It took nine years, which admittedly is nothing by the standards of this Cubs fan (they haven’t even REACHED the World Series in my PARENTS’ lifetimes, and both are nearing 60). But that’s an eternity for Yankees fans. Last night, their “wait” ended when the Yankees clinched their 27th championship with a 7-3 win over the Phillies in Game 6 of the World Series.
Hideki Matsui won MVP honors after getting three hits and six RBIs in the clincher. I wish he would have ditched the translator when he got the MVP trophy and for once sounded human. But he had a truly incredible night and is a class act.
Andy Pettitte started on three days’ rest and got the win – his third series clincher in this year’s playoffs. Mariano Rivera got the final five outs. Pettitte, Rivera, Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter – the core remaining from the group that won four titles from 1996-2000 – got their fifth titles. And Alex Rodriguez, who finally had a very good postseason (albeit with a mediocre World Series), got the first title of his 15-year career.
I’m no Yankees fan. But I do have ties to the organization from covering the Yankees’ Double-A affiliate – the Trenton Thunder – from 2005 to 2007. Congratulations to Dave Eiland (pitching coach from 2005-06), Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke and everyone else in the organization who I had the pleasure of working with. I’m happy for those guys.
Only 3 1/2 months until pitchers and catchers report and we start the long slog known as baseball season all over again.
The Yankees’ millions may not have been able to buy them reliable middle relief. But they have the vastly superior closer, and it was enough to put them on the brink of their 27th championship with a 7-4 victory last night in Game 4 of the World Series.
After Joba Chamberlain flushed a win for C.C. Sabathia in the bottom of the eighth, Johnny Damon worked out a two-out single in the top of the ninth after a lengthy at-bat against Brad Lidge, who had blown away the first two hitters of the inning. Damon stole second, then alertly took third when Jimmy Rollins tried to bait him to run when Lidge wasn’t covering third base. Damon then scored two batters later when Alex Rodriguez doubled to left. Jorge Posada tacked on two more insurance runs with a base hit, and Rivera needed only 8 pitches in the bottom of the ninth to get the save.
It will be up to Cliff Lee, so dominant this postseason, to keep the Phillies alive in Game 5 tomorrow night. But even if he does so, the Phillies are toast. Game 6 would be a rematch between Pedro Martinez and Andy Pettitte (albeit with the latter on short rest) and Game 7 would be Sabathia against either the struggling Cole Hamels (who said following Game 3 that he can’t wait for the season to end) or J.A. Happ, who has started once in the last month.
It’s just a matter of time until the Yankees parade down the Canyon of Heroes and A-Rod never has to hear about his postseason failures again.
The 2009 World Series begins tonight at Yankee Stadium. And I believe the two best teams in baseball are playing for the title.
I also believe the Yankees will end up winning that title.
If the Phillies’ pitching staff were the same as last year, I’d really like their chances. But right now, they have only one reliable starting pitcher (Cliff Lee), and he’s going to be matched up against the Yankees’ best pitcher in C.C. Sabathia. In other words, a Phillies win there is anything but a sure thing. And the rest of the Phillies’ rotation? Cole Hamels has been very ordinary all season and has continued that in the postseason. Pedro Martinez was great against the Dodgers in a day game in warm Los Angeles. I doubt he’ll be nearly as effective in colder weather at night against the Yankees’ lineup. Joe Blanton certainly isn’t going to scare the Yankees’ lineup. And while the Phillies’ bullpen (especially closer Brad Lidge) has pitched better in the playoffs, it still hasn’t improved enough to make me think it can shut down Jeter, Texieira, A-Rod and company late in the game.
For the Yankees, while A.J. Burnett has also been rather ordinary in the playoffs, Andy Pettitte is solid and steady, and we all know about Sabathia. Lefty relievers Damaso Martie and Phil Coke will likely play big roles in this series – both will have to get late-inning outs against Phillies sluggers Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Raul Ibanez.
The Phillies are no pushovers and have proven their toughness over the last three seasons. They won’t self destruct the way the Twins and Angels did in big spots. But the Yankees are a bit deeper in the starting rotation, have a much more reliable closer and will be a little too much offensively.
Yankees in 6.
One theme that came out of all four Division Series matchups was the importance of having a closer who can finish off games under postseason duress. All four series were decided at least in part because of a closer’s inability to seal the deal.
Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn’t allowed an earned run in 26 innings over 17 career postseason appearances, gave up three after retiring the first two batters in the top of the 9th inning Sunday, allowing the Angels to complete a sweep. Minnesota’s Joe Nathan added to his lousy postseason track record by blowing a two-run ninth inning lead in Game 2 against the Yankees and giving up a pair of crucial insurance runs in Game 3. While Cardinals’ left fielder Matt Holliday should have caught that fly ball that would have ended Game 2, Ryan Franklin melted down after that, allowing the Dodgers to take a 2-0 series lead that eventually became a sweep. And Rockies’ closer Huston Street denied his team a chance to play a winner-take-all Game 5 against the Phillies by blowing a two-out, two-run lead in the top of the 9th inning of Game 4….after the Phillies’ much-maligned pen had blown a lead the previous inning.
Just in case Mariano Rivera wasn’t appreciated enough for his remarkable consistency over the years.
Most baseball pundits say the starting rotation is more important in the playoffs, and for the most part, they’ve been right. But many teams with good rotations have lost series because their bullpens didn’t rise to the moment. The 1986 Angels in the ALCS (Dave Henderson’s home run off Donnie Moore), the 1993 Phillies in the World Series, the 1997 Orioles in the ALCS (Armando Benitez blowing two saves and being the losing pitcher three times)…the list goes on. Starters very rarely go the distance anymore, even in the postseason (yay pitchcounts!).
Which brings me to this year’s NLCS, which starts Thursday in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have an outstanding bullpen led by the likes of George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton, but a very ordinary starting rotation. The Phillies, on the other hand, have a very good 1-2 starting rotation punch in Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and others like J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and Pedro Martinez who can be good when they’re on. But getting the final outs of the game is an adventure every night.
So what will give in this series? The beginning of the game? Or the end?