the Yankees’ Father Time. They went out on eight pitches — two to pinch-hitter Matt Stairs, three to Jimmy Rollins, three to Shane Victorino. Some of that economy is due to the greatness of Mo, but it also, I think, reflected the mood of the moment, that this was too high a mountain to climb.

As I said at the outset, Lee is a terrific pitcher, and if the Phillies chose the better part of valor in the ninth inning, there is nothing in that to indicate that they won’t come out fighting in Game 5. These are, after all, the reigning champions. If they don’t get up off the mat, though, no one can blame them — they’ve had to overcome a great deal of adversity this year, much of it at the hands of Lidge and their manager’s loyalty to them. If this loss is one cut too many, it will be understandable. No team in the history of baseball has ever had to work harder to overcome one of their own relievers than the Phillies have had to work to overcome Lidge.

7 Comments

I have never seen what Damon did in the 9th ever happen. I was so thrown off that I initially thought he was deked by Feliz and that he thought the ball went into center. I threw up my hands in disappointment until I realized Damon wasn’t fooled, I was, and that he made a great play. The fact that it occured in the World Series will make a strange play historical.

And Firpo was lights out in 1926! Even though he is not available, I might feel more comfortable with him as the setup man at this point.

http://nationalsreview.wordpress.com/2008/11/03/washingtons-world-series/

I was praying Joba didn’t throw a fastball. I saw that happening all the way. Hopefully it doesn’t mess up his confidence AGAIN. Hope he doesn’t think, “I was throwing the best I have since before the shoulder injury and I still got beat.”

Anyway, every time we get Jimmy Rollins out I get happier b/c it makes him shut his big fat mouth. Especially when Mo gets him out after he said that they had Mo figured out after game 2. If they boys do hold on and win, nothing would be better than for Rollins to strike out to end the series. That would be great.

I believe Jeter separated his shoulder on a similar play (racing to a third base left unoccupied due to a shift – Giambi, maybe?), but that time the catcher tried to cover. I don’t remember if that was a steal or what. But, yeah, when I saw Johnny I thought he was deked, too, and was being an idiot.

More horrendous officiating last night. A-Rod gets hit for the 3rd time in 2 nights and they warn the Yankees? Both benches? What a load of nonsense. Not to mention Howard scoring while never touching the plate. So the Year Of The Umpire continues unabated. And last night, it could all too easily have changed the final outcome.
I have to say that I’m really disliking the matchups from here on out, however. It looks like the manager is going to continue to manage in a panic, and may well create a situation in which the Yanks have already won their final game of the season. It’s hard to imagine AJ beating Lee tonight, especially given their respective rests. In fact, short of cloning Mo 8 or 9 times, it’s hard to see this series not going back to the Stadium. Which is no problem, really. Unless Game 6 pits a Number 3 starter on short rest against a Number 2 starter on normal rest. And Game 7 pits a poorly rested CC, with no backup other than the relief staff against (bad as he is) a fully rested Hamels. Right now, I have to say I’m hoping Philly is hit with torrential downpours from around 6 PM to around 4 AM, because, short of that, Girardi is setting up three consecutive matchups which favor Philadelphia.

If Cliff Lee stops the Yankees from hitting for 2 or 3 innings I would suggest the Yankees consider a bunting attack. Pass this on to whoever can get it to Joe Girardi. Why a bunting attack? Because with Cliff Lee pitching deceptive changeups if the batter holds the bat out front, the ball will come to the bat and the batter won’t have to worry about the ball coming too fast or too slow, as the ball will come to the bat. Yes the batter will have to locate it up or down left or right a bit but he won’t have to worry about swinging too early or late as the bat will meet the ball. This bunting attack will also put pressure on Cliff Lee and the rest of the team. I have rooted for the Yankees for 52 years.

I’m a little surprised. No comment on A.J. (and almost certainly Andy and CC) on 3 day’s rest? I like it.

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