World Series Game Four: The "Phillies Take a Shift" Game
I was going to wait until the World Series was over before I wrote a word.
I wanted to know everything and stop making predictions from game to game, as it drove me nine different kinds of crazy in the ALCS. And as superstitious as I am, I didn't have any intention of jinxing the Yankees on the doorstep of a championship.
But with the most important inning of the postseason—and surely the most amazing play in recent memory—under our viewing belts, the time is right.
C.C. Sabathia has had a long, tough fight against these Phillies over his two starts, and they've earned my undying respect and fear—a fear I never reserve for a National League opponent, mostly in part because they generally don't have the firepower to match up with American League lineups, or the patience to face down an American League ace.
For instance...Cliff Lee's dominance of the National League didn't worry me in the slightest going into Game One. The Yankees have seen and beaten Cliff Lee over the past few years, and I assumed he would get ground down, if not beaten. I wasn't just impressed by Lee's masterful performance in the Series opener—I was flat-out shocked.
As for Sabathia's past struggles with Philadelphia's lineup, I chalked that up to him being overly tired by the time the Brewers got to the NLDS last year.
Five days and four games later, by the time Pedro Feliz launched a 96-mile per hour fastball out of the hand of Joba Chamberlain into the left-field stands, I was already quite aware of how long the Phillies' lineup really was, and how tough they'd make every at-bat against any pitcher we could throw at them.
I'd seen Chase Utley absolutely own Sabathia over two starts. I'd seen Jason Werth destroy two different Andy Pettitte offerings thrown in two different locations. I'd seen them grind out a harrowing three-run second inning against Pettitte that nearly put the Yankees' championship hopes on the rocks until Alex Rodriguez woke up (obviously, there will be more on him later).
And after Brad Lidge ripped through Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter to start the ninth inning of Game Four, I was settling in for a long few innings of keeping my fingers crossed.
Enter Johnny Damon.
In the way that it took the two steal attempts early in Game Four of the ALCS to rattle the Angels out of their momentum, it would take a similar bout of magnificent gamesmanship to keep these Phillies from going to work on the Yankees' newly-vulnerable middle relief in the bottom of the ninth and beyond.
Damon starts out fouling off two sliders hard down the right field line to fall behind in the count. But the foul balls are hit hard enough to get Lidge a little uncomfortable throwing his slider—his best pitch, and the pitch he'd used to beat both Matsui and Jeter to get the first two outs. Damon fouls off six total pitches throughout the at-bat, and on the 10th pitch, with the count full, he takes a fastball to left field for a single.
Teixeira, having a statistically horrendous postseason (with two enormous, game-changing home runs the only thing separating him from the "Bust" label thusfar), steps into the box.
Damon takes off on first movement from Lidge. Ruiz throws down to second, not nearly in time.
Covering the bag is third baseman Pedro Feliz. The Phillies are playing the Giambi Shift on Mark Teixeira.
And Damon knows it. So as Feliz is pretending to look for the ball to try to lure Damon off second base, Damon seemingly takes the bait—and races toward third base. There's nobody there for Feliz to throw to.
Lidge is rattled. He can't help but be rattled. And two pitches later, he tags Mark Teixeira with a fastball in the shoulder. The umpires, who warned both benches after Alex Rodriguez (not yet...almost there...) got hit for the third time in two days in the first inning, decide the plunking is unintentional. Lidge is left in the game.
And, of course, inevitably, the batter is Alex Rodriguez.
One hit in 13 at-bats in the World Series. The subject of another slew of "Has A-Rod lost his confidence?" articles over the last four days. The victim, realistically, of excellent pitching performances by Lee, and Pedro Martinez, and (believe it or not) Joe Blanton.
But now he's facing a pitcher who can't throw a breaking ball in the dirt, because the runner on third is the winning run. And he's facing a pitcher with a spotty postseason history—a pitcher whose spectacular 2008-09 run was likely the exception to the rule.
Fastball to the inside corner, at the knees. Strike one. Alex looks completely at ease. This game is already won. You can see it in his face.
Another fastball—this one a little bit higher, and a little bit farther out over the plate.
This game is already won. Rodriguez doubles into the left field corner. Standing on second, he points into the dugout. Anyone who knows anything about this team has to believe he's pointing at Derek Jeter. I got you on this one.
Posada singles into the left field gap, scoring the two remaining runners before being tagged out trying for second.
The closer in this series whose failures are truly shocking (and few, and far between) enters the game, throws eight pitches, and brings the Yankees to within one win of a world championship.
The hero, Damon, merely quips about not trying the same stunt on Chone Figgins during his postgame interview.
What else is there to say? Another day, another unfathomable path to victory.
One more, and we get to throw a party...
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